Congressional spending bill includes $3.1 billion in foreign aid to Israel

$487 m. earmarked for missile defense and $40 m. for new tunnel detection program; ‘Nobody in Obama administration looking for a fight with Israel in 2016,’ analyst says

Illustrative: A joint session of the US Congress, September 9, 2009. (Wikipedia/Lawrence Jackson/ domain)
Illustrative: A joint session of the US Congress, September 9, 2009. (Wikipedia/Lawrence Jackson/ domain)

WASHINGTON — Congress on Friday passed an omnibus spending measure that appropriates $487 million for US-Israel missile defense programs and $40 million for a new US-Israel tunnel detection program, earning accolades from the pro-Israel American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

This year’s package, however, allocates $132 million less to Israeli missile defense than last year’s, as the US provided $619 million in 2015 toward the Iron Dome program, the Arrow 3 long-range interceptor program and David’s Sling mid-range rocket interceptors.

Sources familiar with the funding package said that last year’s missile defense spending was unusually high due to the use of Iron Dome missiles in July 2014’s Operation Protective Edge. In fiscal year 2015, Iron Dome received $350.9 million from the US while this year’s allotment is $55 million.

The omnibus bill, which approved a $1.15 trillion spending package to avert a government shutdown and fund federal agencies through next fall, also reinstates provisions passed through earlier legislation that address the ongoing implementation of the Iranian nuclear deal and the peace issue with Palestinians.

Days after the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) closed its investigation of Iran’s past nuclear activity, the legislation reiterates requirements that the administration submit reports to Congress detailing how Iran is using the funds it receives through sanctions relief and whether entities associated with Iran’s ballistic missile program are still being sanctioned.

It also requires a periodic “look back” on entities that have been given sanction relief under the deal to monitor that they are not engaged in sanctionable activities.

The bill includes carry-over provisions that threaten to shut down the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) office in Washington and cut off aid to the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority (PA) if the Palestinian leadership pursues investigations against Israel in the International Criminal Court, attempts to bypass negotiations and unilaterally seek membership in the United Nations or forms a unity government with Hamas.

Secretary of State John Kerry will now be required to certify that the PA is “acting to counter incitement of violence against Israelis” before disbursing any aid. The US may also reduce financial assistance to the PA on a “dollar-for-dollar basis” if they provide support for the families of Palestinian terrorists.

But even as Israel remains gripped by a wave of terror attacks launched by Palestinians, not everyone finds the measure’s inclusion of such language encouraging.

Aaron David Miller (photo credit: Courtesy)
Aaron David Miller (photo credit: Courtesy)

“This is more or less a ritual,” Aaron David Miller, a scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center who served under six secretaries of state in both Republican and Democratic administrations, told The Times of Israel. “Much of what’s in this package is driven by Republicans who don’t trust the administration on the Israel issue. Plus there is no peace process or a prospect of one, and the administration has admitted that, and nobody in the Obama administration is looking for a fight with Israelis in 2016.”

AIPAC, on the other hand, issued a statement Friday that “commended” Congress for passing the legislation, which enjoyed bipartisan support.

Israel is slated to receive a total of $3.1 billion in foreign military funding, consistent with the amount delineated in the US-Israel 10-year Memorandum of Understanding. The two countries are currently working on hammering out another such agreement that will remain in force for the next decade as well. Under current terms, over two-thirds of the $3.1 billion must be spent in the United States.

After years of Congress tightening the nation’s belt through automatic budget cuts known as sequestration, which first went into effect in 2013, members of both bodies overwhelmingly supported the year-end fiscal deal, which the president has said he will sign.

The spending increases for 2016 provide a notable $66 billion allocation in federal expenditures above previously agreed-upon limits divided equally between military and nonmilitary programs.

The House voted 316 to 113 to approve the deal, with 150 Republicans and 166 Democrats supporting. The Senate followed suit shortly later, advancing the bill with 65 to 33 vote.

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