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Israel sending official to US to seal defense aid deal

Acting national security adviser to head to Washington next week; Jerusalem won’t take funding bump for 2017

Yaakov Nagel (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Yaakov Nagel (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Israel will send a representative to Washington next week to finalize a defense aid deal for the next decade but will not seek an increase for 2017, an Israeli official said on Monday.

Brig. Gen. (res.) Yaakov Nagel, acting head of the National Security Council, will head to Washington next Sunday for meetings with his US counterparts “for the purpose of signing a new MOU [memorandum of understanding] between the two countries as soon as possible,” according to a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office.

An Israeli official stressed that Jerusalem was not seeking additional military funding for 2017 — which comes under the provisions of the last ten-year package — as had been suggested by Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina).

“Israel is sending the message that it is committed to the agreements that have already been signed,” the official said. “2017 is part of the current MOU.”

In a statement, the Prime Minister’s Office added 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.

The defense aid for 2017 currently stands at $3.1 billion.

Earlier Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that he hoped to conclude negotiations over US military aid under the current administration, whose term ends in January 2017. He did not give any details about the state of discussions.

An Iron Dome battery seen near the Southern Israeli town of Netivot, December 27, 2014. (Talucho/Flash90)
An Iron Dome battery seen near the Southern Israeli town of Netivot, December 27, 2014. (Talucho/Flash90)

According to reports, the United States has offered to increase its military aid to Israel, under a decade-long deal set to take effect in two years’ time, on the condition that Jerusalem spends more of the funds on American goods and services, rather than on domestic ones as it is authorized to do now.

Negotiations between Israel and the US over a memorandum of understanding for an aid package to replace one that expires in 2018 have been ongoing 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 challenges its qualitative military edge in the region.

The US offer currently on the table, outlined to members of Congress earlier this month in a letter by US National Security Adviser Susan Rice, includes a pledge to substantially increase the aid package, 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.

According to a report in The New York Times, the next 10-year deal could top $40 billion, and would include a 10-year pledge to fund Israel’s missile defense systems, an arrangement currently funded separately in yearly installments. It has been subject to much controversy recently as the White House and Congress have disagreed over the size of the annual increase for the missile defense program.

The sides have refused to officially provide details of the unfolding deal, but reports have indicated that Israel was seeking a price tag the US was hesitant to approve. A senior Israeli official said last month that Netanyahu was determined to conclude talks but “not at any price.”

According to The New York Times, an emerging sticking point in negotiations has been how much US money Israel would be allowed to spend domestically and how much on American goods and services.

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.

According to the report, 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.

Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.

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