The ongoing shutdown of the US government could negatively impact Israel’s security, Secretary of State John Kerry said Saturday.
Speaking to reporters, Kerry said the shutdown, which is nearly a week old, would delay payments for Israel’s security and for peacekeepers in the Sinai Peninsula.
“Our security assistance for Israel, our closest ally in the Middle East, is being delayed,” Kerry said. “The new fiscal year started this last week, but because of the shutdown, some entities don’t have the funding that they need, including supporting the peacekeeping mission in the Sinai, at a time of growing unrest in a critical area.”
He did not specify what kind of security assistance was being delayed. The State Department could not be immediately reached for comment.
The US currently gives Israel some $3 billion a year in defense aid, though that number may be slashed by austerity measures enacted by Washington.
America’s commitment to the Multinational Force and Observers, or MFO, in the Sinai is much smaller, totaling some $25 million annually, according to a 2012 report.
Kerry also said that the Treasury Department’s ability to monitor sanctions on Iran was hampered by the furloughs and lack of funding wrought by the shutdown, noting that a recent diplomatic push with Tehran was contingent on tough sanctions remaining in place.
“The opportunity to engage diplomatically with Iran is critical to all of us in the world, and we wouldn’t be where we are today if it weren’t for the pressure that has been brought to bear by the sanctions,” he said. “But right now, as a direct result of the shutdown, our Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Asset Control has been forced to furlough nearly all of its staff.”
His statement echoed comments by senior State Department official Wendy Sherman on Thursday, who said that the ability to monitor sanctions had been “devastated” by the shutdown.
On Saturday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered 350,000 Pentagon employees back to work despite the shutdown, but on Capitol Hill, Democrats and Republicans have continued to argue over the 2014 budget.
House Speaker John Boehner, asked Saturday whether Congress was any closer to resolving the impasse, replied: “No.” Aides say he has not figured out how to end the gridlock.
Even the top bipartisan achievement of the shutdown’s fifth day — agreeing to pay furloughed federal employees for the work days they are missing — was a thin victory. Congress made the same deal after the mid-1990s shutdowns, and Saturday’s 407-0 vote was widely expected.
The politics of the shutdown have merged with partisan wrangling over the graver issue of raising the federal debt limit by October 17. If that doesn’t happen, the White House says, the government will be unable to pay all its bills, including interest on debt. Economists say a US default would stun world markets and likely send this nation, and possibly others, into recession.
Boehner, R-Ohio, and US President Barack Obama say they abhor the idea of a default. But they and their respective parties have not budged from positions that bar a solution.
Obama says he will not negotiate tax and spending issues if they are linked to a debt-ceiling hike. Boehner and his GOP allies say they will not raise the ceiling unless Democrats agree to deep spending cuts.
Many House Republicans also demand curbs to Obama’s signature health care law as a condition of reopening the government. The president and his allies call the demand absurd.