TEL AVIV — As Israeli and US officials head into another, possibly final round of talks over a new 10-year military aid package, a general in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) reserves told Defense News his country would be far better off – and the US-Israel partnership stronger over time – if Israel found a way to wean itself off of US largess.
Insisting that US aid “harms and corrupts us,” Maj. Gen. (Res) Gershon Hacohen, a former head of IDF war colleges and commander of Israel’s Northern Corps, said the Israeli government should welcome gradual reductions, rather than increases, in US military grant aid.
“It requires leadership, but if this could be done in a calculated, well planned manner, it would restore our sovereignty, our military self-sufficiency and our industrial capacity,” Hacohen told Defense News.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office announced Monday that Jacob Nagel, the acting head of the Israel National Security Council, was being dispatched to Washington “for the purpose of signing a new MoU between the two countries as soon as possible.”
Nagel is scheduled to meet with US National Security Advisor Susan Rice on Aug. 1, in attempts to conclude the package to follow the current $30 billion agreement that expires in fiscal 2018.
Bilateral negotiations have faltered over the past several months with regard to terms, conditions and the top line of the package. According to sources here and in Washington, the US offer now stands at $3.8 billion annually, which includes some $400 million to be spent in Israel on cooperative missile defense and other pre-agreed joint programs.
As a condition of expanding Israel’s top line from $30 billion to $38 billion over the coming ten years, Washington is insisting on removing a 30-year-old privilege whereby Israel is able to convert a significant portion of grant dollars into shekels for local research, development and procurement.
“Israel places great value on the predictability and certainty of the military assistance it receives from the US and on honoring bilateral agreements,” Netanyahu’s statement said. “Therefore, it is not in Israel’s interest for there to be any changes to the fixed annual MoU levels without the agreement of both the US administration and the Israeli government.”
But Hacohen, a former member of the IDF General Staff who retired after Israel’s 2014 Gaza War, insisted that US interests – rather than Israel’s interests – are better served by Israel’s ongoing need for predictable, long-term US military aid.
In a July 24 interview, the former armored officer and outspoken maverick among his peers insisted that Israel’s “total dependence” on US aid merely institutionalizes IDF reliance on air power, at the expense of innovative and daring ground maneuver warfare.
“Israel is so addicted to advanced US platforms, and the US weaponry they deliver, that we’ve stopping thinking creatively in terms of operational concepts. For generations, we’re locked into thinking about how to improve technologically; and this is not necessarily the correct thinking when dealing constantly innovative enemies in asymmetric conflicts,” he said.
Hacohen, a secular man with degrees in philosophy and comparative literature, offered an analogy from the biblical tale of Noah’s ark, when the returning dove bearing a bitter olive leaf signaled that the flood waters had receded.
“According to Rashi, who was one of the most important pillars of Jewish thought, this story teaches us that liberty has a price; that it’s better to have a bitter leaf taken directly from the hand of god than to be given something sweet as honey by mortal men,” Hacohen said.
“The lesson here is that the bitter taste of things we accomplish on our own is preferable to the sweet privileges than can imprison us.”
Hacohen readily acknowledged that none of his former colleagues on the IDF General Staff or those in positions of influence in today’s defense establishment are likely to share his views.
Nevertheless, he insisted that eventual freedom of US aid could remove a source of constant tension in the US-Israel strategic ties.
“As we’ve seen from this ongoing story of the aid deal, this is not the way two true partners should behave. There shouldn’t be all this bargaining going on. Once we are not economically dependent on them, the partnership can flourish on its own merits,” Hacohen said.
Hacohen’s retirement after 42 years in uniform marked the last of the serving IDF generals to have fought in the 1973 Yom Kippur war.