How US tax dollars have supported Israel and its military for 75 years — and what’s next for American aid

  • The US government has provided more aid to Israel than it has to any other foreign country since World War II. 
  • Biden said this week he will ask Congress to send Israel additional aid in the wake of Hamas’ terror attacks. 
  • Some Democratic lawmakers are warning that Israel’s attacks in Gaza violate international law.

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Ever since Israel’s founding in 1948, the US has had a close relationship with the Jewish state. President Harry Truman was the first world leader to recognize its creation, and to this day Israel is a key US ally in the Middle East. 

Over the last nearly 75 years, the US government has provided more aid to Israel than it has to any other foreign country. Between 2001 and 2020, Israel received more military aid from the US than all other nations combined. 

In the wake of Hamas’ terror attacks in Israel on Saturday, President Joe Biden has sent additional military support to Israel and urged a divided, chaotic Congress to approve more. Despite concerns that Israel will continue killing civilians and children in Gaza, there is bipartisan support for aid to Israel. But it’s unclear what Congress can pass without a permanent House speaker in place.  

The US has sent Israel a total of $158 billion (not adjusted for inflation) in bilateral assistance and missile defense funding since 1948, according to a March report by the Congressional Research Service. In 2016, the US signed its third 10-year Memorandum of Understanding on military aid to Israel, pledging to send it $38 billion between 2019 and 2028. In fiscal year 2023, Congress appropriated $3.8 billion for Israel, as well as $98.58 million for other cooperative defense and nondefense efforts, according to the CRS report. In 2022, the US spent a total of $4.8 billion on military, economic, and missile defense aid for Israel. 

The US has provided Israel with some of its most advanced defense technology, including a collection of US-made F-35 fighter jets, which is considered the most advanced fighter jet in the world. Israel is using some of these weapons to attack Gaza now, according to open-source accounts. 

Israel spends 4.5% of its GDP — almost double the international average — on defense, and has built a robust domestic defense industry, becoming one of the world’s biggest arms exporters, with the US’s support. The US purchased more than $1.5 billion in Israeli military equipment in 2019, CRS reported. 

The future of US aid to Israel

US military aid to Israel is at the forefront of political negotiations in Washington this week since the militant group Hamas carried out terror attacks in Israel over the weekend, killing at least 1,300, injuring another 2,800, and taking 97 people hostage as of Thursday, according to Israeli authorities. 

Biden has repeatedly expressed unequivocal support for Israel following Hamas’ attacks and quickly sent emergency aid to the country. The aid includes interceptors for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system, artillery shells, precision-guided missiles, and fighter jets. The Biden administration also sent an aircraft carrier, the USS Gerald R. Ford, to the Eastern Mediterranean off the coast of Israel this week.

The Israeli military has launched unprecedented attacks on the Gaza Strip this week. More than 300,000 people in Gaza have been made homeless, while at least 1,417 Palestinians have been killed and 6,268 injured since Saturday, according to the Gazan Health Ministry. On Thursday, a United Nations official warned of a humanitarian disaster in Gaza, even as Israel indicates it will likely mount a ground invasion of the Palestinian territory.

Biden said he’ll ask Congress to take “urgent action” to approve additional aid to Israel. White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told reporters that the administration is “running out of runway” and will need Congress to step up. But it’s unclear exactly when and how much aid will be requested or provided. 

Some Democratic lawmakers have expressed concern about Israel’s attacks on Gaza. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez called Israel’s decision to cut off the supply of water, fuel, and electricity to Gaza, which is home to more than two million people, “a violation of international law” and argued that the US “must draw a line.”

“Instead of continuing unconditional weapons sales and military aid to Israel, I urge the United States at long last to use its diplomatic might to push for peace,” Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Minnesota Democrat, tweeted on Monday

There is overwhelming bipartisan consensus in Congress around sending additional aid to Israel, but there are disagreements over how much to send. And since Republicans booted Rep. Kevin McCarthy from his post as speaker, getting any aid passed through the chamber could prove difficult. 

Any aid package for Israel will likely be tied to other funding, including aid for Ukraine, funding for Taiwan, and even funding for US border security. But there is significant disagreement between Republicans and Democrats over these other priorities. House Republicans last month rejected an effort to send more aid and weapons to Ukraine.

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Eliza Relman