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September 9, 2013 6:54 am

Obama’s Dithering is an Opportunity to Reassess U.S.-Israeli Relations

avatar by Gidon Ben-zvi

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President Obama on PBS. Photo: Screenshot.

U.S. President Barack Obama’s decision to seek congressional authorization for the use of force in Syria 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 decision will be on the ability of the United States to maintain viable relationships with friendly governments across the Middle East.

But while the President of the United States has chosen to shift the awesome responsibility of his office to a group of notoriously paralyzed and dysfunctional lawmakers, the countries that share a border with Syria do not have the luxury of simply allowing events to play out.

And in response to Obama’s actions, America’s geopolitical partners such as Israel are being forced to reassess their reliance on the United States.

But 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.

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Regarding non-military financial assistance, Israel is already far along in its march towards independence from the United States. In the late 1990s, policymakers from both countries agreed to wean Israel off of economic aid. This tough love approach was meant to liberalize the Israeli economy and alter 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 percent of Israel’s GDP. Today, aid to Israel from the U.S. represents a mere 1.5 percent 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. Furthermore, whenever Israel buys American, Israeli companies frequently lose out on contracts abroad. Washington has also used it leverage to 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 Obama’s surprise move to punt the Syria question to Congress should be heeded as a clarion call for Israel to loosen the ties that bind Israel to the United States.

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