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Defense minister: American aid package to be finalized in ‘weeks’

Kicking off joint US-Israeli drill, Ya’alon says US and Russia understand Israel will only intervene in Syria to protect its interests

Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon attends the joint US-Israeli Juniper Cobra drill in Haifa on February 22, 2016. (Ariel Harmoni/Defense Ministry)
Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon attends the joint US-Israeli Juniper Cobra drill in Haifa on February 22, 2016. (Ariel Harmoni/Defense Ministry)

Marking the start of a biennial US-Israeli ballistic missile defense drill in Haifa, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said Monday that a new 10-year military aid package from Washington should be finalized “in the coming weeks.”

“Israel has held talks over the last months on keeping its high-quality security in the Middle East with the goal of finalizing a budget for the next decade,” he said, speaking alongside US ambassador Dan Shapiro, after touring the USS Carney.

The US and Israel have been renegotiating the military aid package, which currently stands at $3 billion annually. Israel wants to up the amount to $5 billion annually, according to reports, and some Israeli officials have threatened to hold out until US President Barack Obama leaves office in the hopes of securing a better deal.

Ya’alon, who last week criticized the West’s approach to Syria, also expressed doubt that a US-Russian ceasefire in the works for the country could hold, and said Israel would not intervene except to preserve its interests, “something the US and Russia understand.”

Members of the Obama administration’s national security team arrived in Israel in late January to advance talks on a new US defense assistance package to the country. In November, Israel was said to have completed its “shopping list” of desired American 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.

US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel speaks to Israeli and US soldiers during a joint exercise called Juniper Cobra 14. (Matty Stern/US Embassy/FLASH90)
US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel speaks to Israeli and US soldiers during a joint exercise called Juniper Cobra 14. (Matty Stern/US Embassy/FLASH90)

The Juniper Cobra exercise is held every two years and is meant to prepare the two militaries for the threat of a missile attack, as well as allowing the armies to learn how to better work together.

In 2014, the last time the exercise was held, thousands of soldiers from both armies took part in the five-day event, which included computer-assisted simulations of a missile attack.

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).

“The exercise will employ Israel’s entire rocket and ballistic missile architecture, including Iron Dome, Arrow, and David’s Sling: assets that the United States is proud to have helped Israel finance and develop,” then-US defense secretary Chuck Hagel said at the start of the 2014 exercise.

JTA contributed to this report.

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