Israel and the US have made significant progress in negotiations over a 10-year American military aid package, with a final agreement expected to be signed soon, Israeli government sources said Thursday.
Following three days of closed-door discussions in Washington, “progress has been made and gaps have been closed” between the two sides, an Israeli diplomatic official said.
“Israel and the US are hoping to arrive at an agreement soon,” the official added.
Sources in Washington had similar assessments of the talks.
“We’ve made progress and closed many of the remaining gaps. We hope to be able to reach a final agreement soon,” a senior official told Reuters after the talks concluded on Wednesday night.
Brigadier General (res.) Yaakov Nagel, the acting head of the National Security Council, has been meeting with his American counterparts to work on the final draft of a new memorandum of understanding (MOU) set to come into effect in 2018, when the current one expires.
Negotiations on the deal have been going on for months amid tensions over the Iranian nuclear deal reached last year, which Israel vociferously opposed. Israel has charged that the accord signed between Tehran and six world powers, including the US, poses an existential threat to Israel and warrants increased aid to the Jewish State.
The Prime Minister’s Office said last week that Israel “places great value on the predictability and reliability of the military assistance it receives from the United States and on honoring bilateral agreements.
“Therefore, it is not in Israel’s interest for there to be any changes to the fixed annual MOU levels without the agreement of both the US administration and the Israeli government,” it added.
Netanyahu also said last week that he hoped to conclude the aid negotiations under the Obama administration, which ends in January 2017.
The US offer currently on the table, outlined to members of Congress earlier this month in a letter from US National Security Adviser Susan Rice, includes a pledge to substantially increase the aid package, now worth some $30 billion, and ink a new one that would constitute “the largest pledge of military assistance to any country in US history.” The letter was sent in response to a missive signed in April by 83 out of 100 senators calling on President Barack Obama to increase foreign aid to Israel and sign the new deal.
Under the existing agreement, Israel is permitted to spend about 25 percent of the aid it receives outside the US and another 13% on fuel for its aircraft — allowances no other recipient of US aid is granted.
That arrangement originated in the 1980s to build up Israel’s defense industry, which has thrived, helping Israel to become among the top 10 arms exporters in the world — and in some fields a competitor with US firms.
In an apparent concession, Israel will reportedly not request supplemental funding for the entire 10 years, and in the second half of the decade, will incrementally increase the amount it spends in the US per annum, until the entire amount of aid is invested in the American domestic market.
Israel has already indicated that it will not seek additional military funding for 2017, which still falls under the terms of the previous 10-year package. The defense aid for 2017 currently stands at $3.1 billion.
Cliff Churgin and Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.