Opposition MKs: PM’s frosty relations with US reduced military aid
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Opposition MKs: PM’s frosty relations with US reduced military aid

Lawmakers say Netanyahu’s spats with Obama led to weaker defense deal than Israel could have secured

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

US President Barack Obama (right) and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hold a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, November 9, 2015. (AFP/Saul Loeb)
US President Barack Obama (right) and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hold a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, November 9, 2015. (AFP/Saul Loeb)

Opposition lawmakers on Wednesday criticized Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for a record new 10-year, $38 billion defense aid deal with the United States, saying his spats with US President Barack Obama were to blame for Washington’s refusal to dole out additional defense funding.

Israel and the US finalized the 10-year defense deal on Tuesday, described as Washington’s largest aid package to any country in history, and were set to sign it on Wednesday.

The new aid package will see Israel receive $3.8 billion annually — up from $3 billion — starting in 2019 and through 2028. While the defense package heralds an increase in aid, a number of reports said Israel had sought an additional $400 million for missile defense spending — which could have raised the total amount to more than $4 billion annually. However, the final figure was set without that provision.

Yesh Atid MK Ofer Shelah, a member of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, charged on Wednesday that “the prime minister’s relationship with the White House and the way in which he handled the negotiations have caused billions of dollars worth of damage to the economy, security and to Israel’s defense establishment.”

Shelah nevertheless hailed the agreement as “a testament to the strong ties between the US and Israel.”

Yesh Atid MK Ofer Shelah during a meeting of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense committee, November 19, 2015. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
Yesh Atid MK Ofer Shelah during a meeting of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense committee, November 19, 2015. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

According to Zionist Union MK Erel Margalit, Netanyahu’s “personal and political interests” during the months-long negotiations was a “direct continuation of his conduct, which is harming Israel’s foreign relations.” Speaking at the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC, Margalit said the prime minister “must have forgotten the US is our natural political ally, not Russia or [Vladimir] Putin.”

Former Likud MK Dan Meridor told Army Radio that Netanyahu should have leveraged the US-led nuclear deal reached with Iran and world powers to get increased military aid from Washington.

“When it became clear that the Americans were going to sign an agreement with the Iranians, we could have pursued a different policy and gotten a better agreement,” he said.

Netanyahu and Obama publicly sparred over the nuclear accord, with Israel arguing it posed an existential threat to the Jewish state and challenged its qualitative military edge in the region.

Zionist Union MK Erel Margalit attends a Finance Committee meeting at the Knesset on January 11, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Zionist Union MK Erel Margalit attends a Finance Committee meeting at the Knesset on January 11, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Under the terms of the deal reached on Tuesday, Israel pledged not to seek additional funding from Congress for the next decade. The agreement also includes a provision curtailing Israel’s ability to spend the funds on its own arms industry over the next six years — a key area of dispute during talks. Washington had wanted Israel to spend a larger amount of the funds on American-made products. Currently, Israel can spend 26.3 percent of US military aid buying from its own domestic defense companies.

The defense package, known as the memorandum of understanding, “constitutes the single largest pledge of bilateral military assistance in US history,” the State Department said Tuesday.

The acting head of Israel’s National Security Council, Yaakov Nagel, who touched down in Washington on Tuesday, was to sign the agreement on behalf of Israel on Wednesday.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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