Opinion | National Security

Israel needs US-made weapons to contain Iran's aggression

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the view of The Hill

President Trump makes no secret of his desire for U.S. troops to leave the Middle East. But his administration still views the region as critical to national security, especially given Iran's escalating aggression. As America departs and the burden of maintaining regional stability falls more on Israel's shoulders, the United States should accelerate much-needed weapons deliveries for Israel to defend itself and U.S. interests, without adding any cost to the American taxpayer.

In 2016, the Obama administration and Israel agreed a 10-year memorandum of understanding (MOU) to provide Israel $38 billion in U.S. defense assistance, including for joint missile defense. Israel must spend the lion's share of these funds in the United States, benefiting the U.S. economy and workforce. It also forms the centerpiece of America's commitment under U.S. law to support Israel's "qualitative military edge" by helping Israel counter military threats at acceptable cost to itself. 

The MOU locked in Israel's procurement of U.S. defense articles at a constant annual level through 2027. Yet the sharply deteriorating security situation in the Middle East means Israel now faces much more urgent and intensive threats than when the agreement was negotiated.

First and foremost, there is now a very real risk of war between Israel and Iran, which could extend across much of the Middle East. This is a result of Tehran's rapidly expanding military footprint. Its proxy Hezbollah possesses more firepower than 95 percent of the world's conventional militaries, primarily 130,000 rockets and missiles aimed at Israel. Iran also is proliferating precision missiles and militias to create new fronts for attacking Israel from Syria, Iraq, Gaza and Yemen. 

A major war with Iran and its proxies would impose unprecedented operational demands on Israel. This is spurring Israel to use up precious munitions in a concerted campaign to forestall Iran's entrenchment. 

Tehran's ambitions also are feeding a region-wide arms race with Arab states and an increasingly hostile Turkey, further jeopardizing Israel's qualitative military edge. Iran will gain an edge in this race with the expiration of a U.N. arms embargo less than a year from now, while its resumed nuclear progress raises the specter of a massively destabilizing proliferation cascade.

Amid this backdrop, U.S. credibility has been diminished by its intent to withdraw from the region, combined with inaction in the face of Iran's expanding nuclear program and attacks against U.S. allies. Consequently, Israel is becoming even more indispensable for protecting U.S. interests on the ground in the Middle East. 

As laid out in a new report by the Jewish Institute for National Security of America (JINSA), front-loading the Obama MOU - without changing the overall agreement or the annual cost to the United States - would help Israel secure strategic advantages over these growing threats. 

Several options are available. Most straightforwardly, Israel could borrow commercially against the MOU, paying interest in shekels or from funds set forth in the MOU. The U.S. government would not be a party to such a loan and would not incur any associated expenses or risks. 

As it has done before, Washington could enable Israel to borrow at a lower rate by guaranteeing such a loan. Congress would need to authorize funds to cover a highly unlikely Israeli default, but otherwise this would not entail any actual U.S. expenditures. Appropriating additional funds up front would be more politically challenging, since this would have to be offset by reducing other outlays or borrowing by the U.S. government.

Front-loading would send a clear signal to Iran and others that American policymakers are willing to address growing security challenges in the Middle East. Accelerated procurement also would give Israel a valuable head start in acquiring newer, more combat-effective platforms such as F-35 aircraft, longer-range KC-46 refueling tankers and CH-53K transport helicopters, plus more missile defenses. 

Israel also needs U.S.-made precision munitions immediately, but production capacity here faces constraints. Front-loading could help by enabling Israel to offer larger, longer-term contracts for purchasing these critical weapons from U.S. defense companies, including GBU-39, GBU-53/B and Hellfire munitions, as well as JDAM kits to upgrade unguided bombs. 

Concomitantly, the United States should update its prepositioned stockpiles in Israel with such munitions. This would not initially involve U.S. procurement outlays, but it would enhance readiness and deterrence for both countries. As a stopgap, America could loan these, as well as KC-46 tankers and other weapons, to Israel until U.S. production increases.

Regardless of the specific route taken, the United States must accelerate weapons deliveries to Israel to help our ally proactively confront worsening shared threats. To an unprecedented degree, defending America's interests in the Middle East means urgently supporting Israel's ethos of self-defense.

Gen. (Ret.) Charles Wald, former deputy commander of U.S. European Command, is a Distinguished Fellow at the Jewish Institute for National Security of America's (JINSA) Gemunder Center for Defense and Strategy.

Michael Makovsky, a former Pentagon official in the George W. Bush administration, is president and CEO of JINSA.

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