US gives Israel biggest-ever military aid package
WASHINGTON // The White House on Wednesday confirmed it is giving the Israeli military $38 billion during the next 10 years — more military assistance than the United States has ever pledged to any other country.
Following months of behind-the-scenes negotiations, the state separtment said the two countries had reached a 10-year agreement. No exact sum was disclosed by either side but officials familiar with the deal said it totals $3.8 billion a year — an increase on the $3.1 billion the US. gave Israel annually under the previous 10-year deal.
Under the agreement, Israel’s ability to spend part of the funds on Israeli military products will be gradually phased out, eventually requiring all of the funds to be spend on American military industries. Israel’s preference for spending some of the funds internally had been a major sticking point in the negotiations.
The new agreement also eliminates Israel’s ability to spend a fraction of the funds on fuel for its military. In another apparent concession, Israel has agreed not to ask Congress to approve more funds than are included in the deal unless a new war breaks out, said the officials. The agreement concludes many months of negotiations that involved a delicate calculation by Jerusalem about whether to strike a deal with the outgoing US. president. In February, Netanyahu quietly floated the prospect of waiting for Mr Obama’s successor in hopes of securing a better deal.
But the Obama administration has been eager to lock in the agreement before leaving he leaves office to bolster the president’s legacy and undermine the criticism that his administration was insufficiently supportive of Israel.
The relationship between Mr Obama’s and Mr Netanyahu has been famously fraught for years, and ties between the countries worsened significantly when the US. and world powers struck a nuclear deal with Iran. Israel considers a nuclear-armed Iran to be an existential threat and disagreed sharply with Obama’s contention that the deal actually made Israel safer by limiting Iran’s nuclear programme.
Israeli officials have said predictability about US. aid is crucial to help its military to plan for the future. Securing the deal ahead of the US. presidential election in November also ensures that Mr Obama’s successor will not have to immerse him or herself in the issue during the first few months. Both Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton have pledged to protect Israel’s security if elected.
The new US.-Israel deal also includes, for the first time, funding for missile defence programs. Under the previous arrangement, Congress approved funds for missile defence separately and on an annual basis.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the largest pro-Israel lobbying group, praised Mr Obama for completing the deal and said it would send “a strong message of deterrence” to Israel’s enemies.
“With these funds, Israel will be able to modernise and better equip its armed forces,” said a statement from the group..
The Palestinians have criticised America for rewarding Israel while it continues to build settlements on the disputed West ttlement-building in the disputed West Bank — steelemtns which the US considers to be illegitimate.
Last week, the US was incensed by a video Mr Netanyahu released in which he equated criticism of settlement-building to support for “ethnic cleansing.” Mr Netanyahu said it was “outrageous” that Palestinians wanted their future state to include “no Jews” and rejected the notion that settlements were an obstacle to peace. The state department strongly disagreed with the Israeli prime minister’s words, calling them “inappropriate and unhelpful.”
* Associated Press
Published: September 14, 2016 04:00 AM