PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, board a plane.
(photo credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu returned to Israel from Washington on Thursday reporting progress on reaching a new 10-year Memorandum of Understanding with the US to provide Israel with additional military aid.
With a handshake and a smile in the Oval Office, he left with the impression that he has put behind him a year of public acrimony with US President Barack Obama on the Iran deal.
“It was a successful trip,” an Israeli official said. “We had a very good meeting with the president and we discussed ways to expand our [security] coordination with the administration in different areas to deal with regional threats.”
Netanyahu is working to forge a united front with the US to contain Iran’s aggressive behavior in the region and ensure its compliance with the limits the deal places on its nuclear program.
During their meeting at the White House, Netanyahu and Obama laid the groundwork to prepare a Memorandum of Understanding to replace the one that expires in 2017.
The existing memorandum provides Israel with $3.1 billion annually in military assistance. Netanyahu wants to expand that to $5b. a year, but the official said that this is only the beginning of the process with the US and no assurances were given with regard to monetary sums during this trip.
“We started the mechanism to work on the [new] MOU,” the official said.
A US team is due to visit Israel in the coming weeks to assess its security needs in light of increased regional threats, including the growing Iranian presence in Syria.
This assessment will be made by “defense officials and experts on both sides,” the official said, adding that Israel’s need would be examined on a case-by-case basis.
Netanyahu also clarified for the Obama administration his three critical positions on Syria, which he summarized as follows on his Facebook page: “Israel will not allow Iran to set up a second front in the Golan Heights. Israel will not allow the Syrian Army or anybody else to use Syrian territory to attack us,” he wrote. “Israel will not allow Syrian territory to be used for the transfer of game-changing weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon.”
Aside from security, Netanyahu took time on the trip to rebrand himself as an Israeli leader who can have bipartisan relations with Democrats and Republicans.
He also looked to show the Jewish community that he stands for inclusion and religious equality.
During his battle over the Iranian deal, he was accused of creating a bipartisan rift in the Jewish community by publicly siding with Republicans against the president.
On this trip, he played to all ends of the political spectrum.
“We are sending a message that Israel is bipartisan. We want to speak to people on the progressive side of American politics. That dialogue is crucial for us,” an Israeli official said.
Aside from addressing the annual General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America, the premier also addressed a conservative think tank, the American Enterprise Institute, as well as a progressive one, the Center for American Progress. He also met with senators from both sides of the aisle.