The US's $3.3 Billion in Military Aid To Israel Is Illegal Under Its Own Laws
So, why are they breaking them? Sadly, the answer is predictable and deplorable.
A few days ago, I was enjoying a good book and a small glass of Talisker to round off a lovely weekend when I read something that chilled me to the core. Of all things to cause such a stir in me, it was a throwaway mention of an obscure piece of US legislation called the Symington Amendment of 1976. This sparked a frantic rabbit hole of investigation and research in me. After combing through reams of government reports, verified statistics, and international fact-finding missions, I found clarity and a shocking, yet altogether not unexpected, conclusion. This sordid yet sadly accurate tale is one of underhanded global influence, black gold, nuclear weapons, and devastating illegal military aid that is tantamount to proxy warfare. This all came to light because the Symington Amendment of 1976 makes the US’s $3.3 billion in annual military aid to Israel (as of 2022) Illegal.
Before I dive into this, I feel I must clarify something, as it has come to my attention that some are misrepresenting my work. In this article, I am criticising specifically the IDF, the Israeli state and the American state. These entities are entirely separate from the Israeli people, Judaism and the people of the USA. There are Jews who are vehemently opposed to Zionism. There are Jews and Zionists who despise the actions of the IDF and the Israeli government and have deep sympathy for those who suffer under it. What’s more, the US and Israeli governments, despite their democratic nature, have repeatedly failed to represent the consensus of their people and actively manipulated them to control their democracy. None of what I have said here is controversial. As such, it would be a logical fallacy to leap to the conclusion that my writing here constitutes a criticism of Judaism or the population of the US. I, and hopefully, you too, deeply oppose any form of nationalistic hate, antisemitism or racism. Hopefully, this clarification can set the stage for a more constructive discussion about the issues at hand.
Let’s start at the beginning of my rabbit hole. What is the Symington Amendment of 1976?
Well, the City University Of New York Law Review describes it in context with the Glenn Amendment of 1977 as such:
“US law prohibits economic and military aid to countries which develop nuclear weapons outside the framework of the international arms control regime, absent mandatory executive actions to waive the restrictions. The Symington Amendment of 1976 bars “economic and military assistance to any country that imported or exported spent nuclear fuel reprocessing or uranium enrichment equipment, materials, or technology but failed to comply with International Atomic Energy Agency [regulations].” The Glenn Amendment of 1977 bars aid to states not recognised as nuclear powers in the non-proliferation treaty that nevertheless detonate nuclear explosions, among other prohibitions. These amendments were integrated into the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Act of 1978, and later incorporated into the Arms Export Control Act.”
The Arms Export Control Act is still in effect to this day, and this is the crux of the issue here.
You see, under this law, Israel should be barred from military aid, as its nuclear weapons program is neither party to the Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) and isn’t overseen by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Israel has maintained a policy of nuclear opacity and has never claimed to have, nor denied they have, nuclear weapons. We don’t know definitively how many nuclear weapons Israel has; some well-respected estimates put it between 100 and 200 warheads. But it has been an open, unopposed and well-proven (i.e. with a vast amount of supporting evidence) secret that Israel has possessed nuclear weapons since the 60s. Almost every state in the world, and international bodies like the UN, consider Israel a nuclear power.
This nuclear inventory, its creation, its storage and the surrounding processes have never been subject to any IAEA inspections, which has been widely condemned by the UN and other international bodies. What’s more, Israel is only one of three nuclear-capable countries not to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) (as well as India and Pakistan), which was designed to prevent the rapid spread of nuclear weapons and promote cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy across the globe. In this way, the NPT was meant to be a safeguard against atomic Armageddon, yet Israel has refused multiple times to sign up. To put this into perspective, both India and Pakistan have a good relationship with the IAEA, ensuring their weapons are in accordance with international law, and even North Korea is a part of the NPT and has allowed IAEA inspections in the past.
This makes Israel’s nuclear policies not just an outlier but a major unchecked threat to global nuclear peace.
But, despite international recognition that Israel has possessed nuclear weapons since the 60s, the US has sent hundreds of billions of dollars in military aid to Israel over the years. Military grants and aid started flowing from America to Israel in 1976 (remember that date for later). It quickly grew to billions a year and has stayed that way ever since. In 2022 alone, the US sent $3.3 billion in foreign assistance to Israel, 99.7% of that went to the Israeli military.
But, according to the Symington Amendment of 1976 and Glenn Amendment of 1977, this aid is barred and illegal. Israel didn’t develop its nuclear technology by itself. Whistleblowers and investigations have found that the US, France, Germany, Britain and even Norway sold Israeli nuclear weapons technology and equipment. French engineers even helped build a spent nuclear fuel reprocessing plant in Dimona, Israel, which was capable of creating weapons-grade plutonium (I wasn’t lying when I said Israel’s nuclear weapons were well-proven). Israel (and these other states) conducted this all without the IAEA’s involvement. In fact, for years, the IAEA didn’t know about this. As such, under the Symington Amendment of 1976 Israel is barred from US military aid. And, as Israel is not a party to the NPT and has developed nuclear weapons, it is also barred from US military aid under the Glenn Amendment of 1977.
This military aid is no drop in the ocean, either. In 2022, Israel spent $23.4 billion on its military, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). This means that US aid accounts for a massive 14% of Israeli military expenditure! What’s more, the vast majority of the weapons, vehicles and software used by the Israeli armed forces are bought from the US. As such, the US actually accounts for far more than 14% of Israeli military expenditure. Whether these sales are considered a form of military assistance (Israel could never develop such advanced weaponry on its own) is a grey area, as historically, there is a mixed precedent. But, there is a significant argument that these sales should be banned under the Symington Amendment of 1976 and the Glenn Amendment of 1977.
Just a reminder that this military assistance and sales have enabled a vast number of deplorable acts against the Palestinians, from illegally occupying territory to the plethora of war crimes and breaches of human rights conducted during 2008’s Operation Cast Lead, 2012’s Pillars of Defence, and 2014’s Protective Edge, and those committed by the IDF since Oct 7th.
As I have stated before (read here), Hamas also has unequivocally committed war crimes, and those responsible should be held accountable. Israel’s war crimes and breaches of human rights, in comparison, are far greater in scope, are far more numerous and have a far more significant impact. This doesn’t exonerate Hamas at all, but it should be considered when talking about US-Israeli military aid, as they are enabling the far worse of two horrific evils.
So, the big question has to be asked. Why? Not only why is the US providing substantial military assistance to Israel, but why have they done it consistently for decades despite Israel’s vast war crimes and human rights breaches over the years, and the fact that it is illegal under their own laws? And for that matter, why has no one enforced this law?
Well, a surprisingly clear answer came from Joe Biden when he was just a senator, not a doddering President. During a speech to the Senate in 1986, Biden said, “It’s about time we stop apologising for our support for Israel. There’s no apology to be made. It is the best $3 billion investment we make. If there weren’t an Israel, the United States of America would have to invent an Israel to protect her interests in the region.”
And the rabbit hole deepens. What are the US’s interests in the region? Why do they need Israel to protect them? How is Israel protecting them? How does this justify the $3 billion a year in military aid (which Biden was referring to in the speech)? But, most of all, is any of this moral?
To anyone who has been paying attention to the geopolitics of the region (i.e. the Middle East) and America’s interventions there, such as Black September, The Gulf Wars, the Iran Contra Scandal, the invasion of Iraq, US intervention in Libya and US support of the Syrian civil war, the answer should be obvious. Get your bingo cards ready because this foreign special interest that the US has to prop up brutal militaries with billions of dollars of taxpayer money to protect is… Oil!
To explain this and answer the questions we have of Biden’s speech, we need a quick recap of the geopolitics of oil and the history of American warfare.
The Persian Gulf region (Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates) contains an estimated 50% of the world’s oil reserves. Most of these nations are part of OPEC, an organisation of oil-producing countries (mainly Middle Eastern) that band together to have cohesive oil policies such as pricing and production rates to protect them from threats such as Western oil policies. OPEC countries contain 79.5% of the world’s proven oil reserves, with the vast majority of OPEC oil reserves in the Middle East, amounting to 67.2% of the OPEC total.
In other words, the Middle East has vast influence over the fossil fuel industry in terms of both oil reserves and global political influential might. So much so that the US’s oil industry pales into almost insignificance. Let me explain.
31.3% of the global oil production comes from the Middle East. In comparison, the USA produces just 18.9% of the world’s oil. This is larger than any individual Middle Eastern country’s output, but these countries act as one in the oil industry through OPEC, making the US the small fish in the pond.
But, the US has relied on OPEC oil imports for decades. In 2022, 15.1% of US oil imports came from OPEC, with 12% of petroleum and 12% of crude oil coming directly from the Persian Gulf countries. That might sound low, but if these supplies were cut, it could have a devastating impact on the economy as fuel prices will skyrocket. This isn’t speculation, as OPEC placed an oil embargo on the US in October 1973 in retaliation for their support of the Israeli occupation of Palestine. The fuel price rose by nearly 300%, rendering many vehicles and energy far too expensive for many. The US economy was severely hit as a result; GDP declined more than 3%, and unemployment jumped 8%.
But OPEC can harm America in more ways than oil embargoes. These nations are incredibly wealthy, have nationalised oil companies and staggeringly little governmental debt. As such, if they wanted to increase oil supply, cut prices, and undercut US oil companies to the point of bankruptcy, they could.
Now, the US’s oil sector accounts for nearly 8% of the country’s GDP and 10.3 million American jobs. If this industry is wiped out, it would be devastating for the US (hence why oil companies should spend all their profits on switching to renewable energy). But, don’t forget that most of the Western political elite are not only heavily invested in these American-based oil companies, but are also executives of them and have their political careers and campaigns funded by them.
This is the US’s “regional interest” in Israel. The political elite need a thug in OPEC’s backyard as a threat to not create another oil crisis. If you remember the date that US military aid started flowing to Israel (1976), you will recall it was just after the oil crisis. The US supported Israel in order to secure oil for years before the oil crisis, but the OPEC embargo showed that this security was not tight enough. Did the US see that supporting a colonial and occupying force while playing divide and conquer with its neighbours might not be the best foreign policy for stability? No, they didn’t. Instead, the US concluded that their Persian terror wasn’t strong enough, so they doubled down and gave Israel the funds and weapons supply it needed to become a genuinely devastating military power to ensure OPEC toes the line.
This influence by threat is most apparent in how the US handles the Persian Gulf country’s policies. For example, they don’t care that these countries funded, trained and housed Al-Qaeda (who conducted 911), ISIS or Hamas. Indeed, they faced little backlash from this. But if they threaten the flow of oil to the US or threaten the Oil industry status quo, such as Saddam Hussein (leader of Iraq) did (such as massive deals with Russia and China just before 911), then their country gets massive military might levied against them, such as the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
The US has a precedent for the violence against its economic interests. Almost all of its post-WW2 wars can be traced back to ensuring resources for the US. Anyone who knows the horrific history of US interventions in South America and Indochina can testify to this.
But, during these years of conflict, the USA learned something incredibly valuable to them. While the Vietnam War did succeed in its goals (to stop the spread of communism through Indochina to ensure material supply isn’t nationalised and instead remains open to US influence and exploitation in these countries), it was far too costly and was a legal and PR nightmare for the states. But, when the US funded and supported coups, counterinsurgencies or terrorists, as they did in South America, they could meet these targets far more effectively and with a minuscule amount of legal or PR backlash. As such, post-Vietnam, the US started using more and more proxy warfare tactics to keep their hands clean whilst achieving their global influential ends.
That is what Israel is to people like Joe Biden. A nuclear-capable proxy war machine capable of creating sufficient deterrence and influence (also known as terror) in rival oil-producing countries to protect the US economy and his political backer’s pockets.
As such, the US’s recent veto on a UN vote to create an immediate ceasefire in Gaza should be a surprise. Of the 15 nations that voted, only the US voted against it, and the UK (who is basically just the US’s military pet since Iraq) abstained. Why the US can undermine international democracy like this is a topic for another article. But suffice it to say that the utter devastation being levied against the innocent people of Gaza (which make up 90% of the dead) and the utter destruction of their civilian infrastructure is the perfect example of military deterrence to any nearby OPEC states considering policy moves against the US.
This is also why no one will hold the US accountable to the Symington Amendment of 1976 and Glenn Amendment of 1977. The US state is conducting this underhand influence over the Middle East in the open and has shown time and time again its ability to use brutal and immoral force to protect its foreign “interests”. To hold the US state accountable would be suicide. Maybe not in literal terms, but it is a battle you will lose and come back from far worse for wears.
But, as this UN vote has shown, the US (and its pet, the UK) are becoming ever more isolated on the global political stage because of this immoral, dogged support of a proxy war machine. Even the people of Israel, of whom since Oct 7th, only 4% support Netanyahu, are showing signs of fatigue from this. A growing faction of them don’t want to be the US’s puppets any more. What’s more, As the global energy market shifts towards renewables, this influence that the US has fought so hard to gather will vaporise. Those hundreds of billions of dollars in Israeli military aid, countless more in arms sales to Israel and millions of innocent lives that were ruined, all eventually for nothing.
There is no silver lining here. Not that I can find. Death and destruction on biblical scales, all in the name of supporting a failing industry that destroys the planet. How Quintessentially Western.
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Sources: AP News, NTI, CNYLR, Arms Control Centre, USA Facts, MEM, EIA, Statista, ICANW, UN, EIA, Visual Capitalist, Reuters, OPEC, BBC, API, Al Jazeera, BBC, Federal Reserve History, Jewish Virtual Library, Statista, Investopedia, Georgia State University, Statista, Chatham House, The Cradle, The Guardian