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Israel is likely to increase its arms exports now that it cannot use the aid on its own weapons industry, says Col. Lawrence Wilkerson

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SHARMINI PERIES, TRNN: It’s the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. Last week the United States and Israel signed a new ten-year military aid agreement under which the US will provide Israel with 38 billion dollars. According to the Congressional Research Service, this represents a 22 percent increase over the amount that was dispersed to Israel in 2014 and 2013. But this is still less than the 50 billion that Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had asked for. Joining us, to take a closer look at the impact of the MOU and the leadership of the Israeli government that we will be handing this money over to is Larry Wilkerson. He is a retired United States Army soldier and former chief of staff to the United States secretary of state Colin Powell. He also is an adjunct professor at the College of William & Mary, where he teaches a course on U.S. national security. Thanks for being with us again, Larry. LARRY WILKERSON: Good to be back Sharmini. PERIES: How concerned are you about this MOU? WILKERSON: I think this is a reflection of what the Obama administration has been saying all along and it’s being sort of low keyed by my political party, his opponents. But they’ve been more supportive of Israel than any other administration since 1948. That support has been substantive support. Despite the fact that Netanyahu and President Obama seem personally not to get along very well and there’s ample reason on President Obama’s side not to, including the rather awkward and bizarre performance of Prime Minister of Netanyahu before a joint session of congress in defiance of the President of the United States’ polices. That has been a subterfuge or a camouflage of a very, very close relationship. Closer than under any other president. Military intelligence sharing, all the aspects of missile defense, research and development and actual execution and use of those defenses. A number of those things have grown tighter. They’ve grown more collegial. Particularly military to military relations. Intelligence to intelligence relations. So in our mind, this president has made the relationship with Israel even stronger than previous presidents and made it ever more along the lines of what I’ve been saying for a long time, dangerous for both countries when their interests are determined by both leaderships to be congruent when in fact they often aren’t. PERIES: Now Larry you indicated offline when we were talking about this that this kind of agreement lasting 10 years no matter who’s in power in Israel is unusual. Tell us more about that. WILKERSON: I don’t recall and as I said before, I’m not an expert on arms sales, foreign military sales, and agreements like this but I don’t recall us ever have this long a period inked if you will in contractual form for these various types of assistance. I also noted as you pointed out that we changed the terms of the aid. We no longer allow a portion of it to go to Israeli arms and to Israeli research and development of arms and so forth. It’s all or nearly all has to be spent in the United States now. This reflects I think the growing influence of the military industrial complex. Not only do we have this more or less Israel’s [lawyer] relationship between the US and Israel, where we do their beck and call. But we also have a situation where if congress is going to give them a ton of money they’re going to make sure the Israeli spend it back in the United States. That’s a reflection if you will of both of the bad sides of the United States congress. PERIES: Now Larry something unusual is happening this year if you haven’t noticed it is an election year and there is according to the republican house, I understand there’s over 300,000 US citizens living in Israel who plans to vote in the US elections. How much does this agreement have to do with that? WILKERSON: I really don’t think it has a lot to do with it. I think this is more political and it’s become almost entirely political. It’s not strategic anymore. Israel is not a strategic asset to the United States. It’s a strategic liability. There are a number of hard power facts to that strategic liability. Not least of which is American hard powers in Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Oman. It’s in other places than Israel. There’s nothing in Israel to speak of. We never think of going to Israel with major armed forces to combat any threat or enemy in the region. So it’s a liability. It’s not an asset. The relationship itself can be said as strategic I said because America feels like it needs to support Israel and Israel feels like it needs our support. So the symbiosis, the exchange of that relationship could be called strategic. But it fraught with liability for both of us now. I think what we see reflected in this growing relationship, the tighter relationship, military to military, intel to intel, more money. By the way Sharmini, this is money that the United States congress is granting to a country at a rate that would put $1,000 or better in the hands of every Israeli citizen if you just parceled it out in that respective. We’re talking about a country that has one of the most successful economies in the Mediterranean if not the world. What are we doing giving all this US hard earned, tax payer money to this country that is already fairly successful if not imminently successful. You need to start asking basic questions like that when the congress has done things like it has done with this agreement. PERIES: Now congress would reply to that question saying yes but you know we have this new feature which you mentioned that now they have to spend all this money in US arms manufacturers and it’s going to go back to the US pockets or US corporate pockets. How do you think the Israel business and military industrial complex particularly because that’s a vey big industry in Israel, is going to respond to this particular part of the agreement? WILKERSON: Well, part of their subsidies as it were, are going to be eliminated. I don’t think it’s going to curb their zeal for producing arms or their zeal for going elsewhere to sell those arms. This is another point I’ve mentioned many times. They’ve sold for example, unmanned aerial vehicles, so called drones to the Russians. They’ve sold arms to China. They’ll sale arms wherever there’s money to be made. We all remember the relationship with South Africa where Israel was actually helping the apartheid government in South Africa develop nuclear weapons. Working with them on other weapons research and sales of weapons and so forth. So this is a state that acts very realpolitik fashion when it comes to many things but certainly when it comes to arms. They’ll sell arms to almost anyone to make money. So there you might say is a perverse incentive to even do more of that because we are subtracting some of the money we were giving them from their own ability to manufacture arms. PERIES: And finally Larry, so this agreement as we both have mentioned is going to last 10 years and a very large amount of money that Israel is going to be receiving. Unprecedented amounts of money. But who are we handing this money over to when it comes to the leadership of Israel? WILKERSON: Let me make one comment too before I address that question. When we used to have our budget meetings at the State Department, we don’t get a lot of money for soft power. When you subtract the 3.4-3.8 now, 3.9 whatever going to Israel and then a complimentary amount going to Egypt essentially for having them continue the peace treaty, to continue adhere to the peace treaty with Israel, when you subtract that 6 plus billion dollars, now over 7 billion dollars from the State Department’s soft power budget, you don’t have much left. So we’re talking about the congress limiting the State Department’s soft power budget if you will, to chicken feed because of the dispensations we have to make in behalf of Israel. Whom is this money going to? Well this money is increasingly going to a security complex that comprises of 51, 52, 53% of the state of Israel. We are talking about a country that has destroyed its labor movement. You’ve had Shir Hever on. Shir Hever has pointed this out in no uncertain terms. They’ve destroyed their labor movement. They’re going after the non-Jewish citizens in the country in a way that is looking increasingly like the apartheid they already have in the West Bank and Jerusalem and they have centered the wealth in the country in the hands of 60 or 70 families. It’s looking a lot like Thomas Piketty describes France and the United States in his book, Capitalism in the Twenty-First Century, the worst maldistribution of wealth in any capitalist state in a long time. And this is a recipe for more and more national security state like actions. Because what you’re doing is concentrating all this wealth in the hands of people who believe in that national security state and want to maintain it and even increase its power. PERIES: Alright then of course it is uncertain who will actually be receiving this money in the long term because Netanyahu himself is wavering in terms of his leadership and position within the government. WILKERSON: We could have an outcome; I think the elections are scheduled for March if I’m not mistaken. We could have an outcome there that could be very different from the one Netanyahu contemplated when he called the elections. PERIES: Alright Larry I thank you so–. WILKERSON: I don’t think, Sharmini, that we’ll have a whole lot of change though in the nature of the leadership. I’m hoping I’m wrong. But it looks like the competition which might wrestle power away from Netanyahu is more or less appealing to the same interests Netanyahu does and did, only with a little more sophistication. PERIES: Alright I’m sure you’re going to be keeping an eye on this so will we hope to have you back on this matter soon Larry. Thanks. WILKERSON: Thanks for having me Sharmini. PERIES: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.


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Distinguished Adjunct Professor of Government and Public Policy

Lawrence Wilkerson's last positions in government were as Secretary of State Colin Powell's Chief of Staff (2002-05), Associate Director of the State Department's Policy Planning staff under the directorship of Ambassador Richard N. Haass, and member of that staff responsible for East Asia and the Pacific, political-military and legislative affairs (2001-02). Before serving at the State Department, Wilkerson served 31 years in the U.S. Army. During that time, he was a member of the faculty of the U.S. Naval War College (1987 to 1989), Special Assistant to General Powell when he was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (1989-93), and Director and Deputy Director of the U.S. Marine Corps War College at Quantico, Virginia (1993-97). Wilkerson retired from active service in 1997 as a colonel, and began work as an advisor to General Powell. He has also taught national security affairs in the Honors Program at the George Washington University. He is currently working on a book about the first George W. Bush administration.