U.S. Aid to Israel in Four Charts

U.S. Aid to Israel in Four Charts

U.S. and Israeli army officers talk in front a US Patriot missile defense system.
U.S. and Israeli army officers talk in front a US Patriot missile defense system. Jack Guez/Getty Images

Israel has long been the leading recipient of U.S. foreign aid, including military support. That aid has come under heightened scrutiny amid Israel’s monthslong war to eliminate Hamas.

Last updated May 31, 2024 9:00 am (EST)

U.S. and Israeli army officers talk in front a US Patriot missile defense system.
U.S. and Israeli army officers talk in front a US Patriot missile defense system. Jack Guez/Getty Images
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Current political and economic issues succinctly explained.

The United States was the first country to recognize the provisional government of the state of Israel upon its founding in 1948, and it has for many decades been a strong and steady supporter of the Jewish state. Israel has received hundreds of billions of dollars in U.S. foreign aid in the post–World War II era, a level of support that reflects many factors, including a U.S. commitment to Israel’s security and the countries’ shared foreign policy interests in a volatile and strategically important part of the world.

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The two countries do not have a mutual defense pact, as the United States has with allies such as Japan and fellow members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). However, Israel is among a short list of “major non-NATO allies” and has privileged access to the most advanced U.S. military platforms and technologies.

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But ongoing U.S. military aid to Israel has come under greater scrutiny amid Israel’s monthslong war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip. More than thirty-four thousand Palestinians, including a large share of civilians, have died in conflict, according to the United Nations and the Gaza health ministry. Israel is responding to Hamas’s October 7 attack that killed approximately 1,200 Israelis, the deadliest in the country’s history. The Palestinian militant group’s actions were widely condemned as terrorism by Western governments.

How much U.S. aid does Israel receive?

Israel has been the largest cumulative recipient of U.S. foreign aid since its founding, receiving about $310 billion (adjusted for inflation) in total economic and military assistance. The United States has also provided large foreign aid packages to other Middle Eastern countries, particularly Egypt and Iraq, but Israel stands apart.

The United States provided Israel considerable economic assistance from 1971 to 2007, but nearly all U.S. aid today goes to support Israel’s military, the most advanced in the region. The United States has provisionally agreed via a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to provide Israel with $3.8 billion per year through 2028. 

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Since the start of  Israel's war with Hamas on October 7, 2023, the United States has enacted legislation providing at least $12.5 billion in military aid to Israel, which includes $3.8 billion from a bill in March 2024 (in line with the current MOU) and $8.7 billion from a supplemental appropriations act in April 2024.

How does Israel use the aid?

Most of the aid—approximately $3.3 billion a year—is provided as grants under the Foreign Military Financing (FMF) program, funds that Israel must use to purchase U.S. military equipment and services. In October, the Joe Biden administration said Israel had nearly six hundred active FMF cases, totalling around $24 billion. Israel has also historically been permitted to use a portion of its FMF aid to buy equipment from Israeli defense firms—a benefit not granted to other recipients of U.S. military aid—but this domestic procurement is to be phased out in the next few years. U.S. aid reportedly accounts for some 15 percent of Israel’s defense budget. Israel, like many other countries, also buys U.S. military products outside of the FMF program.

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Additionally, $500 million a year is slated for Israeli and joint U.S.-Israeli missile defense programs, in which the two countries collaborate on the research, development, and production of these systems used by Israel, including the Iron Dome, David’s Sling, and Arrow II. Iron Dome was solely developed by Israel, but the United States has been a production partner since 2014. For instance, the U.S. military contractor Raytheon manufactures Tamir interceptor missiles for Israel’s Iron Dome at its facilities in Arizona.

Are there any conditions or restrictions attached to the aid?

Transfers of U.S. military equipment to Israel, as to other foreign governments, are subject to relevant U.S. law. The president must notify Congress [PDF] before selling foreign powers major weapon systems or services valued above a certain dollar threshold, and lawmakers are allowed a period to review the sale. For transactions with Israel (and other close U.S. allies), the threshold that triggers a fifteen-day congressional review ranges from $25 million to $300 million, depending on the defense articles or services.

Congress can block a sale through a joint resolution, although this has never happened. In special cases, the president can bypass the congressional review if they deem that a national security emergency exists. President Biden has used this expedited waiver process for both Israel and Ukraine. For smaller transactions that don’t meet the dollar threshold, no congressional review is required.

The United States cannot provide security assistance to foreign governments or groups that commit gross human rights violations, a red line enshrined in the so-called Leahy Law. Moreover, the Biden administration announced in February 2023 that it would not provide arms to recipients deemed likely to commit serious human rights violations. Some legal scholars and other critics have alleged that the United States has not applied the Leahy Law with regard to Israel as it has with other Middle Eastern countries.

Any military aid that the United States provides to recipients must only be used according to agreed-upon terms and conditions, and it is incumbent on the U.S. government to monitor the end use of the equipment it provides. For instance, the Ronald Reagan administration banned transfers of cluster munitions to Israel for several years in the 1980s after it determined that Israel had used them on civilian targets during its invasion of Lebanon.

Israel has agreed to use U.S. weapons only in self-defense. Outside of this, Biden administration officials said in mid-October that they had not placed further limitations or constraints on how Israel uses U.S. weapons, although they said that Israel should observe international law. In February 2024, four months into the Israel-Hamas war, Biden issued a national security memo requiring recipients of U.S. military aid to give written assurances that they would observe international law in their use of the aid, and that they would facilitate the delivery of U.S. humanitarian assistance in the area of armed conflict where the U.S. military aid is being used. 

In May, the administration issued a follow-up report [PDF] that found it “reasonable to assess” that Israel has used U.S. weapons since October 7 “in instances inconsistent with its IHL [International Humanitarian Law] obligations.” Days later, the White House said it was pausing a shipment of large bombs to Israel ahead of a pending assault on the southern Gaza city of Rafah, although it noted it would continue other military assistance. “Civilians have been killed in Gaza as a consequence of those bombs and other ways in which [Israel goes] after population centers,” President Biden said in an interview with CNN.

What military aid has the United States provided Israel since the October 7 attacks?

Israel has been using American-made weapons against its foes, including Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran, for decades. Since October 7, the Biden administration has reportedly made more than one hundred military aid transfers to Israel, although only two—totalling about $250 million—have met the aforementioned congressional review threshold and been made public. The Israeli military has reportedly received expedited deliveries of weapons from a strategic stockpile that the United States has maintained in Israel since the 1980s. Shortly after Hamas’s attack, the United States also agreed to lease Israel two Iron Dome missile defense batteries that Washington had previously purchased from the country.

The extraordinary flow of aid has included tank and artillery ammunition, bombs, rockets, and small arms. In April 2024, news reports said the Biden administration was considering new military sales to Israel that are valued at more than $18 billion and would include fifty F-15 fighter aircraft, although the shipments wouldn't arrive for years. The Israeli military is also reportedly purchasing some high-tech products, such as surveillance drones, directly from smaller U.S. manufacturers.

What is Israel’s qualitative military edge (QME)?

QME has been a conceptual backbone of U.S. military aid to Israel for decades, and it was formally enshrined in U.S. law in 2008 [PDF]. It requires the U.S. government to maintain Israel’s ability “to defeat any credible conventional military threat from any individual state or possible coalition of states or from non-state actors, while sustaining minimal damage and casualties.” QME is based on NATO military planning vis-a-vis a potential conflict with the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact countries during the Cold War.

Under the 2008 law, the United States must ensure that any weapons it provides to other countries in the Middle East do not compromise Israel’s QME. In several cases, this has required the United States to provide Israel with offsetting weaponry as part of larger regional arms sales. QME has also ensured that Israel is the first in the region to receive access to the most sophisticated U.S. military weapons and platforms, such as the F-35 stealth fighter, of which Israel has fifty.

Why is there growing public scrutiny of U.S. aid to Israel?

Israel received widespread support from the West immediately following Hamas’s attack on October 7, but pro-Israel sentiment among some groups in the United States and many other countries has weakened as Israel’s campaign against Hamas has also killed thousands of Palestinian civilians in Gaza and has exacerbated a humanitarian crisis that is spiraling toward famine. According to a March 2024 poll by the Pew Research Center, most Americans (64 percent) held favorable views of the Israeli people, while a slight majority (51 percent) viewed the Israeli government unfavorably.

Some U.S. and foreign leaders, the United Nations, human rights and activist groups, and other parties have voiced growing concern about Israel’s heavy air and ground assaults on Gaza, as well as its alleged obstruction of humanitarian aid to the densely populated enclave. Israel has said the high civilian death toll is a result of Hamas using civilians as “human shields.” In December 2023, South Africa filed a case at the International Court of Justice accusing Israel of perpetrating genocide, a claim which Israel and the United States both denounced as unfounded. In May, the prosecutor for the International Criminal Court (ICC) charged both Hamas and Israeli leaders with multiple war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Recent polls suggest that American adults are divided in their views of U.S. military aid to Israel, with a significant divergence among age groups. Support for military aid to Israel appears strongest among older respondents (ages sixty-five and older) and weakest among younger adults (ages eighteen to twenty-nine).

While Biden has been an ardent supporter of Israel’s right to self-defense and continues to supply Israel with military aid, he and some members of the U.S. Congress have been increasingly critical of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s prosecution of the war and his government’s planning for postwar Gaza. In December, Biden warned that Israel’s “indiscriminate bombing” of Gaza risked costing Israel its international support. Meanwhile, some Democrat lawmakers sought to condition U.S. aid on commitments from Israel to limit civilian casualties. 

In recent weeks, the Biden administration paused a shipment of bombs to Israel, effectively acknowledging that Israel was using American-made weapons in a manner that resulted in civilian deaths in Gaza and that risked violating the laws of war. The White House has also spoken out against what they view as Netanyahu’s lack of planning for postwar Gaza. “Israel’s on the trajectory potentially to inherit an insurgency with many armed Hamas left or, if it leaves, a vacuum filled by chaos, filled by anarchy,” said U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in May 2024. Netanyahu has also faced criticism from his own defense minister, Yoav Gallant, for failing to form a vision for “a governing alternative in Gaza.”

The Biden administration, however, rallied behind the Israeli government in late May after ICC investigators applied for arrest warrants for Netanyahu and Gallant over allegations of war crimes committed in the Palestinian territories during the latest war against Hamas and possibly before. The White House called the ICC’s decision “outrageous” and “profoundly wrong-headed.” The ICC simultaneously announced warrant applications for several Hamas leaders as well.

Prior to the war, the U.S.-Israel relationship had suffered some strains over the rhetoric and policies of Netanyahu’s government, including its plans to curb the Israeli Supreme Court’s powers and its approval of more Jewish settlements in the West Bank—critics say the settlements violate international law and undermine prospects for a future state for Palestinians. The so-called two-state solution has been a long-running U.S. foreign policy goal, including for the Biden administration. Some U.S. lawmakers have raised these criticisms in the debate over U.S. aid to Israel during the war in Gaza.

In recent years, some U.S. and Israeli analysts have said that U.S. aid to Israel should be reevaluated because Israel is now a wealthy country—the fourteenth richest per capita—with one of the most advanced militaries in the world. Unlike Cold War-era Israel in the 1970s, when large amounts of U.S. aid started to flow, modern Israel is more than capable of providing for its own security, and the U.S. aid unnecessarily distorts the bilateral relationship and the countries’ respective foreign policies, these observers say. CFR Senior Fellow Steven A. Cook wrote in May 2024 that U.S. military aid should be phased out over ten years and replaced with a series of bilateral agreements on security cooperation, a move he says would benefit both countries and help normalize their relations.

Martin S. Indyk, former U.S. ambassador to Israel and current CFR Distinguished Fellow, has also called for reductions in U.S. aid. “The U.S.-Israel relationship would be a lot healthier without this dependence. Time for Israel at seventy-five to stand on its own two feet,” he wrote on X in June 2023.

Some experts argue that U.S. aid actually weakens Israel’s defense industrial base while serving primarily as a guaranteed revenue stream for U.S. defense contractors.

On the other hand, supporters of continued aid say that it fosters ongoing, important collaboration between U.S. and Israeli defense industries and experts, and in the end helps the countries counter shared threats in the Middle East, particularly Iran. U.S. aid remains a “vital and cost-effective expenditure” that enhances U.S. national security, and it should not be reduced or conditioned, wrote more than three hundred Republican lawmakers in 2021. Ending U.S. military aid today “would send a message to all of Israel’s enemies that Israel’s greatest friend was stepping away, so they should double down on their plans for more, and more deadly, assaults on the Jewish state,” wrote CFR Senior Fellow Elliott Abrams in September 2023.

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