The Irrationality of Punishing Israel by Withholding Aid

October 31, 2019 | Michael Koplow
About the author: Michael Koplow is the policy director of the Israel Policy Forum and an analyst of Middle Eastern politics.

Recently several Democratic presidential candidates have raised the possibility of withholding American financial assistance to the Jewish state to induce it to make policy changes. Such a move, notes Michael Koplow, wouldn’t be unprecedented—both George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan did so. To Koplow, however, cutting aid would likely “create more problems than it solves”:

Conditioning aid to Israel is a mess from a policy perspective. If it is intended as a way of punishing Israeli behavior, then it downgrades a vitally important defense and intelligence relationship for the purposes of making a values statement.

If U.S. assistance to Israel were an issue existential to Israel’s survival, that would create a different calculus, but as valuable and important as $3.8 billion in annual security assistance is to Israel, the country would be able to live without it.

Even if conditioning security assistance were to work in changing Israeli behavior in the West Bank, it would still bring a potential unintended outcome of greater casualties on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides. If withholding security assistance means less money for Iron Dome batteries, for instance, it makes larger numbers of Israeli civilian casualties a certainty when rockets are shot from Gaza, which in turn makes an Israeli ground invasion and exponentially higher Palestinian casualties just as certain. . . . While such an outcome is not the aim of those who advocate conditioning aid, it may come about nonetheless.

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