As the sequester cuts on the military kick in, military aid to Israel and Egypt may face cutbacks to help save military spending domestically.
Israel is working to protect US military aid. The $85 billion in automatic cuts that Obama approved on March 1 could involve up to $729 million less in aid for Israel. Funding for missile-defense systems such as the Iron Dome and Arrow are threatened.
Ambassador to the US, Michael Oren said:“The Israeli Embassy still doesn’t know what will be the extent of the sequester. The aid to Israel is included in the federal budget. Just as this budget is cut, so can the aid to Israel. As the United States’ closest ally in the Middle East, Israel understands the complex budgetary challenges the Americans face. We are ready to carry our share of the burden, while trying to maintain the same projects that are essential to the security of the State of Israel, among them the Iron Dome.” Israel may try to keep funding for its missile defense system at the expense of general military aid.
Funds for the Iron Dome shield are additional to the regular military aid to Israel. As noted in a Washington Post article last May:The Iron Dome funds, already in legislation before Congress, will be on top of the $3.1 billion in military aid grants being provided to Israel in 2013 and every year thereafter through 2017.
Meanwhile, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) introduced a Senate motion that says the United States should help Israel militarily and economically if it acts against Iran in self-defense.“We have no better friends in that part of the world than Israel. Last year President Obama told the people of Israel, ‘We have your back.’ Our resolution builds upon that statement and makes it clear that if Israel is one day forced to protect themselves we will stand with Israel.”
While there will probably be some cuts to Israeli aid, military aid to Egypt will face even higher hurdles. US lawmakers generally favor aid to Israel but the $1.3 billion a year aid to Egypt is coming under fire by more and more US lawmakers.The aid has included fleets of M1A1 tanks and F16 fighter jets.
John Kerry has insisted that disengaging with Egypt would be a mistake. He is meeting this weekend in Cairo with Egyptian leaders. The US wants to review military aid policy to Egypt now that they do not have an established pro-western authoritarian such as Mubarak in power but a supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood. Already bills have been introduced in the House and Senate to halt military aid temporarily or end them entirely. Rep. Vern Buchanan, a Republican from Florida said:“Why are we giving billions to Egypt, when in my mind it is not a friend of America? We’re drowning in a sea of debt. Why are we spending so much money in a part of the world that doesn’t like us?”
Since 1979, after the signing of the Camp David Accords peace deal, Egypt and Israel have remained the top recipients of US foreign aid. Those accords are very unpopular among the Egyptian populace. Egyptian dependency on US foreign aid gives the US leverage that induces the Egyptian government to adhere to the terms of the agreement. If aid is withdrawn the Egyptian government would not have as much incentive to continue following an unpopular policy. Egypt also helped negotiate a ceasefire during the Gaza conflict.
David S Adams, assistant secretary of state for legislative affairs said:“Maintaining this relationship and assisting with the professionalization and the building of the Egyptian Armed Forces’ capabilities to secure its borders is one of our key interests in the region. Egypt continues to play an important role in regional peace and stability.”
John MacCain the Republican senator from Arizona takes a more moderate approach in suggesting that aid to Egypt should be focused more on tools for counterinsurgency and counterterrorism. John Kerry maintained that cutting off Egyptian aid would be very damaging to US policy interests in the middle east:“Egypt is a quarter of the Arab world. It is critical to everything we aspire to see happen in the Middle East.”