The South at War: Lebanon/Israel

At times, it can seem that the escalating Lebanon/Israel conflict is a distant battle over which the U.S. -- aside from the ocassional diplomatic visit -- has little control. But as the Institute showed in its report "The South at War," we're more closely implicated than we think, especially south of the Mason/Dixon line.

In many ways, the South is the home base of the U.S. military, making Southerners the ones most tied to and impacted by our country's adventures abroad. The South supplies more troops, houses more military bases, elects more hawkish politicians, and attracts more defense dollars than any region in the country -- making us a direct player in events in the Middle East today.

In the case of Lebanon/Israel, the South has two key ties to the conflict, which has claimed the lives of 430-600 civilians in Lebanon and 19 in Israel: arms and religion.

In terms of arms, Frida Berrigan and William Hartung of the World Policy Institute outlined the U.S. role in a paper this week:

Much has been made in the U.S. media of the Syrian- and Iranian-origin weaponry used by Hezbollah in the escalating violence in Israel and Lebanon. There has been no parallel discussion of the origin of Israel's weaponry, the vast bulk of which is from the United States. [...]

U.S. aid accounts for more than 20% of Israel's total defense budget ... Israel is one of the United States' largest arms importers. Between 1996 and 2005 (the last year for which full data is available), Israel took delivery of $10.19 billion in U.S. weaponry and military equipment, including more than $8.58 billion through the Foreign Military Sales program, and another $1.61 billion in Direct Commercial Sales

During the Bush administration, from 2001 to 2005, Israel received $10.5 billion in Foreign Military Financing - the Pentagon's biggest military aid program - and $6.3 billion in U.S. arms deliveries.

As a key leader in U.S. arms production, the South comprises a big share of these numbers -- by one analysis five years ago, almost 2/3 of arms sold to Israel come from the South. Examples of this connection include the $4.5 billion spent on 102 F-16 fighters, contracted to Lockheed Martin's plant in Fort Worth, Texas.

The second connection has to do with religion, as Michael Lind of the New America Foundation argued in Newsweek a few years ago:

Along with unilateral militarism, Protestant fundamentalism is deeply woven into Southern culture. Not all white Southerners are fundamentalists, of course, but the white South is the homeland of the religious right. Southern fundamentalists are ardent supporters of the state of Israel, for religious reasons. Many know the geography and history of "the Holy Land" as well as -- or better than -- they know the geography and history of the United States.

These two factors -- military economics and religious belief -- play an important part in U.S. policy, and tie the South particularly closely to the fate of Middle East conflicts.