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U.S. Security Assistance to Israel--.

Key Points

* With influence comes responsibility. The U.S. should not undermine the peace process it has helped design by arming Israel in preparation for further conflict.

* Increases in U.S. military assistance are based on the unreasonable claim that Israel grows less secure with each peace treaty it signs.

* The U.S. should adjust its approach to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by seeking innovative ways of addressing the causes of conflict.

The violence of the past eight months between Israelis and Palestinians has left 500 people dead, torpedoed the peace process, and turned the streets of the West Bank and Gaza Strip into battlefields. As the U.S. reconsiders its role in promoting Israeli-Palestinian peace, the prospects for a final settlement--described last year as better than ever--seem worse than ever. In reference to the ambitious approach taken by former U.S. President Bill Clinton, the Bush administration has emphasized "assistance" over "insistence." Unfortunately, rather than focusing on addressing the issues that have derailed the peace process, American assistance is emerging as a disjointed policy that urges a peaceful resolution to the conflict while boosting military aid to Israel.

The increases in military aid grow out of a central pillar of U.S. policy in the Middle East: strengthening America's "strategic cooperation" with Israel. This cooperation currently centers around two categories of U.S. military-related assistance to Israel, Economic Support Funds (ESF) and Foreign Military Financing (FMF). The larger of these two, FMF, is intended to help Israel finance its acquisition of U.S. military equipment, services, and training and will total $1.98 billion in 2001. FMF is scheduled to increase by $60 million each year as part of an ongoing plan to phase out ESF support by 2008. If Israel would conclude peace agreements with Syria and the Palestinians, this increased FMF support combined with U.S. pledges to satisfy Israel's stated financial requirements for withdrawing from the Golan Heights, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip will total more than $50 billion in U.S. military aid by 2008.

Already the strongest military power in the region and the recipient of 40% of U.S. foreign aid, Israel does not need additional military assistance. It has one of the most sophisticated, well-equipped, and best-trained armies in the world, and its armed forces are growing faster than that of its neighbors, whose military expenditures decreased during the 1990s. Israel's annual military expenditures are consistently two to three times as high as those of other countries involved in the Arab-Israeli conflict, and Israel leads the region in the number of heavy weapons holdings, armored infantry vehicles, airplanes, and heavy tanks. Israel outpaces Syria, Iraq, Iran, and Lebanon in every major category of arms spending.

The world's fifth-largest importer of major weapons in 1999, Israel is also the region's largest and the world's sixth-largest exporter of arms and military technology, with billions of dollars of sales to 61 different states, including potential U.S. adversaries like China. Israel is the only country in the Middle East to both develop and produce its own surface-to-surface missiles, combat aircraft, and tanks. Finally, beyond its overwhelming advantage in weaponry, Israel's military boasts superior technology and capabilities in communications, intelligence gathering, logistics, training, organization, maintenance, and mobility.

A careful review of FMF assistance reveals that this program has actually hindered the resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict, made the Middle East more volatile, and undermined U.S. regional interests. If the purpose of the FMF program is to improve Israel's security, the U.S. should reverse its increasing emphasis on military assistance and replace outdated, one-dimensional ideas about Israel's security with a more extensive definition. Taking into account important nonmilitary aspects of Israel's security would enable the U.S. to complement its current policy with a variety of alternative strategies designed to identify and address the causes of conflict before they explode into violence.

Although a conclusive Israeli-Palestinian peace accord must rest on a long-term political resolution to the conflict, the causes of the current violence are not strictly political and must be addressed before final-status negotiations can begin. One of the primary grievances of the current Palestinian uprising is the worsening economic situation in the Occupied Territories, due in large part to Israel's prolonged exploitation of Palestinian water sources. Given the Palestinian economy's heavy reliance on agriculture, Israel's water policies have aggravated already-desperate Palestinian living conditions, undermining Palestinian support for the peace process and damaging the Palestinian Authority's ability to quell popular uprisings.

A more comprehensive definition of Israel's security would bear in mind the detrimental effects that Israel's water policies have on regional security, allowing the U.S. to designate a small amount of FMF assistance for the development of water projects designed to reduce Israel's reliance on Palestinian water resources. Greater access to water sources would improve Palestinian economic prospects and diminish the likelihood of water being a source of future conflict, providing an example of how U.S. security assistance could be applied to improve Israeli security without increasing military transfers or threatening Israel's neighbors.
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Author:Yackley, Joseph
Publication:Foreign Policy in Focus
Date:Jun 11, 2001
Previous Article:Toward a New Foreign Policy.
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