US and Israel near agreement on record-breaking defence aid package
Washington - The United States and Israel are close to finalising an agreement over a military aid package under which the United States would pledge to provide Israel with up to $40 billion in military aid over ten years, sources in Washington say.
The United States has never promised such a large amount of military aid to another country.
Israel receives just more than $3 billion a year in US military aid, which represents 25% of Israel’s defence budget. Various other financial transfers and periodic emergency funds — known in Washington budget circles as “plus-ups” — mean that in any given year significantly more US funds are actually provided to Israel.
The proposed new agreement, which will take the form of a memorandum of understanding (MOU), is regarded by some as compensation for Israel in light of the nuclear agreement the United States and other powers signed with Iran in 2015, a deal that Israel adamantly opposed. It would replace the 2007 MOU that promised Israel $30 billion over ten years.
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has said that Israel requires $5 billion per year from the United States to meet the security challenge from Iran and that was his initial demand. The administration of US President Barack Obama is believed to be negotiating for a package that provides about $3.8 billion per year.
US Marines General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, met with his Israeli counterpart, Lieutenant-General Gadi Eizenkot, August 4th at the Pentagon. In a statement released by the Pentagon, Dunford stressed the closeness of the US-Israeli relationship and said that he and Eizenkot discussed “regional security issues”.
The aid package was not mentioned but Eizenkot travelled to Washington along with Yaakov Nagel, the acting head of Israel’s National Security Council, to try to complete negotiations on the proposed MOU, which would go into force in 2018. Nagel met with US National Security Adviser Susan Rice at the White House.
Eizenkot also visited Utah where he inspected F-35 Joint Strike Fighters that will be delivered to Israel this year. The F-35, a stealth aircraft, has the capability of eluding Iranian air defence systems, allowing Israel the potential to launch a pre-emptive strike against Iran.
While many pro-Israel members of the US Congress have been urging the administration to finalise negotiations, unresolved issues remain.
The Obama administration has been demanding that the new MOU reduces the percentage of US military aid that is spent on Israeli-manufactured armaments. Under the existing aid package, 26.3% of US funds may be spent in Israel. Obama wants more of the US military aid — and eventually all of it — spent on weapons manufactured in the United States.
Israel is the only recipient of US military aid that is allowed to use military assistance funds to support its own armaments industry. However, according to a Reuters report, after initial resistance Israel agreed to phase out the special provision over a five-year period, although doing so will cause job losses in Israel’s armaments sector.
The Obama administration is also insisting that the new package forbids “plus-ups” except in cases of extreme emergency. Israel likely will agree to this provision because it knows that with its strong support in Congress — and it is Congress that appropriates US funds — it is a virtually meaningless concession.
The Obama administration apparently is eager to agree to a new deal before the president leaves office, in part to rebuff those who claim he has not been sufficiently supportive of Israel. Netanyahu also apparently wants to reach a deal with Obama, in part to challenge his domestic critics who claim that he has permanently damaged the US-Israel relationship because of his transparent hostility to Obama.
A ten-year deal reached now would solidify US support for Israel until 2028. Israel’s favourability ratings in the United States, especially among Democrats and young people, have been falling.