New US spending bill includes $200m increase in defense aid to Israel

Legislation signed by Trump to avoid second government shutdown includes $3.3b earmarked by Obama administration in 2016

US President Donald Trump delivers remarks in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington, DC on February 15, 2019. (Brendan SMIALOWSKI / AFP)
US President Donald Trump delivers remarks in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington, DC on February 15, 2019. (Brendan SMIALOWSKI / AFP)

WASHINGTON — A new spending bill signed Friday by US President Donald Trump to prevent another government shutdown over border funding allocates a $200 million increase in defense assistance to Israel than compared to years prior.

The provision tucked in the 1,159-page bill includes $3.3 billion in funds designated for security assistance to Israel under the 2016 memorandum of understanding between the Obama White House and Netanyahu government.

Another $500 million for Israeli missile defense was apportioned in a defense appropriations bill passed last fall, making American aid to Israel total $3.8 billion.

The standoff over border funding had led to the longest government shutdown in US history, and to avoid another, Trump on Friday reluctantly signed the funding bill that included just $1.4 billion of the $5.7 billion he had demanded to build a wall along the southern border.

Trump also declared a national emergency at the US-Mexico border to secure more money for his long-promised wall by exercising a broad interpretation of his presidential powers that is certain to draw stiff legal challenges.

The increase in aid to Israel was applauded by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. “AIPAC commends Congress for strongly supporting Israeli security and strengthening the US-Israel relationship,” the pro-Israel lobby said in a statement. “These funds help Israel maintain its qualitative military edge in the region in order to defend itself, by itself, from mounting threats on its borders.”

The spending bill also includes provisions that would extend for two years Department of Defense’s authority to house emergency weapons in Israel and provide Israel with loan guarantees for five years.

Earlier this year, members of Congress sought to include in the spending bill legislation that would codify the existing $38 billion MOU into US law. That measure was ultimately not included in the spending bill struck between Democratic and Republican leaders this week.

An American F-35 fighter jet, after landing in the Nevatim Air Force Base in southern Israel on December 12, 2016 (IDF)

The legislation comes after Trump announced in December he was withdrawing American troops from Syria. Israel has repeatedly warned in recent years that Iran is seeking to establish a military presence in Syria, where it is fighting alongside its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah and Russia to restore the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Israeli officials have also warned that America’s absence would open the door for Tehran to create a so-called “land bridge” from Iran, through Iraq and Syria, into Lebanon and to the Mediterranean Sea. Over the last several years, Israel has carried out hundreds of airstrikes in Syria against targets linked to Iran.

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