The United States and Israel are young nations. They entered a chaotic world boasting firm national values grounded in religious morals and quickly developed strong military presences. Yet geographical location, anti-Semitic movements, and foreign relations have guided Israel on a starkly different path than the United States since its birth. Situated amongst neighbors who have sworn their opposition to Israel for decades, she has endured persecution and constant threats to her national security. Despite an adamantly proclaimed right to self-defense and a proven ability to carry it out during historic conflicts like the Six-Day and Yom-Kippur Wars, the tensions in and around Israel have only seemed to worsen. In the eyes of the United Nations, the resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict, a crucial component in the effort to curb terrorism, should result in a two-state solution.
Despite international threats, the Palestine issue perhaps poses the greatest harm to the future and success of Israel. While there is hostility on both sides, both Palestinian civilians and authorities are constantly taking divisive steps to ensure municipal autonomy from Israel. The sale of Palestinian land to Israelis is punishable by death. The Palestinian government claims this is a “necessary measure to ensure the founding of a future state”. Jews are ridiculed and even endangered on numerous sacred sites, primarily those in Jerusalem, their capital. The initial religious skirmishes between Israel and Palestine have now reached dangerous potential of large-scale feuds.
From the other side of the world, one is unable to fully grasp the daily turmoil in Israel. In March I took a trip there to visit, and I went out with friends during one of my first nights to explore my surroundings in Jaffa, close to Tel Aviv. It is considered a relatively safe region compared to other parts of the city, but that night an American student was stabbed to death in Jaffa, and many others were seriously wounded. Three nights later another stabbing took an Israeli life at the Dung Gate in Jerusalem, through which I had left the city only hours before. I had experienced a glimpse of the overwhelming internal violence haunting the nation, which made me evaluate the government’s efforts to prevent such brutality.
Israel mainly utilizes a strategy of force to deter violence and crime within its borders, especially in areas affected by the Palestine conflict. However, men like Gabriel Nadaf have strongly advocated for the integration of Arab members into forces such as the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) or the Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI). Though they have been criticized for erecting walls and separating areas controlled by Palestinian governments like Hamas from the rest of Israel, the Israel Ministry of Defense uses a large of amount of soldiers to keep the borders and contention zones heavily patrolled. The Iron Dome, implemented in 2011, is a system developed by the IAI to intercept and terminate short and mid-range missiles aimed at populated areas within Israel’s borders. This equipment ranks among the world’s best air missile defense techniques. US money given to Israel to facilitate the pursuance of internal peace would fund organizations and efforts such as these.
The growing need to maintain stability within Israel’s borders and throughout the rest of the Middle East has increased their need for defense funding. The United States has supported Israel with billions of dollars every year since 1985, making them the largest cumulative recipient of US foreign aid and security assistance since WWII. Our current Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), which has appropriated $30 billion towards primarily military support for Israel since 2009, will expire in 2018, forcing the United States to strategically reevaluate it’s interactions with Israel while pursuing peace in the Middle East.
Congressional support for a new MOU to meet Israel’s rising needs has strong support in both houses, especially in the Senate. However, President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have not reached any agreement. Unresolved details include the possibility of “add-ons” to the MOU during the next ten years, the Obama administration supporting UN constraints on the two-state Palestinian solution, and of course, the amount of foreign aid itself. As of now, Israel has requested $50 billion over the next ten years from the United States; a figure which is subject to change in the upcoming negotiations. A continuation of the original MOU alone, accounting for inflation, would result in aid of $3.6 billion per year. The White House has not yet approved such an appropriation, and disagreements over the recent JCPOA (Iran Deal) have not helped this discussion. Netanyahu stood firmly against the passing of the JCPOA and even petitioned in Congress, per an invitation from certain Republicans, urging the legislatures to vote against it.
How should we, Christian Americans, respond to Israel? Thus far, the United States has been Israel’s strongest trade and military partner, and Israel is far from undeserving of such efforts. With an aggregate $1 billion in exports to Israel and twice as much in imports, all fifty states benefit from America’s strategic relationship with Israel. Besides being members of prominent international commerce organizations such as the International Monetary Fund, World Trade Organization, and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United States and Israel convene annually at their Joint Economic Development Group to discuss economic conditions and potential reforms for the two countries. They have enjoyed a free trade agreement since 1985, and primarily invest in the other’s manufacturing sector. The United States predominantly imports goods such as diamonds, machinery, agricultural products, and optic and medical instruments from Israel, and each of these four goods ranks among the top five commodities exported to Israel as well. American trade negotiations with Israel have been fluid for years, but the cost-benefit analysis of how many dollars an MOU should contribute is far more complex. Where do we draw the line? $3 billion? $4 billion?
America has to look at more than just the tangible, near-future returns. Israel stands, both literally and figuratively, for freedom, moral justice, and human rights amidst powers and people groups bereft of any such convictions. Likewise, the United States, a country established on Christian ethics and ideals, has neither the right nor the ability to ignore the current struggle in the Middle East. The brutalities of terrorism, the spread of the Islamic State and its radical theology, the deprivation of political freedom, and the proliferation of nuclear weaponry stand foremost amongst a host of atrocities Israel endeavors, with our aid, to combat. Though they have isolated it from the Middle East, Israel’s ideology and political strategies have shown their alignment with numerous aspects of American foreign policy.
Speaking about Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East, President Obama said, “Many of the same forces that threaten Israel also threaten the United States and our efforts to secure peace and stability in the Middle East. Our alliance with Israel serves our national security interests.” Given the history of our country’s foreign policy during times like WWII, isolationism—especially during the opposition of a sectarian regime—has proven to be detrimental. So it is not just altruism, but also the interest of self that should incentivize our nation’s engagement in conflicts such as these. There is no denying the incentive must be strong, and our engagement can take many forms: foreign aid money, an MOU, a formal alliance, or when warranted, the deployment of troops. But the bottom line is clear. America must act.
Cooperation with our Judeo-Christian cousin is more crucial now than ever, and not only for political or economic reasons. Scripture gives clear prophecy to Jerusalem once again being in the hands of God as His chosen people. For the first time in 2,000 years, signs of this prophecy have come to fruition. In 1984 and 1991, large numbers of Jews were finally allowed to leave their homes in Ethiopia and return to Jerusalem, fulfilling the Isaiah 11 prophecy.
Whether a Christian Zionist perspective is embraced or not, Israel has continually proven to be a beneficial ally. Speaking of the MOU negotiations, Vice President Biden claims that “Israel may not get everything it asks for, but it will get everything it needs”. I hope that is true.
America must demonstrate a strong, value-based stance against the Middle East atrocities as well as a resolve to reinforce that stance when and where it is directly challenged. This means maintaining and further developing a healthy alliance with Israel in some form of a renewed and strengthened covenant.
Ryan McDowell is an intern for Providence. He is studying Business Administration and Economics at Pepperdine University.
Photo Credit: courtesy of Meg McDowell