Netanyahu defends US defence aid package to Israel
JERUSALEM - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday defended a new $38 billion US defence aid package against criticism Israel could have negotiated a larger sum had he not angered the White House.
Speaking at the start of a cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said the deal was the "largest assistance agreement that the United States has ever provided to any country in its history".
He said it "proves the depth of the relationship, and the strength of relations, between Israel and the United States."
Netanyahu hit back at political opponents who argue the country should have received a larger package in compensation for the new threats Israel says it faces due to the nuclear accord with its arch-foe Iran.
The Israeli premier was a strong opponent of the deal between Tehran and major powers led by Washington, and his campaign against it included an address to the US Congress in March last year.
President Barack Obama's administration was angered by the address, which it saw as interference in the country's internal affairs by a foreign leader.
For Netanyahu's critics, he should have moved on from his campaign against the accord sooner and quickly begun negotiations on the new decade-long defence aid package.
Former prime minister Ehud Barak was among those criticising Netanyahu, saying his "reckless conduct has... undermined Israel's security."
"Israel will receive $3.8 billion a year -- an important contribution to our security but far less than what could have been obtained before the prime minister chose to blatantly interfere with US politics," Barak wrote in a Washington Post opinion piece.
Labour opposition lawmaker Shelly Yachimovich said that "Netanyahu himself told heads of the security establishment to count on $5-6 billion a year, of which $3.8 (billion) are left."
"This is a result of arrogant conduct, failing to read the map, and campaign considerations," she wrote on Twitter.
On Sunday, Netanyahu said "I would like to make it clear: we were never offered more.
"We were not offered more money, not even one dollar, and we were never offered special technologies. These are distortions and fabrications of interested parties."
He said such comments also showed "ingratitude to our greatest and best friend, the United States."
The United States and Israel signed the deal in Washington on Wednesday.
It covers the period from 2019 to 2028 and will see Israel receive $3.3 billion per year in foreign military financing -- up from $3.1 billion currently -- and $500,000 in funding for missile defence.
Officials from both sides have been keen to stress the enduring bond between the two countries and the central role the military alliance plays in securing the Israeli people in an unstable Middle East region.
Obama and Netanyahu have had tense relations, but the two men were determined to put their differences aside and finalise the aid package.
Israel relies heavily on US defence aid. Its total defence budget amounts to some $16 billion, excluding the US aid.