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With Gas, Israel Should Wean Itself off Foreign Aid

Jonathan Tobin is absolutely correct to highlight the importance of the Tamar gas field coming online, and the impact that exploitation of the Leviathan field will have once that too comes online. In the course of his post, he notes, “It is yet another sign that the country that was once a basket case dependent on foreign aid from America and world Jewry in order keep its finances afloat irrespective of defense needs is on its way to becoming a major economic power.”

Much of the credit for Israel’s economic turnaround lies with Benjamin Netanyahu, during his tenure as Minister of Finance between 2003 and 2005. Then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon likely awarded Netanyahu the post as a career-killer. Israel’s finances were a mess, and both its unions and old guard socialist traditions made substantive reform seem impossible. Netanyahu tackled the challenge and while he did not win many friends in certain outmoded sectors, he did win enough respect to propel himself to the top slot. Indeed, Netanyahu’s financial reforms will likely trump his premierships when his legacy is written.

Let us hope that Israel’s energy windfall does not simply get wasted in public entitlements and social subsidies. Israel should not aspire to become fat and lazy like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Let it truly be a start-up nation, rather than a subsidy nation.

Certainly, Israel’s defense needs are real—and will not likely diminish in the next 50 years given how incitement has poisoned new generations of Palestinians, Syrians, Jordanians, Egyptians, and Lebanese. Iran continues to pose an existential threat. It’s all well and good to describe ordinary Iranians as moderate and even cosmopolitan—they are—but when push comes to shove, it’s the guys with the guns who matter, and the Iranians who would control Iran’s nuclear program would be the most radical and ideological core of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Likewise, apology or not, Turkey—where anti-Semitic incitement has become a staple of newspaper and television discourse—will pose an increasing threat to peace and stability in the Eastern Mediterranean. Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, whom John Kerry will fete this weekend, threatened both Israel and Cyprus with military force over their plans to develop further energy resources in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Defense needs mean that the United States should continue to guarantee Israel’s qualitative military edge, but they do not mean that an energy-rich Israel should receive U.S. aid in order to supply its military. Israel should be allowed to purchase what it needs, but if can afford to do so without assistance, it should be a matter of pride for Israel and Israelis that they secure themselves without subsidy. Neither Singapore nor Taiwan receive substantial foreign aid, nor does Japan. Israel should not either. Perhaps if Israel forgoes its remaining American assistance, it can not only regain some hearts and minds amidst inward-looking Americans, but it can also spark a debate about why the United States continues to fund so many states and entities that undermine regional security and are detrimental not only to the United States’s security, but to Israel’s as well.


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