Media Could Use Some Assistance on U.S.-Israel Aid Deal

On September 13, 2016, the United States and Israel announced that they had reached an agreement, a “memorandum of understanding” (MOU), for a new 10-year package of security assistance from the U.S. to the Jewish state. Although some news outlets and commentators offered nuanced reporting on the MOU, several others failed to do so and omitted crucial information about threats facing Israel.

The aid package, which will consist of 3.3 billion dollars a year in military assistance along with $500 million annually in missile defense assistance as opposed to this year’s $3.1 billion in military assistance and a proposed $600 million for missile defense, comes at a crucial time for Israel. The Jewish state is presented with a challenging security environment that is due, in large measure, to the Islamic Republic of Iran’s open calls for the country’s annihilation. Iran funds several terrorist groups and proxies, including Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), but it is the threat posed by Hezbollah which has some analysts especially concerned.

Hezbollah, the U.S.-designated, Lebanese-based, Shi’ite terror group has accumulated considerable means to attack Israel. As CAMERA’s Hezbollah backgrounder pointed out, the Iranian-backed organization is committed to destroying Israel and has been behind terrorist attacks against Israelis and Americans that have spanned the globe. In 2006, Hezbollah initiated a 34-day war against the Jewish state, which included indiscriminately launching rockets at civilian populations.

According to April 19, 2016 testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, the Iranian-backed group has “openly deployed” unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in the Middle East. Dr. Michael Rubin, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington D.C.-based think tank, told the committee that the drones could easily fly over the Golan Heights, over the Galilee or into international air paths over Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International Airport or Israel’s smaller regional airports.

Rubin highlighted that “Iranian sources openly brag about their development of both ‘suicide’ drones and new satellite-guided drone navigation capabilities….Neither Iran nor its proxies need to be able to strike an aircraft or an airport to be successful. Simply interfering with civilian air traffic will likely augment Israel’s isolation as airlines service into Tel Aviv (“Hezbollah Gathering Intelligence and Battlefield Experience for ‘Next War’ with Israel,” CAMERA, April 28, 2016).”

Testimony submitted at the hearing also noted that Hezbollah reportedly has more than 120,000 rockets and missiles—many of which are capable of advanced targeting—aimed at Israel, a non-NATO ally of the United States.
A glaring omission

However, some major U.S. news media outlets failed to note this—and other—relevant context.

The Baltimore Sun offered a particularly flawed look at the MOU agreement (“U.S. seals deal to give Israel record $38B in military aid,” Sept. 14, 2016). Reporters Tracy Wilkinson and Joshua Mitnick of the Tribune newspapers’ Washington bureau, failed—in seventeen paragraphs—to so much as note the threat posed to Israel by Iran and Hezbollah. Indeed, the only time that Iran was mentioned was to say that the MOU “emerged in prolonged talks that followed a public rift between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the nuclear deal with Iran, the Palestinian peace process and other issues.”

Instead of discussing Iran or Hezbollah, Mitnick and Wilkinson claimed that “Palestinians and other critics of Israel complained that the new aid package and its decade-long duration, from fiscal year 2019 to 2028, essentially rewards the Netanyahu government despite its expansion of much-criticized settlements in the West Bank and other points of contention.”

In fact, as CAMERA has repeatedly noted (see, for example “Washington Post Treats State Department, Palestinian Allegations as Facts,” Aug. 4, 2016), Jewish communities in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) have not expanded outward. No new settlements have been added or land expropriated. Rather, the growth that has occurred has been due to natural population growth; high birth rates and not newcomers from other parts of Israel.

Crucial information about the MOU is similarly omitted. Mitnick and Wilkinson repeatedly referred to the aid package as “largest ever,” “major,” and “record,” and said that it “will increase U.S. aid from about $3.1 billion a year to as much as $3.8 billion a year.” Yet, as former U.S. deputy national security Elliot Abrams highlighted in The Weekly Standard:

“…the increase is almost certainly illusory. Congress appropriates hundreds of millions of dollars beyond the base $3.1 billion level for Israel’s missile defense, so the current aid level is about $3.5 billion. That means the total increase is roughly $300 million a year. But given inflation in the costs of military items, and the greater threat to Israel due to Obama’s Iran nuclear deal, the net result is at best continuation of the current aid (“’Historic’ in the Worst Way,” Sept. 26, 2016).”
A modest description

In their coverage of the MOU, POLITICO similarly noted that, “Some experts push back at the notion that the newly proposed deal provides much more than the current arrangement. Col. Gilead Sher, who served as chief of staff to former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, pointed out that Congress has added roughly $500 million every year on top of the estimated $3 billion a year given out under the current arrangement.”

Sher told POLITICO that he “would give [the new agreement] a more modest description than what I find in certain newspapers—like the ‘largest ever,’ an ‘exceptional achievement’ for Israel (“Can Obama Buy the Love of His Pro-Israel Critics?” Sept. 13, 2016).”

Although Wilkinson and Mitnick said that “Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, had criticized the package, and indicated that he believes Israel should receive more aid,” they failed to fully detail the restrictions which the MOU placed on the U.S. Congress’s authority to provide additional funds.

Calling it an “unprecedented arrangement,” journalist Josh Rogin pointed out that with the MOU, “the Israeli government has signed a letter promising to give back any additional money that Congress appropriates, effectively preventing Congress from giving Israel
any more money than President Obama wants it to have” for the years of 2017 and 2018. Rogin noted that this is significant as Congress, “in its appropriations bill, has been planning to give Israel $3.4 billion, plus $600 million for missile defense, in 2017 (“Obama and Israel cut Congress out of the aid game,” The Washington Post, Sept. 14, 2016).” Rogin, citing comments from the office of the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, reported that Congress was not consulted during the negotiations of the MOU.
Foreign to a foreign affairs columnist

While some U.S. news media outlets left out important context about the MOU, others managed to do one worse.

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof objected to the MOU with a tweet saying, “At a time when 6 million kids die annually around the world, should the U.S. really be announcing its largest aid package…to wealthy Israel?” Lee Smith, a foreign policy analyst and senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, a Washington D.C.-based think tank, expressed his astonishment:

“What’s weird here is that the Times foreign affairs columnist seems not to understand the basic difference between economic assistance and military credits. In fact, ‘wealthy Israel’ doesn’t receive a dime of economic assistance from the United States, and hasn’t since 2007 (“Saint Nick’s Math Problem,” Tablet, Sept. 20, 2016).”

Smith added an additional point that Kristof—like Mitnick and Wilkinson—glossed over. “What Israel gets from America are what is known as military credits, which is money that has to be spent in the United States on American-made weaponry. That is, Israel is the address for an American domestic subsidy that helps float the American defense industry, which helps keep Americans safe at home.” Previously, it was mandated that 76 percent of the aid was to be spent by Israel in the U.S. However, under the terms of the new MOU, Israel will have to spend 100 percent in the U.S. by the year 2024.

Indeed, the mutual benefits to both countries provided by U.S. aid to Israel was another underreported aspect of the MOU.

As CAMERA recently noted in the Richmond Times-Dispatch (“Israel has proven a good ally,” Sept. 17, 2016), then-U.S. Secretary of State Al Haig, remarking on intelligence, defense and economic benefits that the U.S. receives from Israel, once said, “Israel is the largest American aircraft carrier in the world that cannot be sunk, does not carry even one American soldier and is located in a critical region for American national security.”

U.S. security assistance to a key ally, Israel, is newsworthy. It’s unfortunate, however, that some prominent media outlets and commentators failed to provide the detailed coverage which the story—and their readers—deserved.

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