Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is determined to conclude the negotiations over US military aid to Israel with the Obama administration — but “not at any price,” a senior Israeli defense official said Wednesday.
“Plain and simple — we want to finish it with the current administration — but not at any price,” acting National Security Adviser Yaakov Nagel told diplomatic correspondents.
While he declined to provide details of the ongoing negotiations with the White House — which he has been heading since 2013 — Nagel said that “we are close to the conclusion. We’re hopeful that we’ll be able to sign soon.
“We are in the middle of negotiations to reach the best possible deal for the State of Israel. We are close to the end of the process, but I don’t want to determine whether it will be another week or another month,” he continued.
Nagel’s comments came amid a controversy over US military aid, and in particular assistance for Israel’s missile defense system, after the White House on Tuesday said it opposed a move by the House of Representatives to increase funding for Israeli missile defense procurement by an additional $455 million above the administration’s budget request for the 2017 fiscal year.
“I don’t see the White House statement yesterday as a signal that the administration wants to cut funding” for Israeli missile defense, said Nagel, who works closely with Netanyahu.
Netanyahu earlier on Wednesday dismissed widespread “panic” over what he called inaccurate reports implying the US government was refusing to increase financial aid for Israeli missile defense.
Due to “multiple misleading reports,” the Prime Minister’s Office on Wednesday issued a statement insisting that “there is no cut in US aid.” Rather, there is an “internal debate” between Congress and the White House over the size of the annual increase for the American missile defense program, which would impact on the amount earmarked for Israel.
Netanyahu is seeking to anchor the additional aid to Israel as a part of his ongoing negotiations over the extension of a US-Israel memorandum of understanding, which regulates US military aid to Israel, the PMO’s statement noted.
“Not only will the security assistance for missile defense not be cut, it will be increased,” it said.
On Wednesday morning, the Israeli opposition was quick to blame Netanyahu’s well-publicized spats with US President Barack Obama for the White House’s position on additional funding for missile defense assistance.
“American aid is essential for protecting our citizens, and now, because of the prime minister’s ego games, we’re losing a critical part of it,” opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) wrote on his Facebook page. His party colleague Tzipi Livni said the dispute underlined how Netanyahu had harmed Israel’s relationship with the US administration.
MK Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid) called on Jerusalem not to wait for the upcoming US elections, but to sign an agreement over military aid with the current administration in order to avoid taking any risks.
The prime minister flatly rejected these statements. “Attempts to turn the dialogue with the US into a domestic Israeli political tool are inappropriate, and all expressions of panic are unwarranted,” his office said in its statement.