Top Israeli defense official in US to sign massive military aid deal
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Top Israeli defense official in US to sign massive military aid deal

Yaakov Nagel set to meet with US National Security Adviser Susan Rice to finalize 10-year, $38 billion package

US President Barack Obama (right) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands during a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, November 9, 2015. (AFP/Saul Loeb)
US President Barack Obama (right) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands during a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, November 9, 2015. (AFP/Saul Loeb)

The acting head of Israel’s National Security Council, Yaakov Nagel, touched down in Washington, DC, on Tuesday to sign a 10-year defense aid package deal with the US.

The defense package, known as the memorandum of understanding, is set at $38 billion, with Israel pledging not to seek additional funding from Congress for the next decade. It also includes a provision curtailing Israel’s ability to spend the funds on its own arms industry over the next six years, Channel 2 reported Monday.

Nagel was reportedly scheduled to meet with US National Security Adviser Susan Rice on Tuesday afternoon or Wednesday to finalize the deal.

The current aid package stands at $3 billion annually, and Israel asked for an increase to $3.7 billion over the next 10 years, according to earlier reports.

Israel is also said to have asked for a separate, $400 million deal for missile defense spending — which could raise the total amount to more than $4 billion annually. However, the final figure was set without that provision. “There was no higher figure ever discussed,” the former Israeli national security adviser Ya’acov Amidror said Tuesday, describing the deal as “the best possible” accord.

The Washington Post said Sunday that the aid deal had been held up by Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, who was advancing his own bill for annual aid to Israel — which included a sum greater than the one reportedly being offered by the White House.

Yaakov Nagel (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Yaakov Nagel (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

“I’m offended that the administration would try to take over the appropriations process. If they don’t like what I’m doing, they can veto the bill,” Graham said. “We can’t have the executive branch dictating what the legislative branch will do for a decade based on an agreement we are not a party to.”

Graham said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had informed him that his opposition to the deal was holding it up. “The Israeli prime minister told me the administration is refusing to sign the MOU until I agree to change my appropriation markup back,” Graham said. “I said, ‘Tell the administration to go F themselves.’”

According to Channel 2, Israel is effectively siding with the White House in the spat with Graham, making a commitment not to seek more financial support from Congress, with the exception of during wartime.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with US senator Senator Lindsey Graham in Jerusalem during a previous visit by Graham on December 27, 2014 (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with US senator Senator Lindsey Graham in Jerusalem during a previous visit by Graham on December 27, 2014 (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro said Sunday that said the new agreement would constitute “the US’s biggest aid package to any other country in history.”

The deal, he said at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya’s International Institute for Counter-Terrorism, “would be finalized in the very near future.”

The aid package is seen in Israel as key to helping it maintain its qualitative military edge over potential threats in the region, including from an emboldened Iran flush with cash after many nuclear-related sanctions were ended over the past year in a deal signed with world powers.

A Tamir missile fired from an Iron Dome missile defense battery during a trial in the United States in April, 2016. (Rafael Advanced Defense Systems)
A Tamir missile fired from an Iron Dome missile defense battery during a trial in the United States in April, 2016. (Rafael Advanced Defense Systems)

For the US, Israel is a rare island of stability in a region in turmoil, as well as an ally on non-nuclear security issues in the region, including cyber warfare and efforts to rein in Islamist terror groups. Missile defense technologies developed in Israel using US funds are available to US defense contractors involved in the development. Some of these Israeli-made technologies are set to be deployed to protect US troops and allies in other global trouble spots.

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).

One key area of dispute in the aid talks, according to past reports, is America’s demand that a larger amount of the funds be spent on American-made products. Currently, Israel can spend 26.3 percent of US military aid buying from its own domestic defense companies.

The US also reportedly wants to remove a clause in the memorandum that allows Israel to spend $400 million a year on “military fuels.”

In April, more than 80 of the 100 sitting US senators signed a letter calling on President Barack Obama to increase foreign aid to Israel and immediately sign an agreement on a new package.

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