Explainer: What to know about US military aid to Israel

AFP , Thursday 4 Apr 2024

The United States has approved the sale of tens of millions of dollars in military equipment to aid Israel's war on Gaza, and the close defence ties between the countries date back decades.

F-35 warplane - Israel
File photo: An Israeli F-35 warplane performs during an air show near the southern city of Beer Sheva on June 29, 2023. AFP


But the civilian death toll from nearly six months of Israeli bombardment and a ground invasion in Gaza is rising and the humanitarian situation is catastrophic, piling pressure on President Joe Biden to impose conditions on military aid.

Below, AFP examines recent arms shipments to Israel as well as the history of military assistance from Washington to its closest ally in the Middle East.

Recent 'emergency' sales

Since the beginning of Israel's Gaza war, the United States has approved sales of tank and artillery munitions to Israel on two occasions late last year. Both come under an emergency provision that waives the usual congressional review for foreign arms sales proposed by the President.

In the first instance, Washington approved the $106.5 million sale of nearly 14,000 rounds of 120mm tank ammunition and related items to Israel, while in the second, it signed off on a $147.5 million sale of 155mm high-explosive artillery munitions and related equipment.

But public announcements are not required for less valuable purchases, and according to the Washington Post, Biden's administration has approved more than 100 such smaller sales to Israel since October.

Israel's brutal war on Gaza -- in which it has employed US weapons -- has killed at least 33,037 people, mostly women and children, according to Gaza's health ministry, and its siege on the territory has pushed hundreds of thousands to the brink of famine.

Decades of military aid

The "emergency" sales to Israel are in addition to regular aid -- free of charge -- that the United States has provided for decades.

This assistance has armed Israel with advanced weapons systems including F-35 warplanes, and also funded the Iron Dome air defense system to shield against rocket attacks.

According to the Council on Foreign Relations think-tank, Israel has received more than $300 billion in military and economic aid since its founding in 1948, adjusted for inflation.

Israel is the "largest cumulative recipient of US foreign assistance since World War II," and received "significant economic assistance" from 1971 to 2007, according to a 2023 report from the Congressional Research Service (CRS).

Since then, almost all aid has been military, CRS said -- $3.8 billion in 2021, $4.8 billion in 2022 and $3.8 billion in 2023.

In those years, additional funding for missile defence came on top of the baseline figure of $3.3 billion.

Under an agreement that runs through 2028, the baseline $3.3 billion is provided in the form of foreign military financing, which can be used for the purchase of US military equipment, services and training.

*This story was edited by Ahram Online

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