With the Middle East on fire, both the American people and the people of Israel face real and growing threats.
Syria continues to implode. Iraq is a disaster. The Islamic State keeps launching barbaric attacks throughout the region, as well as in Europe and is trying to pull off a major attack inside the U.S. Meanwhile, Iran is on the path towards building nuclear weapons and long-range ballistic missiles.
Now more than ever it’s vital to strengthen and expand the security alliance between the U.S. and Israel. Yet there’s a glitch.
All summer long, observers of this special alliance have been expecting a formal announcement that the Netanyahu government has accepted a new 10-year military aid package offered by President Obama.
Yet the summer has come and gone, and no announcement has been forthcoming.
The broad contours of the new “Memorandum of Understanding” between the two countries were already publicly known last February, and it was believed a deal would be completed rather quickly.
In April, 83 of 100 U.S. Senators — led by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) and Sen. Chris Coons (D-Delaware) — sent a letter to the White House urging the President to boost security assistance to Israel, especially in the wake of the highly controversial nuclear deal the administration cut with Iran and the security disasters unfolding in the epicenter.
“In light of Israel’s dramatically rising defense challenges, we stand ready to support a substantially enhanced new long-term agreement to help provide Israel the resources it requires to defend itself and preserve its qualitative military edge,” the Senators wrote.
Since then, there have been repeated reports of an imminent deal.
- On June 15th, a Reuters headline read, “U.S. signals accommodation of Israeli terms on defense aid.”
- On July 1st, the New York Times reported that “U.S. Offers to Increase Military Aid to Israel.”
- On July 25th, the Israeli paper Haaretz reported that “Israel Hopes to Sign New Aid Agreement With U.S. as Soon as Possible.”
- On July 26th, Tablet magazine reported that “The U.S. and Israel Are Reportedly Close to Signing a 10-year Defense Aid Deal.”
- On July 29th, the Washington Post reported that “Israel and U.S. are close to a deal on the biggest military aid package ever.“
- On July 31st, Reuters reported that Prime Minister Netanyahu had “sent Jacob Nagel, acting head of Israel’s national security council, to Washington on Monday to lead three days of talks. A person briefed by Netanyahu said the prime minister expressed hope that Nagel would be able to ‘finalize’ negotiations on a new memorandum of understanding and that it would mean increased funding.”
Yet more than a month has passed since Mr. Nagel’s visit to D.C., and still no deal.
While there could be any number of reasons for the delay, consider two.
Scenario #1 — The deal is done but leaders in Washington and Jerusalem are delaying until later this Fall to make a big, splashy announcement.
The operating theory here would be that Obama and his political handlers didn’t want news of such an important agreement to be made public during August when so many Americans were on vacation and the two political conventions dominated the headlines. A Fall announcement would maximize the White House’s ability to assure voters that Democrats are, in fact, “pro-Israel,” despite a rocky relationship between Obama and Netanyahu over the last eight years.
Scenario #2 — The deal has been derailed and the Israeli government has not, in fact, accepted Mr. Obama’s offer.
Under this theory, perhaps Mr. Netanyahu and his team think either: A) they can strike a better deal as we get closer to the American elections; or B) they can strike a better deal with the next President in 2017, whoever that may be.
The current M.O.U. was negotiated by the Bush administration in 2007. It doesn’t expire until 2018. In theory, that does give Israel more time to get better terms. It doesn’t have to make a decision in 2016.
The last M.O.U. was a very favorable deal for Israel and was clear evidence of a strong alliance and shared security interests between the two countries.
It provided Israel at least $3.1 billion a year over ten years. It has also allowed Israel to spend up to 40% of those annual funds inside Israel, on weapons systems developed by Israeli defense contractors, and on fuel for Israeli fighter jets. The rest had to be spent on military hardware from American defense contractors.
What’s more, the current deal did not prevent Congress from passing additional military aid for Israel above and beyond the M.O.U. in any given year.
Thus, when you include additional missile defense funds for Iron Dome and so forth, Congress is set to provide Israel $3.4 billion in 2016, a full $300 million above the current M.O.U. figure.
Mr. Netanyahu entered the negotiations for the new M.O.U. reportedly asking for $5 billion a year for ten years.
But Congressional sources tell me the administration is only offering $3.3 billion a year, a full $100 million less than Israel will receive in 2016.
And the White House is apparently insisting on a provision that Congress cannot provide additional funding in future years, even if the security situation vastly worsens. The new offer would also severely limit the amount Israel could spend inside Israel.
This raises several questions:
- Should the Israeli government accept such a deal if it would prevent a future American president and Congress from increasing funds if the situation warranted?
- Should Israel accept a deal that locks in less annual American military assistance than it currently receives?
- Should it do so at a time when Iran — Israel’s sworn enemy — is being provided upwards of $100 billion or more, the end of economic sanctions, and a clear pathway to nuclear weapons and long-range ballistic missiles?
Sen. Graham, for one is not a fan of the Obama offer. He won’t presume to tell the Israeli government whether to accept the deal or not. But from an American perspective, he believes it’s critical that the deal with Israel be more generous and include flexibility for the future given the security meltdown underway in the Middle East.
Israel is not voluntarily “giving up” its initial request, but it is being strong-armed by the administration to back away, Graham told Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin.
“Now is not the time to nickel and dime Israel,” Graham told the Post. “This is totally out of sync with what is happening in the region.”
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