In stark contrast to President Obama’s further, unprecedentedly high level of foreign aid to Israel, leading Republican presidential candidates have called for foreign aid to every country to “start at zero.” In fact, when Governor Rick Perry said at a recent Republican foreign policy debate that the foreign aid for “[e]very country would start at zero,” former Governor Mitt Romney said “I agree with Governor Perry. Start everything at zero.” Former Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, also endorsed Perry’s vision. This not only totally disregards the MOU both of our countries signed in 2007, but shows a serious lack of understanding of the importance of our commitment to Israel.
If we can’t count on Gingrich, Romney, and Perry to stand up for Israel on the national stage of a Republican debate, how do we know they will be with Israel on the international stage as president? Anyone seeking to be the president of the United States must reaffirm our commitment to the MOU and the safety and security of Israel. The Jewish State of Israel should not have to worry about a US president who wants to start Israel’s aid at zero.
Israel’s value to America’s national security has already been proven. In fact, calculating the military and strategic benefits to the US-Israel relationship, America’s foreign aid to Israel is a bargain. For just about two percent of what the US spent in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan last year, Americans can clearly see the return on our investment in aid to Israel.
Because of Israel’s military and intelligence capabilities, democratic values, and location in such a dangerous region – on the Mediterranean, proximate to the Suez Canal, with quick access to all parts of the Middle East, and vast experience fighting terrorists – Israel is like an aircraft carrier of democracy, freedom, and strength in a sea of dictatorships, theocracies, and terrorist-challenged monarchies.
In that dangerous region, there is no greater enemy to the national security interests of the US and Israel than Iran and its reckless pursuit of nuclear weapons. Recently, the public has seen the extent of US-Israel cooperation – overt and covert. It has been reported that our two countries have taken numerous joint operations to disrupt Iran’s efforts and, in the words of President Obama, “we remain committed to preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.”
A nuclear-armed Iran would threaten the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans in the region, all of Iran’s Arab neighbors, the world’s largest oil supplies and those who rely on that oil, and would be an existential threat to the Jewish State of Israel. Iranian nuclear weapons would also provide anti-US terrorists with access to the most lethal Iranian technology and would likely set off a nuclear arms race in the region. The consequences of a nuclear armed Iran would be catastrophic and we have no better ally than Israel in our fight to prevent the deranged President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad from achieving his dream of nuclear weapons.
The idea of starting US aid to Israel at zero is hurtful to the safety and security of the Jewish State of Israel and undermines America’s national security interests. Now is a time to build on our unprecedented US-Israel defense and intelligence alliance even further, not weaken it. Former Speaker Gingrich, former Governor Romney, and Governor Perry should know better.
Congressman Steve Rothman (D-NJ) is in his eighth term in the U.S. House of Representatives. He serves on the House Appropriations Subcommittees on Defense; and State and Foreign Operations.