Israel’s MOU is ‘floor,’ not a ‘ceiling’

Israel’s MOU is ‘floor,’ not a ‘ceiling’

Israel is located in a bad neighborhood.

Israel faces immediate threats to its security from two U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organizations: Hizbullah and the 150,000 missiles and rockets in its stockpile, and from Hamas, which continues to rebuild its tunnel infiltration network. Israel also faces dangers from ongoing conflicts in Syria and from militant groups in the Sinai. At the same time, Iran’s leaders have repeatedly called for the destruction of Israel while moving ahead to develop ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads.

In 1998, the United States designated Israel as a “major non-NATO ally,” and in 2014 President Barack Obama signed congressional legislation declaring Israel a “Strategic Partner of the United States.” Last month, the House of Representatives reaffirmed that it is the policy and law of the United States to ensure that Israel maintain its “qualitative military edge” and has the capacity and capability to defend itself from all threats.

This close security relationship has real benefits for the United States. Israel’s military experiences have helped shape U.S. policies on counterterrorism and homeland security, and our countries share intelligence on terrorism, on nuclear proliferation, on regional instability. The two governments work together to develop sophisticated military technology for defense, such as the missile and subterranean detection systems, which are funded by my House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense.

It is in this context that President Obama recently announced an agreement that guarantees Israel $3.8 billion in security assistance per year between 2018 and 2028. This memorandum of understanding succeeds the existing MOU wherein Israel is guaranteed $3.1 billion per year.

So this arrangement, drafted without congressional consultation, sounds like a great deal, right? After all, the president’s national security adviser, Susan Rice, publicly noted the historic nature of the agreement, calling it the “single largest pledge of military assistance — to any country — in American history.”

Yes, $38 billion is a big number. But the key word in Rice’s declaration is “pledge.”

While the Obama administration has done much by executive orders, the president and his staff understand that Congress is the body that appropriates funding by virtue of Article 1, Section 9, Clause 7 of the Constitution, which says that “no money shall be drawn from the Treasury but in consequence of appropriations made by law.” In other words, the Obama administration can “pledge” money for Israel’s security, but it will be Congress that decides how much and for what purpose. It will be Congress, not the new president, that provides the money for Israel to spend on U.S. military equipment.

That is why many of us in Congress view this MOU as a funding “floor” rather than a “ceiling.” Let’s face it: This new MOU may not be adequate because, fundamentally, we cannot predict the future. No one has any idea what new threats Israel will face next year or years following. Will joint U.S.-Israeli research and development provide new technologies that deserve funding? And what other circumstances will Israel’s enemies create that demand resources for counter-measures?

The U.S. must stand with Israel to help promote security and stability in the volatile Middle East. Israel’s survival, safety, and security are in America’s national interest.

As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said last month, “Israel has no greater friend than America. America has no greater friend than Israel.”

I, for one, welcome input from Israel’s government and its American supporters on our future security relationship. After all, friends have each other’s backs, especially those who live in bad neighborhoods.

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