US Senator Mary Landrieu 311 (R).
(photo credit: Reuters)
Mary Landrieu, a powerful US senator and member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, says military aid to Israel shouldn’t be cut despite the American government’s severe budgetary problems.
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“I support the aid to Israel and we are going to hold the line on that,” Sen. Landrieu told The Media Line. “There are pressures on our budget, but we really value our relationship with Israel and want to see it strengthened. America does have very serious budgetary problems, but foreign aid represents less than one percent of the total budget of the United States.”
Israel is the biggest recipient of American aid, but with Washington facing a huge budget gap, calls have mounted to trim the $3 billion the United States provides the Jewish state annually. This week veteran Washington Post
columnist Walter Pincus urged the White House to reevaluate the aid, noting that Israel was slashing its own defense budget to step up social spending.
But Landrieu said, “It is very important to maintain that level of aid to Israel.”
Landrieu, a member of US President Barack Obama’s Democratic Party, spoke to The Media Line during a visit to Israel as head of a trade mission seeking collaboration opportunities in oil and gas development with Louisiana and other US Gulf Coast states.
“We have recently managed to do a better job in balancing the
environmental needs with the industry and there is great opportunity for
Israel, I believe, in this particular region of the United States to
cooperate,” she said.
Louisiana has 80% of the US off shore oil and gas operations, but
suffered enormous damage to the gulf ecosystem with last year’s BP
Deepwater Horizon spilled more than 200 million gallons of crude oil in
the gulf. Still, Louisiana has some of the world’s leading companies
that deal in developing oil and gas ventures, something Israel could
benefit from in its efforts to extract the massive natural gas deposits
“We helped to invent the offshore oil and gas industry and that is
specifically why I am here, to understand more about this extraordinary
find,” Landrieu said.
Landrieu, who is on her third visit to Israel, but the first in 15
years, met with National Infrastructures Minister Uzi Landau as well as
executives from Nobel Energy Inc., the Houston company partnered in
three offshore Israeli gas fields and is now exploring in waters off the
island of Cyprus.
The US Geological Survey last year estimated that more than 122 trillion
cubic feet of recoverable gas reserves lie under the waters of the
eastern Mediterranean, most of it within Israeli waters. The fields are
so large that plans are afloat to team up in order to seek investors. An
official at the National Infrastructures Ministry confirmed reports
that its director-general, Shaul Tzemach, had been promoting an
initiative for Israel and Cyprus to run a joint campaign to attract
American investors for developing the natural gas fields.
Landrieu said she is visiting “to ascertain what the situation here is
in Israel so that the service companies along the Gulf Coast can be a
part of helping Israel to develop this industry in a very positive and
“This is an extraordinary game changer for Israel to be energy self
sufficient. That is possible. It is not guaranteed, but it is possible
if the industry develops correctly,” she said.
Landrieu stressed that although she is leading a group of executives
from firms in Louisiana and Texas, her mission is not just to promote
their companies but to share with Israel the Louisiana and Texas
government experience in creating “the right framework of taxation and
regulation so that this industry can really flourish.”
“We have made a lot of mistakes. But we feel like we have a great deal to offer,” she said.
Accompanying the senator were representatives from industries servicing
oil and gas exploration companies. Back by the US Department of
Commerce, the five-day trip was organized by the Southwest Louisiana
Economic Development Alliances.
“What Israel is going to need is the service companies and the
development of the pipeline companies, the suppliers, the supply chain,
the infrastructure that is important for this industry to develop. It
takes a tremendous amount of investment and infrastructure for the oil
and gas to get out of the ground and be transported safely and
appropriately. You’ve got physical security to worry about as well,” she
“Nobel can’t do it all. They are an important player. They were the
first, the pioneer, but they will themselves tell you that in order to
have a robust industry you have to have many other dimensions of this
industry other than the operators themselves,” Landrieu said.
Earlier this month, the financial daily Globes
that the Louisiana-based Kiewit Corporation will construct another
drilling platform at the Yam Tethys site off Israel’s coast at a cost of