A call for arms: Countering US military aid to Israel

Mohamad Hasan Sweidan, The Cradle, January 8, 2024 —

Formidable US military assistance to Israel will always demand a regional reaction. In this case, it has driven the Resistance Axis to establish an irregular military counterbalance, an essential move to ensure the stability of West Asia.

Late last year, Israel’s Ministry of Finance unveiled the country’s anticipated budget for 2024, revealing a noteworthy development. The proposed budget called for a substantial $8.3 billion increase in defense spending, projecting a historic high of approximately $37 billion for the occupation state’s armed forces. This marks a significant surge in military expenditure, positioning Israel among the top-tier states globally in terms of military budget allocations.

Rank Country Value of military
expenditure (billion $)
1 United States 877
2 China 292
3 Russia 86
4 India 81
5 Saudi Arabia 75
6 United Kingdom 68
7 Germany 56
8 France 54
9 South Korea 46
10 Japan 46
11 Ukraine 44
12 Italy 33
13 Australia 32
14 Canada 27
15 Israel 23

As of 2022, Israel already ranked among the top 15 countries with the highest military spending worldwide. When taking into consideration military spending as a percentage of GDP, Israel secured the ninth spot globally.

A key factor influencing Israel’s supposed military prowess is its status as the largest recipient of US military aid. Since 1946, Washington has provided an enormous $263 billion in support, with approximately $130 billion allocated for addressing evolving security threats and enhancing Israel’s capabilities. This aid, including joint exercises and cooperation, plays a crucial role in maintaining Tel Aviv’s qualitative military edge.

Arab Allies, Israeli Arms

In 2023, the US bolstered its commitment with a record-breaking $3.8 billion in military funding to Israel, part of a $38 billion deal spanning a decade. Additionally, the European Parent Command maintains war reserves within Israel, fortifying its defenses in times of significant military emergencies.

There are ten defense cooperation agreements between the US and Israel today, including the Mutual Defense Assistance Agreement (1952), the Public Information Security Agreement (1982), the Mutual Logistics Support Agreement (1991), the  Status of Forces Agreement (1994), and the Memorandum of Understanding on Counterterrorism and Research and Development (2005). 

Beyond receiving unparalleled military funding, Israel occupies the tenth position in the global arms export arena, contributing 2.3 percent of the world’s total arms exports from 2018-2022 to reach an unprecedented $12.5 billion in exports in 2022.

Arab states who normalized relations with Tel Aviv through the 2020 Abraham Accords, have emerged as substantial importers of Israeli arms, marking a paradigm shift in regional dynamics. The three Arab countries, the UAE, Bahrain, and Morocco, which signed the US-brokered normalization agreement, accounted for 24 percent of Israeli arms sales in 2022, up from 7 percent in 2021.

In terms of military reserves, Israel ranks 13th globally, boasting 465,000 soldiers in its reserve ranks. Around 5 percent of the Israeli population serves as army reserves, making it the third-highest percentage globally.

Global share of major arms exports by top 10 exporters, 2018-2022

Israel in the US defense budget for 2024

On 22 December, President Joe Biden signed the National Defense Authorization Act, allocating $886.3 billion to the 2024 defense budget, a $28 billion increase from the previous fiscal year.

Notably, the budget received praise from Israeli quarters for its generous provisions, including $500 million for missile defense cooperation, encompassing Israel’s Iron Dome systems, the David Slingshot, and research and testing programs. It also allocates $47.5 million to “new cooperation between the United States and Israel on emerging defense technologies,” including artificial intelligence and cybersecurity. The new budget increased funding to combat drones by almost 40 percent to $55 million from $40 million and also extended the US-Israel cooperation program to combat tunneling until 2026.

Country Reserves Population
(in million)
Reserve percentage
of the population
Finland 900000 5.541 16.24%
Taiwan 1500000 23.57 6.36%
Israel 465000 9.364 4.97%
Vietnam 2500000 97.47 2.56%
North Korea 600000 25.97 2.31%
Colombia 845000 51.52 1.64%
South Korea 500000 51.74 0.96%
Brazil 1340000 214.3 0.63%
Egypt 480000 109.3 0.44%
Pakistan 550000 231.4 0.23%
India 1155000 1408 0.08%
China 510000 1412 0.04%

The 2024 budget extends support for strategic initiatives, such as training Israeli pilots, enhancing maritime domain awareness, and continuing the US-Israel cooperation program to combat tunneling over the next two years. Furthermore, the appointment of a presidential envoy for the Abraham Accords and the Negev Forum initiative underscores Washington’s relentless pursuit of West Asian subjugation to its interests.

Other key items include:

  • Extension of the Defense Department’s (DoD) authority to transfer weapons systems to Israel under the Israel War Reserve Stockpile Authority (WRSA-I) until January 2027. Extending the authority of the DoD to transfer precision-guided munitions to Israel.
  • Training Israeli pilots to operate KC-46s. 
  • Directing the DoD to develop a strategy to improve integrated maritime domain awareness and interception capabilities to counter maritime threats against Israel.

Deterrence balance

So how do neighboring countries respond to Israel’s formidable military arsenal, with its American uber-benefactor ever-ready to replenish its stocks and advance its qualitative edge? Clearly, regional states will seek to redress any imbalance by enhancing their own military capabilities in order to maintain both deterrence and stability.

But the disparity in US military aid to Israel and its neighbors is an ominous reminder that Washington seeks, above all, to ensure there is no such “balance.”

Between 2006 and 2018, Washington allocated a mere $1.28 billion in military assistance to the Lebanese army, averaging a meager $100 million annually. This clearly pales in comparison to the tens of billions directed towards Israel during the same period.

Moreover, Washington has actively impeded military cooperation between the Lebanese army and other international forces. A stark example occurred in 2008 when US pressure thwarted Beirut from accepting military support from Russia, including advanced weaponry like MIG-29s, tanks, and ammunition.

In response to this asymmetry, there emerges a crucial need for neighboring states to cultivate their own capabilities, establishing deterrence against the conventional military might of Israel. This approach aligns with the realist school of international relations, which perceives the global order as inherently chaotic, compelling states to prioritize their security and interests through the accumulation of power — often in the forms of military and economic strength.

Time to get real

Realism also contends that maintaining peace necessitates a balance of power. When power is distributed equitably among states, it deters any single state from attempting dominance, as the cost of aggression becomes prohibitively high.

However, this balance is delicate and requires constant maintenance. From a realist perspective, peace is not merely the absence of conflict but relies on a stable power structure preventing major wars or unilateral domination. Therefore, aside from the obvious exception of Iran, other members of the region’s Axis of Resistance (Lebanon, Yemen, Iraq, Syria) must persist in building a deterrent against the Israeli military to forestall major conflicts and ensure stability in West Asia.

The realist school also posits that powerful states are inclined to expand their interests and influence beyond their borders as part of their pursuit of national interests and security. As states grow in power, their national interests become increasingly entwined with international dynamics, prompting deeper engagement beyond their borders.

Thus, alongside historical evidence of Israel’s inherent expansionist tendencies, behavioral science points to the fact that possessing substantial power will further drive the state to extend its influence beyond its geographical boundaries. To counteract this, establishing a robust deterrent force becomes imperative.

Considering the size of Israel’s military arsenal and technology sector relative to the 22,000 square kilometers it occupies, the occupation state stands out as one of the leading spenders on defense globally, a major arms exporter, the largest recipient of US military support, and boasting one of the world’s largest military reserves.

Despite the formidable force at Tel Aviv’s disposal, the Resistance Axis has recently demonstrated, notably through Yemen’s Ansarallah-led forces, that there exist significant vulnerabilities within Israel’s extensive security apparatus. The Lebanese resistance movement, Hezbollah, has also consistently punctured the myth of Israeli military prowess through successful cross-border operations that establish new rules of engagement. And, while Iran’s indigenous missile arsenal has yet to come into play, it may potentially be the one-two punch that neutralizes Israel’s entire arsenal.

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