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Could sequester hit Israel?

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Photo of Secretary of State John KerryWhen John Kerry takes the stage at the University of Virginia today to deliver his first major address as secretary of state, he'll be making a plea  for one of the spending areas likely to draw the least amount of sympathy when the sequester axe hits. In a letter to the Senate, Kerry warned that foreign aid may have to absorb a $2.6 billion hit if a deal to avert the automatic budget cuts isn't reached.

While money U.S. taxpayers sent overseas might be considered a rare appealing target for the budget axe since there is virtually no voting constituency to agitate for protecting the funds, Kerry could have a political ace in the hole: That would be Israel, which unlike virtually every other country, has a formidable domestic lobby it can mobilize on its behalf.

It's probably no accident that, in his letter Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., Kerry mentions Israel, Jordan and Egypt in warning of the impact the impending sequester could have on the nation's foreign relations. Kerry says Israel and the two neighboring Arab nations who have gone the furthest in supporting the Jewish state, could lose out if the sequester necessitates a $300 million cut to foreign military assistance.

The pro-Israel lobby represents a range of interests but it is definitely a booming business in the U.S. In 2011, these interests spent $3.7 million on lobbying according to Center for Responsive Politics. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) has a powerful reputation and attracts key politicians from both sides of the aisle to it annual conference. AIPAC's website describes Israeli military aid from the U.S. to be of vital importance. 

According to Foreign Assistance.gov, Israel has received between $2.3 billion and $3.1 billion since 2006, with aid allocation increasing since 2008. 

Egypt's share of the foreign aid budget has ranged between $1.7 billion and $1.2 billion a year since 2008.

The increase in U.S. support to Egypt began after the Camp David Accords, a peace treaty between Israel and Egypt that Jimmy Carter brokered in 1978. Though the Egyptian government discontinued lobbying in 2011 following the fall of Hosni Mubarak's government, its influence efforts had an afterlife made possible by lobbying of defense contractors like Lockheed Martin that benefit from military sales to the country.

In comparison to Israel and Egypt, the two largest recipients of U.S. foreign aid, Jordan gets a much smaller sum. The U.S. allotted between $670 million and $937 per year since 2008, over the past five years funding allocation for Jordan has been on the decline.

Jordan does engage in direct lobbying, Sunlight's foreign lobbying tracker shows. The embassy and Arab Bank PLC both employ White and Case to lobby for them, according to Department of Justice Records. Arab Bank PLC, hires White and Case for litigation and public relations services and has contacted the State Department. In the last reporting period, from October 2011 to March 2012 Arab Bank PLC spent $831,000 on White and Case’s Services.

Even so, interests that have spent millions over the years to ingratiate themselves in Washington find themselves potentially under the sequester axe. Along with defense contractors such as Northrup Grumman, other key constituencies with formidable lobbying profiles could still be hard hit. Could one of those be Israel?

(Photo credit: U.S. Department of State)