Boost in US aid to Israel hard to justify, NY Times says

Ahead of Obama-Netanyahu meeting, paper warns budgetary cuts make increased assistance to Jewish state problematic

A US Navy F-35 fighter jet during a test flight. (US Navy/Wikimedia Commons)
A US Navy F-35 fighter jet during a test flight. (US Navy/Wikimedia Commons)

As Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu prepares to meet with US President Barack Obama for the first time in over a year, a New York Times editorial on Friday warned that it would be difficult for Obama to justify an increase in military aid to Israel, as Jerusalem is reportedly requesting.

Obama and Netanyahu will meet in the White House on Monday for the first time since the US led world powers to a deal with Iran over its nuclear program — a deal which Netanyahu vehemently opposes and which he fought furiously to thwart, greatly straining ties between the two allies in the process.

Now, with the accord finalized, Israel and the US are searching for ways to mend fractured relations. One step being considered is an upgraded US military aid package to the Jewish state.

On Wednesday congressional sources told Reuters that Israel was asking for $5 billion in annual defense aid for a decade, a significant increase from the current $3 billion a year. The sources estimated that the White House and Israel would ultimately agree on a sum between $4 billion and $5 billion.

White House officials told the New York Time they did not expect a final deal on defense aid to emerge from the two leaders’ meeting on Monday. And the paper noted in its editorial that, with Congress struggling to rein in federal spending, it would be difficult for the White House to rationalize a large boost to its assistance to Israel.

“It is hard to see how such a large increase could be justified, especially when Congress is trying to keep a lid on federal spending and is cutting back many vital programs. And Israel has long been a leading recipient of American assistance,” opined the Times.

The paper further asserted that whatever deal the administrations eventually agree upon, it must be contingent on Netanyahu’s future cooperation over matters of mutual interest.

US President Barack Obama meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Monday, March 3, 2014 (photo credit: AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
US President Barack Obama meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Monday, March 3, 2014 (AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Israel was said last week to have finalized its “shopping list” of desired US military material as part of a new long-term agreement for US defense assistance to Israel to maintain its qualitative edge in the region.

On the list, and reportedly approved in principle by the US, is an Israeli request for V-22 Ospreys, planes which are believed capable of reaching Iran and which Israel reportedly sought from the US in 2012 — but later decided not to purchase due to budgetary restraints — when contemplating a strike on Iran’s Fordo enrichment facility.

The new list was presented at meetings with senior defense officials from both countries.

Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon was in Washington last week to meet with his counterpart Ashton Carter and discuss the security memorandum to replace the current one, which provided for over $30 billion in US military aid spread over a decade, and will expire in 2018.

Israel has already contracted for more than 30 F-35 multirole fighter planes; it may ultimately want 50, or even 75. It also seeks a host of F-15 jets which incorporate Israeli-developed advanced technologies and are considered the “workhorse” of the Israeli Air Force.

The US is said to have approved Israel’s request for V-22 Ospreys, the Ynet Hebrew news site reported on Sunday. The Ospreys are aircraft that take off and land like helicopters but fly like fixed-wing planes and are reportedly able to reach Iran.

Under a separate budgetary hierarchy, the US administration is understood to be well-disposed to ensure funding for Israel’s missile defense systems — maintaining and improving the Iron Dome and the Arrow systems, and deploying David’s Sling, to ensure Israel can counter threats from neighboring Gaza, south Lebanon and Syria, as well as from an Iran that is relentlessly developing its ballistic missile systems.

The increasing involvement of Iran and Russia across Israel’s northern border raises new challenges on which Israel and the US are said to largely see eye-to-eye.

During the Carter-Ya’alon joint address last week in Washington, Carter pledged to enhance “the entire spectrum” of “our defense relationship… from tunnels and terrorists right up through the high-end.”

Carter also reiterated Washington’s “iron-clad commitment” to Israel’s qualitative military edge, which he called “a cornerstone of our strategy in the Middle East.”

“This is one of the most trusted relationships we have in the world and so when we discover something that is critical to both of us, we share it, and we do that from electronic warfare to cyber to all kinds of … tremendous intelligence sharing,” he added

“The alliance is a two-way street, and we appreciate what we get as well as what we give, and it’s an alliance that makes us stronger too,” he went on.

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