11.13.11

Rick Perry's Dangerous Israel Gaffe

At last night's debate, the candidate proposed starting foreign aid at zero each year—even for a special ally like Israel. Bruce Riedel explains how that could seriously harm Israel’s military—and help Iran. Plus, more Daily Beast contributors grade the debate.

Gov. Rick Perry's proposal to start each year with zero dollars in foreign aid allocated for Israel and all other countries would have a very disruptive impact on Israeli military planning and Israeli security. Perry's idea is bad news for Israel and shows how little he understands its needs.

For the last three decades, Israel Defense Forces (IDF) planners have relied on roughly $3 billion in U.S. aid annually to build a modern military with a qualitative advantage over all of Israel's enemies. The IDF knows it can plan multiyear purchases of jet aircraft like F15s and other weapons because U.S. aid will be certain for years ahead. Planners love certainty about everything, but especially budgets.

Perry would introduce uncertainty. Despite his hunch that aid would be substantial each year, the IDF would not have certitude to plan on. It presumably would need to make its case every year for aid, wasting energy and disrupting planning. For example the U.S. and Israel hold joint training maneuvers every year. In the zero-aid world, planning maneuvers for next year would be tricky—how much money determines how big the training effort. If you start at zero, you plan zero.

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The reality is that military budgets are planned on multiyear cycles. Friends don't rethink their friendships each fiscal year. The Pentagon and the IDF are tied together ’round the clock with hotlines and early-warning alert centers. I helped set up the hotline from the defense secretary's Pentagon office to the defense minister's Tel Aviv headquarters. It conveys the constancy and consistency of the alliance, a special relationship.

The zero-aid idea could also send the wrong message to Israel's foes. Under the U.N. sanctions approved last year, all military aid to Iran has been halted—a total arms cutoff. That is a certainty Iran's military has to plan on. Today they also have to plan on their enemy getting billions for years to come from America. Perry would send a different signal.