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 war to eliminate Hamas.

January 23, 2024 1:15 pm (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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About half of Americans hold favorable views of Israel, according to recent polls. But ongoing U.S. military aid to Israel has come under greater scrutiny amid Israel’s war with Hamas, spurred by the Palestinian militant group’s October 7 terrorist attack that killed more than 1,200 Israelis, the deadliest such attack in the country’s history. Some U.S. lawmakers and foreign leaders, the United Nations, human rights and activist groups, and other parties have voiced growing concern about the scale of Israel’s war to eliminate Hamas. They have been especially critical of its heavy bombing of the Gaza Strip, which has reportedly killed more than twenty-five thousand Palestinians—mostly civilians.    

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 $300 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) to provide Israel with nearly $4 billion a year through 2028, and U.S. lawmakers are considering billions of dollars in supplementary funding for Israel amid its war with Hamas.   

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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. 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.

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.

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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. Before selling major U.S. weapon systems or services to foreign powers, the president typically must notify Congress [PDF], allowing lawmakers a period to review the sale (fifteen days for sales to Israel). 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 Joe Biden has used this expedited waiver process for both Israel and Ukraine.

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. In a recent example, the Biden administration withheld a planned shipment of U.S.-made assault rifles to Israel in December 2023 due to concerns that the weapons would end up in the hands of extremist Israeli settlers in the West Bank.     

Israel has agreed to use U.S. weapons only in self-defense. Outside of this, Biden administration officials have said they have not placed further limitations or constraints on how Israel uses U.S. weapons, although they say that Israel should observe international law.  

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?

Recent polls suggest that most Americans believe the United States is providing Israel the right amount of or not enough support, although U.S. military aid has become increasingly controversial amid the Israel-Hamas war. Israel enjoyed widespread support in the West immediately following Hamas’s surprise terrorist attack on October 7, which included alleged war crimes and atrocities against civilians, but public opinion has shifted in many countries as the civilian death toll has mounted and a majority of Gazan Palestinians remain displaced.

Biden has been an ardent supporter of Israel’s right to self-defense and continues to supply Israel with military aid, but he and some members of the U.S. Congress are concerned about the Benjamin Netanyahu government’s prosecution of the war. In December 2023, as the U.S. Congress debated legislation that included $14 billion in emergency funding for Israel, 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. The same day, the UN General Assembly voted overwhelmingly for a cease-fire in Gaza, with only 10 of 190 countries, including the United States, voting against the measure.  

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.

More broadly, 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 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. “It’s time for an agreed-on path to phase out military aid,” wrote CFR Senior Fellow Steven A. Cook in 2020. “This is not punishment but rather recognition that the United States has been successful in achieving its goal, assistance is not an entitlement, and the United States does not think that annexation [of the West Bank] is in Israel’s interest.”

Martin Indyk, former U.S. ambassador to Israel and current CFR Distinguished Fellow, has also called for reductions in U.S. aid. “The US-Israel relationship would be a lot healthier without this dependence. Time for Israel at 75 to stand on its own two feet,” he wrote on Twitter in June 2023.

Other experts argue that U.S. aid actually weakens Israel’s own 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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