WASHINGTON — US President Donald Trump released his first budget blueprint Thursday, leaving aid to Israel unscathed even as he called for massive cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency, the Labor Department and the State Department.
Trump’s budget outline intends to slash what he considers unnecessary funding to various agencies and programs so he can pump more cash into defense spending — following through on a campaign promise he made to boost America’s military capabilities. But the report specifically leaves billions in defense aid to Israel untouched.
The budget proposal “provides $3.1 billion to meet the security assistance commitment to Israel, currently at an all-time high [sic]; ensuring that Israel has the ability to defend itself from threats and maintain its Qualitative Military Edge,” according to a copy of the document, titled “America First.”
The outline was released by the office of Management and Budget.
Other foreign aid programs, however, were not singled out, leading to worries that others could see cuts to the amount of money they receive from Washington annually, with the State Department budget pared down by 28.7%.
Trump, who has vowed to slim government spending and stop sending money overseas, originally wanted to slash the department’s budget by 37 percent.
According to The New York Times on Wednesday, Trump granted Secretary of State Rex Tillerson the discretion to choose where the cuts are most appropriate — with the exception of Israel, ordering him to leave aid to the Jewish state in place.
While there was no indication US aid to Israel would be targeted in the cuts, Trump’s promise to dramatically decrease State Department funding led some to worry how Israel may be ultimately effected.
There was no immediate indication if aid to Egypt and Jordan, who are the next largest recipients of US assistance would be affected.
“The FY 2018 request for the State Department and USAID will allow us to advance our foreign policy goals. Secretary Tillerson will use this opportunity to ensure that we are using U.S. taxpayer dollars as effectively and efficiently as possible,” a State Department spokesperson told The Times of Israel.
“Later this spring, the President will release the full FY 2018 budget request with more details on specific funding and programs requested for the State Department and USAID, along with other Executive Branch agencies.”
Former US envoy to Israel Dan Shapiro estimated on Twitter that cuts to Jordan and Egypt could still negatively impact Jerusalem. Both of their aid deals were signed following peace deals with Israel.
That should — and will — make Israel nervous, too. https://t.co/MhDUPvg2fk
— Dan Shapiro (@DanielBShapiro) March 16, 2017
The aid to Israel is part of a military assistance package forged between the two countries in a 10-year Memorandum of Understanding that expires in 2018, when the historic deal struck between the Obama administration and Israel will go into effect.
That package, signed by the two parties in September 2016, will grant Israel $3.8 billion annually — up from the $3.1 billion pledged under the previous agreed-upon MOU — starting in 2018 and through 2028.
The MOU signed between Washington and Jerusalem is the United States’ largest defense aid package to any country in history.
Such funding is allocated to a myriad of Israeli defense programs, not the least including the Iron Dome missile interception system, the Arrow 3 long-range interceptor program and David’s Sling mid-range rocket interceptors.
Trump’s America First rhetoric during the campaign had caused some jitters in Israel and elsewhere that he could slash the amount of aid given to allies generally.
Trump’s budget comes as his special envoy for Middle East peace, Jason Greenblatt, is concluding a “listening tour” in the region, trying to arrive at understandings to strike a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians
In the last several days, Greenblatt has met with both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, as well as King Abdullah II of Jordan.