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Israel–United States relations are an important factor in the United States government's overall policy in the Middle East, and Congress has placed considerable importance on the maintenance of a close and supportive relationship. The main expression of Congressional support for Israel has been foreign aid. Since 1985, it has provided nearly $3 billion in grants annually to Israel, with Israel being the largest annual recipient of American aid from 1976 to 2004 and the largest cumulative recipient of aid since World War II. Congress has monitored the aid issue closely along with other issues in bilateral relations, and its concerns have affected Administration's policies. Almost all U.S. aid to Israel is now in the form of military assistance, while in the past it also received significant economic assistance. Strong congressional support for Israel has resulted in Israel's receiving benefits not available to other countries. Bilateral relations have evolved from an initial U.S. policy of sympathy and support for the creation of a Jewish homeland in 1948 to an unusual partnership that links a small but militarily powerful Israel, dependent on the United States for its economic and military strength, with the American superpower trying to balance other competing interests in the region. Some in the United States question the levels of aid and general commitment to Israel, and argue that a U.S. bias toward Israel operates at the expense of improved U.S. relations with various Arab and Muslim governments. Others maintain that Israel is a strategic ally, and that U.S. relations with Israel strengthen the U.S. presence in the Middle East. Israel is one of the United States' two original major non-NATO allies in the Middle East. Currently, there are seven major non-NATO allies in the Greater Middle East.