Ya’alon: $38 billion military aid does not ‘meet all our needs’
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Ya’alon: $38 billion military aid does not ‘meet all our needs’

Ex-DM says Israel ‘will now have to go through a prioritization process’; Barak doubles down on Netanyahu criticism, says urgent change in government needed

Former defense minister Moshe Ya'alon gives a speech at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, September 15, 2016. (Screenshot)
Former defense minister Moshe Ya'alon gives a speech at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, September 15, 2016. (Screenshot)

Former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon joined ex-prime minister Ehud Barak Thursday in questioning the military aid deal signed Wednesday with the United States, saying the $38 billion — Washington’s largest defense package to any country in history — is still not enough to meet all of Israel’s security needs.

The former defense minister, who was effectively ousted from his position earlier this year amid a political crisis that saw Avigdor Liberman take his place, suggested that while the deal saw Israel receive “all the “capabilities” he had negotiated for in 2015, the sum total of the package still fell short.

“Put in another way, I don’t think $38 billion will provide all the [required] capabilities or meet all our [defense] needs,” Ya’alon said in a speech at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, which he joined in July as a visiting fellow.

Israel “will now have to go through a prioritization process in Israel to see what we can get and what we prefer to leave [aside],” he added.

Meanwhile Barak doubled down on claims that Netanyahu and his current government have caused strategic damage to Israel and that the military deal was a bad one as a result, giving a series of interviews to Israeli outlets .

Former prime minister Ehud Barak speaks at a conference for the left-wing Darkenu organization in Rishon Lezion on August 17, 2016. (Neri Lider)
Former prime minister Ehud Barak speaks at a conference for the left-wing Darkenu organization in Rishon Lezion on August 17, 2016. (Neri Lider)

In a Channel 10 interview from Boston on Thursday, following a cutting op-ed in The Washington Post in which he accused the prime minster of “reckless conduct” that threatens Israel’s very existence, Barak said that although he would not run in the next elections, he “will operate in many ways to ensure a change in leadership.”

In his op-ed, published a day after US and Israeli officials signed a massive new military aid deal for Israel — Washington’s largest defense package to any country in history — Barak, who also served as Netanyahu’s defense minister from 2009 to 2013, accused the premier of bungling the negotiations and reaching a package significantly smaller than was originally expected.

“The damage produced by Netanyahu’s irresponsible management of the relations with the White House is now fully manifest,” Barak wrote. “Israel will receive $3.8 billion a year — an important contribution to our security but far less than what could have been obtained before the prime minister chose to blatantly interfere with US politics.”

On Thursday, Barak said Netanyahu’s political meddling in US affairs “cost Israel [an additional] $7 billion.”

The op-ed drew a furious response from Netanyahu’s Likud party, which accused the former prime minister of not having Israel’s interests at heart.

Barak dismissed the response, calling it “childish.”

“I am concerned with what is happening in this country. This government needs to be swapped for one not bogged down in pessimism and anxiety,” he told Channel 10.

“Israel faces many threats, not one of them includes a threat to its existence,” he added.

Barak told Israel’s Channel 2 that Israel also lost out on more than just money.

“I know well what’s important to Israel and Washington and I know that we could have gotten $4.5 billion, and much deeper ties with American intelligence to deal with Iran, a serious dialogue with the president on possible sanctions and even military [options]. All that was on the table,” he said.

Barak has in the past criticized Netanyahu for appearing before the US Congress in March 2015 to lobby against the Iran nuclear deal that Obama was pushing for, a move that the White House viewed as unprecedented interference by a foreign leader.

The new military package will grant Israel $3.8 billion annually — up from the $3 billion pledged under the previous agreed-upon Memorandum of Understanding — starting in 2018 and through 2028. But 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.

The signing of the US-Israel military aid deal in the State Department on September 14, 2016 (Israeli Embassy, Washington)
The signing of the US-Israel military aid deal in the State Department on September 14, 2016 (Israeli Embassy, Washington)

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. The final figure, however, was set without that provision.

In his op-ed, Barak said that with a 20 percent cumulative rise in the cost of arms since the last 10-year agreement came into effect and a clause barring Israel from seeking further funds from the US Congress, the deal gives Israel “no greater purchasing power” than it had under the last accord.

Likud, in a statement, dismissed the column as “nonsense” by the “most failed prime minister in Israel’s history” who is attempting a “pathetic [political] comeback.”

“The publication of an article that bashes Israel in the US media on the day the largest aid deal in the history of the US was signed is just further proof that Ehud Barak does not have Israel’s best interests at heart,” the party said.

The Prime Minister’s Office declined to comment on Barak’s criticism but sources close to the prime minister were quoted by Israel Radio rejecting the comments as those of someone “who has been unfamiliar with the details for a number of years now.”

“On a day like this, Barak should be eating his hat rather than telling the world that the prime minister has failed,” the sources reportedly said.

In a Wednesday statement before the signing ceremony, Netanyahu recognized the diplomatic disputes engaged in by Washington and Jerusalem over the last several years, but said they “had no effect whatsoever on the great friendship between Israel and the US.”

“This agreement demonstrates the simple truth that the relationship between Israel and the US is strong and powerful,” Netanyahu said. “This agreement will ensure an unprecedented level of defense aid for Israel in the next decade… This is the largest military aid package the US has ever given out to any nation.”

The op-ed comes amid swirling rumors that the former prime minister is mulling a return to politics.

Barak was prime minister from 1999 until 2001. He was the leader of the Labor Party until 2011, when he splintered from it to form the Independence Party. In 2012 he chose to retire from politics rather than run, and almost certainly lose, in the 2013 general election.

Note: A previous version of this article incorrectly said Ya’alon had suggested that in October 2015, as defense minister, he had negotiated a better US military aid deal with his then-counterpart Ashton Carter.

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