By JOHN GOLAN, JPOST—
Despite what some may wish us to believe, the United States does not provide aid to Israel out of charity. Rather, it is a strategic investment, closely tied to US interests in the region: safeguarding the only reliable ally that the US has in that corner of the world; stabilizing the Arab-Israeli conflict and deterring Israel’s neighbors from resorting to war; giving Israelis the security that they need to make the painful concessions necessary for peace, should Israel’s neighbors eventually return to the negotiating table; and doing so without requiring the direct intervention of US troops, as has been necessary in virtually every other conflict zone in the world.
Towards achieving these ends, the US has received more than its money’s worth. Which is what makes it all the more vital that negotiations over the next 10 years of security assistance should not fall prey to petty personality conflicts or to individual grievances.
The 10-year, $40 billion aid package that the Israeli government has reportedly negotiated its way down to, would amount to an annualized increase of only 2.9-percent over the prior 10-year agreement – only slightly greater than the pace of inflation. In the aftermath of a deal that fortified Iran’s defenses – freeing up billions for Iran’s ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs, as well as arming Iran’s proxies along Israel’s borders – it should be readily evident that such an increase should be the minimum appropriate. What is equally essential toward supporting US objectives, however, is the sustainment of the off-shore portion of this aid.
Of the $3.1 billion in annual aid that Israel currently receives (neglecting for a moment separate funds allocated by Congress for ballistic missile defense), one quarter has been made available for off-shore procurement of goods and services in Israel. This funding goes to pay for everything from daily weapons maintenance and air base renovations – things that can more affordably be acquired locally in Israel – to the procurement of unique weaponry available nowhere else. As history has proven, exercising this spending power locally is not only more cost-effective, due to lower Israeli labor rates, but also provides specialized weaponry that often goes on to benefit both Israel and the United States.
For decades, Israeli arms developers have pioneered technologies that have provided the Israeli armed forces with unique capabilities. Israel’s multilayered missile defense system – from the shortrange Iron Dome designed to protect against Hamas rockets to the long-range family of Arrow interceptors intended to defend against Iranian ballistic missiles – is today the only battle-tested, tiered network of its kind. Combining Israeli innovation and program management with serial production capabilities in the United States has benefited the defense and industrial capabilities of both nations.
Similarly, Israel pioneered the systematic use of unmanned air vehicles for both surveillance and strike roles decades ago, and remains a leader in this field. Moreover, time-and-again Israeli- developed weapons have stepped in to bridge gaps in the US arsenal: from the AGM-142 Have Nap or “Popeye” airto- ground missile, developed in Israel and manufactured in the US by Lockheed- Martin for use by American armed services; to helmet-mounted sights and displays that were designed, developed and battle-tested in Israel before being transferred to the US for production under a joint-venture for service in the US armed forces.
There is a long-standing pattern of the US benefiting from Israeli innovations.
This has been no accident. Israeli arms developers are invariably closer to the needs of their military customers than are their counterparts in the US. Furthermore, Israeli developers have proven adept at overcoming a natural inclination to reinvent every detail and component technology each and every time that a new weapon is developed – instead focusing their energy on those attributes that are truly unique and add value. The result has been a more effective, affordable approach to weapons development.
This is not a new trend. A case in point was provided decades ago by the Lavi fighter program. By the estimate of the US GAO at the time, the Lavi development effort was expected to deliver a fighter uniquely adapted to Israel’s strike aircraft requirements at a total development cost of a mere $1.9 billion in Fiscal 1985 dollars. In contrast, the US Navy’s F/A-18 development effort – adjusted to Fiscal 1985 dollars – had cost some $3.38 billion. Combining both US and Israeli components and subsystems, the Israeli development team had re-used existing technologies in actuators, engines, and fly-by-wire computers to keep the program’s development cost to a minimum – allowing them to focus their innovation instead on those features that would grant the Israeli warplane superior survivability over the battlefield.
Israeli weapons developers have succeeded precisely because they have taken a practical, evolutionary approach to adding capability as the technology matured and became available. Israel’s first helmet-mounted sights, for example, were deployed into front line fighter cockpits with a sight only, and without a visual display. Visual displays were added only later, as the technology matured and could meet the space and weight requirements of a high-g fighter. Still later, the field-of-view for the visual display was expanded. It was a practical, incremental approach to fielding technology that succeeded where many other developers with an all-or-nothing strategy had failed.
Off-shore procurement of services and technologies in Israel needs to remain part of the next 10-year security assistance package, not merely because it is in Israel’s best interest, but because it is in America’s best interest. Local procurement of goods and services is not only more affordable for certain services, but also advances the technological capabilities of both nations. Shutting down America’s access to this innovation pipeline would be foolhardy. Many of the threats that the US armed forces struggle to come to grips with today are the same threats that Israeli labs are developing answers for. This very summer, for example, the US Army will be evaluating Israel’s battle-tested Trophy active defense system, designed to protect armored vehicles against anti-tank missiles, after repeated attempts to develop a similar capability in the US have failed.
The question of whether and how much assistance the US supplies to Israel needs to be elevated beyond the realm of partisan bickering. This is not some juvenile staring match about who gets what bragging rights in the end. The US supplies aid to Israel because it is an investment in America’s own national self-defense.
That same self-interest is best served by continuing to promote Israeli innovation, combining the best that both defense industries have to offer.
The writer is the author of a recently the published book, Lavi: the United States, Israel, and a Controversial Fighter Jet.
His past publication credits include articles in Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, Aviation History, and the Jerusalem Post Magazine.