US Vice President Joe Biden on Wednesday reportedly warned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Washington’s yet-to-be signed defense aid package to Israel will be less than what Jerusalem seeks, but offered reassurances the amount would reflect the security needs of the country.
During Biden’s meeting with Netanyahu, described by an Israeli official as “friendly, cordial and warm,” the vice president urged the prime minister to accept the offer, assuring him the agreement could always be amended at a later date.
“In the past we’ve known how to make adjustments to agreements after they’ve been signed,” he said according to a report in Channel 10, citing senior Israeli officials.
The Prime Minister’s Office could not confirm the content of the report.
Israel and the United States are negotiating a memorandum of understanding that would extend US military aid for Israel for another 10 years. Due to expire in 2018, the current aid package stands at $3 billion annually, and, according to reports, Israel wants to up the amount to $5 billion annually.
However, Biden reportedly told Netanyahu the figure would not reach that high.
The negotiations come as President Barack Obama has pledged to maintain a robust defense relationship with Israel in the wake of a nuclear deal between Iran and six major powers that Israel had adamantly opposed.
Talks between the US and Israel over the 10-year defense package are said to be stalled over the total amount of aid that will be provided to Israel.
Some Israeli officials have reportedly threatened to hold out until Obama leaves office in the hopes of securing a better deal.
Netanyahu was set for a meeting with Obama in Washington later this month at which the deal might have been finalized, but on Monday, Israeli officials said the prime minister had decided not to go. An Israeli official said any issues would be able to be discussed with Biden. Hebrew media reports late Wednesday claimed Biden had urged Netanyahu to finalize the package now rather than wait for a new US administration, warning that the American public might come to ask why so much money was being allocated to Israel; there was no confirmation of these reports.
On Tuesday, the White House denied that Biden would make a new defense aid offer to Netanyahu on his brief visit and said the vice president would focus on US economic and energy interests, as well as security concerns about Iran and Syria instead.
As Biden and Netanyahu met on Tuesday, Iran fired two more long-range ballistic missiles as it continued military tests in defiance of US sanctions and fresh warnings from Washington.
An Iranian news agency reported the missiles had the phrase “Israel must be wiped out” written on them in Hebrew. An Iranian commander said the test was designed to demonstrate to Israel, whose destruction Iran seeks, that it is within Iranian missile range.
Biden said the US would take action against Iran if long-range ballistic missile tests Tehran said it carried out were confirmed.
In November, Israel was said to have completed its “shopping list” of desired American military materiel, which reportedly included a request for V-22 Ospreys, planes believed capable of reaching Iran.
Israel also reportedly sought the V-22s from the US in 2012 when contemplating a strike on Iran’s Fordo enrichment facility, but later decided not to purchase due to budgetary restraints.
The US has either jointly developed or financed all three tiers in Israel’s missile defense program — Iron Dome (short-range missile interceptor), David’s Sling (medium range) and Arrow (long range).
Judah Ari Gross and JTA contributed to this report.