US, Israel finalize massive military aid deal
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US, Israel finalize massive military aid deal

Ten-year, $38 billion agreement — ‘single largest pledge of bilateral military assistance in US history’ — to be signed Wednesday in State Department ceremony

A Tamir missile fired from an Iron Dome missile defense battery during a trial in the United States in April 2016. (Rafael Advanced Defense Systems)
A Tamir missile fired from an Iron Dome missile defense battery during a trial in the United States in April 2016. (Rafael Advanced Defense Systems)

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

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 deal is set at $38 billion and will be signed on Wednesday in a ceremony at the State Department in Washington. It replaces a previous deal that is set to expire next year.

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

Under the terms of the deal, 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 US also reportedly wanted to remove a clause in the memorandum that allows Israel to spend $400 million a year on “military fuels.”

The new aid package will see Israel receive $3.8 billion annually — up from $3 billion — starting in 2019 and through 2028.

According to earlier reports, Israel had asked for a separate, $400 million deal 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. “There was no higher figure ever discussed,” the former Israeli national security adviser Ya’acov Amidror said Tuesday, describing the deal as “the best possible” accord.

The US has either jointly developed or financed all three tiers in Israel’s missile defense program — Iron Dome (short-range missile interceptor), David’s Sling (medium range) and Arrow (long range).

On Sunday, the Washington Post said that the aid deal — months in the making — had been held up by Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, who was advancing his own bill for annual aid to Israel, which included a sum greater than the one reportedly being offered by the White House.

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

“I’m offended that the administration would try to take over the appropriations process. If they don’t like what I’m doing, they can veto the bill,” Graham said. “We can’t have the executive branch dictating what the legislative branch will do for a decade based on an agreement we are not a party to.”

Graham said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had informed him that his opposition to the deal was holding it up. “The Israeli prime minister told me the administration is refusing to sign the MOU until I agree to change my appropriation markup back,” Graham said. “I said, ‘Tell the administration to go F themselves.’”

According to Channel 2, Israel is effectively siding with the White House in the spat with Graham, making a commitment not to seek more financial support from Congress, with the exception of during wartime.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with US senator Senator Lindsey Graham in Jerusalem during a previous visit by Graham on December 27, 2014 (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with US senator Senator Lindsey Graham in Jerusalem during a previous visit by Graham on December 27, 2014 (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

The aid package is seen in Israel as key to helping it maintain its qualitative military edge over potential threats in the region, including from an emboldened Iran flush with cash after many nuclear-related sanctions were ended over the past year in a deal signed with world powers.

A Tamir missile fired from an Iron Dome missile defense battery during a trial in the United States in April, 2016. (Rafael Advanced Defense Systems)
A Tamir missile fired from an Iron Dome missile defense battery during a trial in the United States in April, 2016. (Rafael Advanced Defense Systems)

For the US, Israel is a rare island of stability in a region in turmoil, as well as an ally on non-nuclear security issues in the region, including cyber warfare and efforts to rein in Islamist terror groups. Missile defense technologies developed in Israel using US funds are available to US defense contractors involved in the development. Some of these Israeli-made technologies are set to be deployed to protect US troops and allies in other global trouble spots.

In April, more than 80 of the 100 sitting US senators signed a letter calling on President Barack Obama to increase foreign aid to Israel and immediately sign an agreement on a new package.

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