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Israel—the state built for murder

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Decades of US military investment helped make Israel the monster it is today. Anne Alexander examines the special relationship at the heart of imperialism in the Middle East
Issue 2415
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu with former US defence secretary of state Leon Panetta
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu with former US defence secretary of state Leon Panetta (Pic: Chuck Hagel)

Palestinians are under attack not only from Israel, but from its main backer, the United States.

While Israeli missiles pulverised sleeping children, US politicians competed to raise the level of military support for the Zionist state. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid declared, “We can do better and need to go further in protecting Israel.” He said backing Israel was “not a partisan issue” but “an American principle”. 

Since its bloody birth in 1948, the Israeli state has received £72 billion in US assistance. Through wars and crises the funds have flowed, even when the US economy began to falter after 2008. 

It can appear that little has changed. But the relationship between the Israeli “watchdog” of imperialism and its US master has undergone a number of subtle but important shifts.

These reflect both the internal dynamics of Israel’s economy and society, and the wider changes in the balance of power in the region. They follow the humiliating military defeat for the US in Iraq, and the cycle of revolution and counter-revolution in the Arab world.

The scale of US financial support for Israel is astounding. Since 1945, no other country has received as much aid.

Israel also enjoys many special privileges. It can spend US military aid on purchases from Israeli manufacturers, rather than only US arms companies. Israel also benefits from US funding for its rocket and missile defence systems.

Next year it is set to get £1.9 billion of military assistance through the State Department’s Foreign Military Financing (FMF) programme. This is about 55 percent of the year’s FMF funding and nearly 25 percent of the overall Israeli defence budget. But it isn’t all. There is also an additional £600 million for joint military programmes and £104 million for Israel’s Iron Dome rocket defence system. 


Recent legislation has intensified US-Israeli military cooperation. Maintaining Israel’s military advantage over its neighbours has long been a key plank of US policy. Now it is formally written into the aid programme. As a Congress briefing stated this year, “US military aid for Israel has been designed to maintain Israel’s “qualitative military edge” (QME) over neighbouring militaries.” 

Israels Iron Dome missile system can now be made in the US too

Israel’s Iron Dome missile system (Pic: IDF)

The United States-Israel Strategic Partnership Act was passed in March of this year. It requires the US President to prepare a detailed report on the state of Israel’s QME every two years.

And since 2008 the US government has been legally obliged to show that arms sales to any Middle Eastern country will not adversely affect Israel.

Four decades of US military aid has reshaped Israeli economy and society. It has reinforced the role of the military within society. Like 19th century Prussia, Israel is not a state with an army, but “an army with a state”.

And the specific strategy followed by the military-industrial complex in both countries has played a central role in Israel’s economic development.

Israel is now the world’s tenth largest defence exporter. Its high-tech warfare industry has been the engine of its economy for two decades. It has transformed Israel from a basket case reliant on US economic support in the 1980s to the affluent, industrialised nation it is today. This can be seen in the changing balance between military and economic aid over the past ten years. Direct economic aid was phased out entirely in 2007—but overall military assistance increased. 

The long-term strategic investment in the military technology sector by the US since the 1970s has made Israel into a cybernetically-enhanced Sparta. It is a colonial garrison, military research lab and elite strike force rolled into one. The interlocking nature of the US and Israeli military industries has become more visible in recent years.


In March the US and Israel signed a co-production agreement which will give US manufacturers access to the technology behind the Iron Dome rocket defence system. Israel’s experience against Palestinians living under occupation, and particularly the people of Gaza, has allowed it to develop a unique expertise.

Recent US investment in Israel has focused on technologies which could transfer to US wars against the “asymmetric threat” of lightly-armed resistance groups. The rise of a high-tech military has also helped cement Israel’s policies of racist exclusion.

Zionists always sought to exclude Palestinians from their economy, even before the creation of Israel. But in important sectors such as agriculture and construction, they were forced to use large numbers of Palestinians as cheap labour. The high-tech industries, reliant on a relatively smaller and more skilled workforce, eventually proved profitable without the need to exploit Palestinian workers. 

At the same time the Israel-Palestinian “peace process” of the 1990s also allowed the Israeli state to become less reliant on Palestinian labour. And it entrenched and expanded its physical “matrix of control” with settlements across the West Bank. Israel still needs workers, and as it moves away from using the Palestinians as a reserve army of labour it has to replace them. New immigrants have come from Eastern Europe and Africa—often to face horrific racism.

US Senate majority leader Harry Reid

US Senate majority leader Harry Reid (Pic: US Congress)

So while Israel can be described as an apartheid state, the configuration of this apartheid is very different to the historical experience of South Africa.

The racist state there was brought down largely by the mobilisation of the black working class behind the liberation struggle. Black workers in South Africa had an economic muscle that the Palestinians alone do not.

This shift helps to explain the long-term drift to the right in Israeli politics.

Israel has always been a racist project, conceived by its founders as a colonial enclave surrounded by hostile natives. But the economy has become ever more integrated into the military economy of the US.

This feeds a sense that Israel needs only to conquer the Palestinians, not compromise with them. This empowers the Israeli Right, as does the experience of occupation.

For the US, Israel is a crucial part of its machinery of domination in the Middle East. Israel helps it control a strategically vital region rich in oil. So the tightening of the US-Israeli embrace has to be set in the context of other changes in the region.

First is the relative decline of US power. Defeat in Iraq, coupled with the impact of global economic crisis, have reduced its room for manoeuvre. They have also given both its allies and enemies more space to pursue their own agendas. This increases competition between states, and tensions between the US and even long-term allies such as Israel and Saudi Arabia.  


The second is the eruption of revolutions in 2011. The restoration of much of the old regime’s power in Egypt and the transformation of popular revolution into bitter civil war in Syria emboldened Israel. The impact of this cycle of revolution and counter-revolution is contradictory.

It underscores why the US needs Israel, which has spent decades making itself impregnable to popular revolt from below. But it also underscores why this has always been only one side of a dual strategy.

Israeli arms cannot impose order directly on the poor of Cairo like they do in Gaza and the West Bank. To achieve that end, the US also invests in Egypt’s military-industrial complex. Egypt’s generals are more likely to be running factories producing broiler chickens, pots or pastries than showered with cutting edge military technology for cyber-warfare labs. But US investment in their enterprise is just as important to the maintenance of US imperialist interests.

The two sides of its imperial machine are in constant tension. This is likely to increase whenever the grip which guides it at the centre slackens. And it underscores the organic connection between the struggle against Israel and the struggle against the Arab regimes.

Freedom for Palestine cannot be achieved without integrating the struggle into a wider revolutionary movement that can challenge the US allies in Egypt or Saudi Arabia.

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