Defense officials expressed concern Wednesday that American financial cutbacks may result in drastic cuts to military aid to Israel and could put anti-missile defense projects such as David’s Sling and the Arrow 3 on the chopping block.
Israeli and American officials are expected to begin negotiations over a new, multi-year military aid package in the wake of US President Barack Obama’s visit in the region last week.
“Our current agreement lasts through 2017, and we’ve directed our teams to start working on extending it for the years beyond,” Obama said at a joint press conference in Jerusalem with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week.
Israeli officials hope that the basic outline of the current US military aid agreement will be preserved in a future multi-year defense deal with the US. There is grave concern over possible cuts in aid, however, because of the American economic crisis and the effects of sequestration – the across-the-board cuts mandated by 2011 legislation – on the US defense budget, Maariv reported on Wednesday.
The current US military aid package provides Israel with $30 billion over the course of 10 years, but is set to expire in 2017. Of the approximately $3 billion dollars Washington provides Israel per annum, all but $450 million must be used to buy American-made military hardware. According to Defense News, the pending 10-year military aid package would commit Washington to providing Israel with up to $40 billion.
A senior staffer on the US House of Representatives Armed Services Committee said earlier in March that defense assistance to Israel would likely be cut by five percent, or between $150 and $160 million, out of the $3.1 billion Israel was to have been allocated in 2013, under the sequestration.
While the slice in the military assistance budget is the largest of the expected cuts from sequestration, it may not be the most painful. Beyond the military assistance funds, the Obama administration has helped fund joint US-Israeli missile defense programs through the Department of Defense.
Three of these systems are the Arrow 2, Arrow 3 and David’s Sling, designed to intercept long- and medium-range missiles such as those found in the arsenals of Iran and Hezbollah.
All three are jointly funded by the US and Israel, with different parts constructed in both countries. The Pentagon’s share of the funding is slated to be $268 million in fiscal year 2013 (which ends on September 30). With the cut to defense spending expected (though not guaranteed) to be around 7.9%, the US contribution to those programs could drop by over $21 million over the next seven months.
That cut is separate from the cut to funding for Iron Dome, an advanced missile defense system developed in Israel that is designed to intercept short-range rockets launched from Gaza and Lebanon. US funding for Iron Dome, also through the Department of Defense, comes to $211 million in fiscal year 2013, a figure that could be cut by $17 million by sequestration.
“As a result of decisions that I made last year, Israel will receive approximately $200 million this fiscal year, and we will continue to work with Congress on future funding of Iron Dome,” Obama said in Jerusalem.
Military aid cuts would also hinder Israel’s ability to purchase a second squadron of F-35 Lightning II, the new, top-of-the-line fighter US aircraft expected to roll out in 2016. Israel originally signed a $2.75 billion deal for 20 F-35s in October 2010, but the air force ultimately wants to expand the fleet to 75 F-35s — at a projected cost of upwards of $15.2 billion.
According to Maariv, sources in the Israeli defense establishment say they hope that during the upcoming talks “the Americans will show understanding that Israel’s security needs are increasing, on account of the instability characterizing the Middle East today.”