U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), a potential Republican presidential contender in 2016, on Monday called for a gradual reduction of American foreign aid, delivering the message in an unlikely venue — on his first visit to Israel.
"It will harder to be a friend of Israel if we are out of money. It will be harder to defend Israel if we destroy our country in the process," Paul told the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies, an Israeli think tank. "I think there will be significant repercussions to running massive deficits ... you destroy your currency by spending money you don't have."
Paul, a longtime opponent of foreign aid, acknowledged he was expressing a "minority opinion" and doubted Congress would end foreign aid in his lifetime. "It's unlikely anything changes, but I think it is worth discussing," he said.
Paul said the aid, used in large part by Israel and Egypt to buy U.S. weapons, was creating an arms race in the Middle East that could ultimately harm Israel, not help it. "I'm concerned that some of the weaponry that we are currently giving to Egypt may one day be used against Israel," he said.
Paul suggested Israel would actually benefit from less aid, saying it would enhance its sovereignty by not having to approach the U.S. "on bended knee" when making its own decisions.
"I don't think you need to call me on the phone to ask permission for what you want to do to stop missiles from raining down on you from Gaza," he said.
In numerous occasions, Paul pointed to Netanyahu’s speech in 1996 to the US congress, in which he expressed the same wish. “I believe that we can now say that Israel has reached childhood's end, that it has matured enough to begin approaching a state of self-reliance,” Netanyahu told US representatives.
“We are deeply grateful for all we have received from the United States; for all that we have received from this chamber, from this body. But I believe there can be no greater tribute to America's long-standing economic aid to Israel than for us to be able to say: We are going to achieve economic independence. We are going to do it. In the next four years, we will begin the long-term process of gradually reducing the level of your generous economic assistance to Israel,” Netanyahu said.
As member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Paul is scheduled to meet with Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres and other Israeli leaders before heading off for meetings in Jordan and the Palestinian Authority.