U.S President Barack Obama’s decision to seek congressional authorization for the use of force against the rogue regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad risks setting a precedent that could limit the power of future occupants of the Oval Office. It remains to be seen what the unintended consequences of the Commander in Chief’s August 31, 2013 Rose Garden declaration of intent to remain deeply concerned will be on the ability of the United States to maintain viable relationships with friendly governments across the Middle East.
However, while the President of the United States has chosen to shift the awesome responsibility of waging war to a group of notoriously paralyzed and dysfunctional lawmakers, allies of the United States that share a border with Syria do not have the luxury of simply allowing events to play out.
Obama is evidently determined to shrink America’s global reach to that of a Swiss canton. As a result, geopolitical partners such as Israel are being forced to reassess a conventional wisdom that has long been based on the uninterrupted flow of American largess to reliable governments in the promotion of Western strategic interests as well as the stabilization of the Middle East.
Now, the retreat of the United States from the world stage should not be a cause for concern for either the Jewish State or its supporters around the world. Rather, the 44th President’s poll-driven foreign policy has created an opportunity for Israel to responsibly phase out the security assistance it receives from good old Uncle Sam.
Regarding non-military financial assistance, Israel is already far along in its march towards economic independence from the United States. In the late 1990s, policymakers from both countries agreed to wean Israel off of economic aid. Such a tough love approach was meant to liberalize the Israeli economy with the aim of deflating an Israeli government that had grown fat and inefficient.
And it worked. Prior to the decision to gradually relinquish economic aid, financial assistance from Washington accounted for 20% of Israel’s GDP. Today, aid to Israel from the U.S. represents a mere 1.5% of the total budget.
Yet while Israel no longer relies on the United States to remain economically viable, there’s still the lingering issue of military aid. Israel continues to suckle at America’s teat to the tune of approximately $3.1 billion per year. And such generosity comes with strings attached: almost three-quarters of the aid to Israel must be spent in the United States on the acquisition of American defense equipment, services and training.
As a result, the Israeli government often has to purchase weapons from the United States even if domestic products are better, cheaper or both, causing efficient Israeli producers to lose government contracts. Furthermore, whenever Israel buys American, Israeli companies frequently lose out on contracts abroad. Washington has also used it leverage to frequently limit Israeli overseas arms sales.
An Israeli government independent of aid would be forced to reduce the size of the public sector through defense budget cuts, a restructuring that would lead to increased efficiency in other frameworks.
The current balance of power between the United States and Israel has simply outlived its usefulness. What is especially peculiar about the financial arrangement between Washington and Jerusalem is that Israel, like its benefactor, is an advanced, industrialized, technologically-sophisticated country, as well as a major arms exporter.
To some extent the American-Israeli relationship is stuck in a time warp. While Israel continues to confront a myriad of dangers to the well-being of its citizens, none of these threats are existential.
Israel does not need American aid to survive, much less prosper.
As such, the President’s surprise move to punt the Syria question to Congress should be heeded as a clarion call for Israel to greatly loosen the ties that bind it to the United States.
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