Jan. 16, 2009 | Israel's current air and ground assault on theGaza Striphas left about 1,000 Palestinians dead, including 400 women and children. Several thousand people have been wounded and dozens of buildings have been destroyed. An estimated 90,000Gazanshave abandoned their homes. Israel's campaign inGaza, which began more than two weeks ago, has been denounced by the Red Cross, multiple Arab and European countries, and agencies from the United Nations. Demonstrations inPakistanand elsewhere have been held to denounce America's support for Israel.
It's well known that the U.S. supplies theIsraeliswith much of their military hardware. Over the past few decades, the U.S. has provided about $53 billion inmilitary aidto Israel.
What's not well known is that since 2004, U.S. taxpayers have paid to supply over 500 million gallons ofrefined oil products-- worth about $1.1 billion –- to the Israeli military. While a handful of countries get motor fuel from the U.S., they receive only a fraction of the fuel that Israel does -- fuel now being used byIsraeli fighter jets, helicopters and tanks to battle Hamas.
According to documents obtained under theFreedom of Information Act, between 2004 and 2007 the U.S. Defense Department gave $818 million worth of fuel to the Israeli military. The total amount was 479 million gallons, the equivalent of about 66 gallons perIsraeli citizen. In 2008, an additional $280 million in fuel was given to the Israeli military, again at U.S. taxpayers' expense. The U.S. has even paid the cost of shipping the fuel from U.S. refineries to ports in Israel.
In 2008, the fuel shipped to Israel from U.S. refineries accounted for 2 percent of Israel's $13.3 billiondefense budget. Publicly available data shows that about 2 percent of the U.S. Defense Department's budget is also spent on oil. A senior analyst at thePentagon, who requested anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the press, says the Israel Defense Force's fuel use is most likely similar to that of the U.S. Defense Department. In other words, the Israeli military is spending about the same percentage of its defense budget on oil as the U.S. is. Therefore it's possible that the U.S. is providing most, or perhaps even all, of the Israeli military's fuel needs.
What's more, Israel does not need the U.S. handout. Its own recently privatized refineries, located atHaifaand Ashdod, could supply all of the fuel needed by the Israeli military. Those same refineries are now producing and selling jet fuel and other refined products on the open market. But rather than purchase lower-cost jet fuel from its own refineries, the Israeli military is using U.S. taxpayer money to buy and ship large quantities of fuel from U.S. refineries.
The Israeli government obtains the fuel through the Defense Department'sForeign Military Sales(FMS) program, and pays for the fuel and the shipping with funds granted to it through Foreign Military Financing (FMF), another Defense Department program. (In 2008,Congress earmarked$2.4 billion in FMF money for Israel, and $2.5 billion for 2009.) The dimensions of the FMS fuel program are virtually unknown among America's top experts onMiddle East policy. For his part, the Pentagon analyst was surprised to learn that FMS money was even being used to supply fuel to Israel. "That's not the purpose of the program," he says. "FMS was designed to allow U.S. weapons makers to sell their goods to foreign countries. The idea that fuel is being bought under FMS is very, very odd."
The fuel program, in fact, raises a number of pressing questions. The shipments have occurred during times of record-highoil prices, when American consumers have been angered by motor fuel prices that in 2008 exceeded $4 per gallon. Given those high prices, it appears to make little sense for the U.S. government to be promoting policies that reduce the volume of -- and potentially raise the price of -- motor fuel available for sale to U.S. motorists.
The U.S. fuel shipments are part of a sustained policy that has widened the energy gap between Israel and its neighbors. Over the past few years, theIsrael Defense Forcehas cut off fuel supplies and destroyed electricity infrastructure in the Gaza Strip andLebanon. Those embargoes and attacks onpower plantshave exacerbated a huge gap in per-capitaenergy consumptionbetween Israelis and Lebanon, the West Bank and Gaza. And that sharp disparity helps explain why the Palestinians have never been able to build a viable economy.
Edward S. Walker, former president of theMiddle East Institute, a Washington-based think tank, says the fuel supply program is emblematic ofU.S. military supportfor Israel. Walker, who has served as U.S. ambassador to theUnited Arab Emirates,Egyptand Israel, explains that the FMF money allows the Israelis to "do with it what they want. They can buy equipment or fuel. It's their choice, not the government's choice. It's the only program where we give someone a blank check and they can use it any way that they choose."
Given the recent spike in oil prices, which helped send the U.S. and theworld economyinto a tailspin, and Americans still smarting from paying $4 at the pump, says Walker, "Why are we supplying fuel to Israel when we are paying such high prices?"