PM rejects ‘panic’ over reported cut in US missile defense aid
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PM rejects ‘panic’ over reported cut in US missile defense aid

Opposition slams Netanyahu after White House rejects Congress’s bid to up funding; Netanyahu insists that budget will increase

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)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday dismissed widespread “panic” over reports implying the US government is refusing to increase financial aid for Israeli missile defense.

While not denying the reports, which prompted opposition politicians to harshly criticize Netanyahu, a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office insisted that American aid for missile defense system protecting Israel would ultimately be increased rather than cut.

On Tuesday, the White House 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.

Due to “multiple misleading reports,” the Prime Minister’s Office on Wednesday issued a statement insisting “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 to the American missile defense program.

Netanyahu is seeking to anchor this additional aid as a part of his ongoing negotiations over the extension of an US-Israel memorandum of understanding, which regulates US military aid to Israel, the 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.

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog on April 12, 2016 (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

“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.

He accused the prime minister of “arrogance and irresponsibility” in his dealings with the Obama administration. “If Israel will remain without air defense system in the next war, we can already now set up an inquiry into how Netanyahu makes decisions about national security,” he said.

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.

“We have to improve our relations with the US. The deterioration of ties leads to a situation in which issues that we used to be able to sort out in close discussions and negotiations among friends have become raucous public debates on matters critical to the State of Israel,” he said.

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.

In a letter to Congress, the Obama administration had listed its numerous objections to the House’s version of the defense appropriations bill for the coming fiscal year.

The administration has criticized the bill for budgetary sleight of hand, complaining that it redirects funds from the overseas operations war chest toward other purposes in an effort to meet spending targets. In the letter, the administration said the legislation “fails to provide our troops with the resources needed to keep our nation safe.”

David's Sling missile defense system in action, published April 1, 2015 (photo credit: Youtube screenshot / Haaretz הארץ)
David’s Sling missile defense system in action, published April 1, 2015 (YouTube screenshot / Haaretz)

The objection to increased aid to Israel came at the same time that the administration criticized “the reduction of $324 million from the FY 2017 Budget request for US ballistic missile defense programs.”

Without explicitly drawing parallels, the letter noted that “furthermore, the Administration opposes the addition of $455 million above the FY 2017 Budget request for Israeli missile defense procurement and cooperative development programs.” The administration had initially requested $103.835 million for Israeli cooperative programs.

President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu inspect an Iron Dome missile defense battery at Ben Gurion Airport on March 20, 2013. (photo credit: Nati Shohat/Flash90)
US President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu inspect an Iron Dome missile defense battery at Ben Gurion Airport, March 20, 2013. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

The US provides funds for Israel’s missile weapons systems separately from the annual $3.1 billion in military financing it gives Jerusalem to purchase weapons from the US.

In 2014, Congress increased US funding for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system to $351 million for the fiscal year 2015, from $235 million the previous year. The Iron Dome missile defense system successfully intercepted hundreds of Hamas rockets during last summer’s war in Gaza. After the 2014 conflict, funding was bolstered by another $225 million to assist Israel in replenishing its Iron Dome missile stockpile.

Additionally, there was US funding for joint development of anti-missile systems Arrow III and David’s Sling.

In the parallel to the National Defense Authorization Bill passed by the House, the Senate Tuesday authorized a total of $600.8 million in anti-missile defense programs for Israel, more than quadrupling the administration’s requested funding for Israeli missile defense.

Unlike the House version, the Senate version, which enjoyed broad enough Democratic support to defeat a presidential veto, did not subsidize additional spending through the Overseas Contingency Operations war account.

The House and Senate will now take their different versions of the defense spending measures to conference, where they will hammer out a final compromise version of each bill. The process this year is expected to be time-consuming given the gaps in the way that the House and Senate versions propose to fund defense spending.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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