By David Schechter, Senior National Editor
Within the next month, the Palestinian Authority will ask the United Nations to recognize Palestine as a state. After eight months of upheavals across the Arab world, the world’s focus will return to the dispute at the heart of the Middle East’s troubles – and may leave the White House between the proverbial rock (Israel and its supporters in the U.S.) and hard place (Arab and Muslim nations and the “Arab street” the Obama administration has tried to court).
The United States has for decades preserved Israel’s qualitative military edge over its Arab neighbors – spending tens of billions of dollars in the process. The U.S. currently gives Israel shy of $3 billion a year in direct military aid, an amount scheduled to increase next year and the year after that, to an estimated $3.1 billion in 2013. This does not include funding for joint U.S.-Israel military projects.
It’s a policy that has had direct effects on the US defense industry. As a report for the Congressional Research Service noted last year: ”Israel can use some U.S. military assistance both for research and development in the United States and for military purchases from Israeli manufacturers.”
Nearly three-quarters of the U.S. military aid to Israel remains in the United States, financing Israeli purchases ranging from U.S.-made fighter jets and helicopters to bullets and missiles, spare parts for tanks and more. The aid agreement allows Israel to keep 26 percent of the money (making up an estimated 18 percent of Israel's defense budget) to help develop its domestic weapons industry.
Israel spends those U.S. taxpayer dollars on contracts with companies that employ a lot of workers in a lot of states (more than 1,000 companies in 47 states by one estimate.)
How many jobs? A 2009 report by economists at the Univ. of Massachusetts on “the U.S. employment effects of military and domestic spending priorities,” suggested 11,600 jobs were created for each $1 billion invested in the military – with more than half of those jobs being in the $32,000-$64,000 wage range.
If one adopts this formula, the portion of U.S. military aid to Israel that stays in the U.S. supports more than 26,000 jobs (counting direct employment; indirect, such as suppliers and related businesses; and “induced,” when those workers spend their earnings).
An example is a $174.8 million Israeli contract to purchase C130J transport from Lockheed Martin, planes manufactured in suburban Atlanta. The company says about 2,000 employees are directly involved in manufacturing the plane at its Marietta plant. “There are also the many thousands of jobs reflected in our supplier base. The Israeli contract is one of many for several counties that is maintaining the employment level,” company spokesman Peter Simmons said in an e-mail.
Incidentally, the University of Massachusetts study contended that fewer jobs are created by investing in the military as compared with other sectors, such as health care, education and clean energy.
Congress has defined Israel’s “qualitative military edge” as "the ability to counter and defeat any credible conventional military threat from any individual state or possible coalition of states or from non-state actors, while sustaining minimal damage and casualties, through the use of superior military means.”
There are conditions attached to the military aid. The Arms Control Export Act stipulates that they be used for "internal security," including anti-terrorism; "legitimate self defense" and "regional or collective arrangements or measures consistent with the Charter of the United Nations." Aid can be halted if the provisions are violated.
From the Israeli perspective using those weapons and equipment to prevent terrorism within its borders and combat attacks launched from outside its borders (such as rockets launched into Israel from Gaza) meet the tests of internal security and legitimate self-defense.
But the Palestinians contend that the way Israel uses U.S.-made weapons violates the Arms Control Act and makes the U.S. complicit in what they term atrocities.