US President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. .
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Just weeks after saying in Davos that Israel and the US may conclude a 10-year Memorandum of Understanding “in the coming months,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the cabinet on Sunday that these negotiations may not be concluded during US President Barack Obama’s remaining time in office.
Netanyahu told the cabinet that he would like to conclude the MoU as soon as possible, but that the issues are complex, detailed and take time.
Israeli and US teams have already been working for months on a new MoU that will replace the 10-year framework that expires in 2017, which provided Israel with about $3 billion annually. A high-level US team is currently in the country holding talks with their Israeli counterparts.
In light of the recently signed nuclear agreement with Iran and the new strategic threats this presents for Israel and the region, Israel is asking for an increase in the annual package, with reports putting that number at some $5b. a year.
At the World Economic Forum in Davos last month, Netanyahu was asked whether he felt that Obama was responsive to providing Israel with “even more security guarantees and cooperation” than in the past.
“In terms of protecting Israel, and by extension protecting our part of the region, the American assistance to Israel is about $3.1 billion a year,” he said. “We’re talking about a bigger package.”
Netanyahu stressed, however, that this figure pales in comparison to the billions of dollars Iran will have at its disposal for nefarious purposes in the region as a result of sanctions relief.
“I think we’ll probably reach a successful conclusion, I hope in the coming months,” he said.
“And it’s a sign of how strong the American-Israeli alliance is. You know? We can have our disagreements. We do. They’re always publicized, they’re very dramatic. But the alliance between the United States and Israel is so strong and so powerful that the only thing that’s collapsed is the talk of the imminent American-Israeli collapse. It’s very clear that’s not going to happen and that this partnership is rock-solid and will remain so.”
Government sources said Netanyahu made similar comments about the strength of the US-Israel relations, despite all the talk to the contrary, during a briefing in the cabinet on Israel’s strategic situation given by acting National Security Council head Yaakov Nagel.
Nagel related to the threats and opportunities facing Israel.
In recent weeks these challenges and opportunities have been discussed at several senior governmental forums. The challenges are broadly defined as an emboldened Iran following the nuclear deal, dysfunctionality within the Palestinian Authority, and massive munitions and developed weaponry in the hands of jihadists on both Israel’s northern and southern borders.
Regarding the opportunities, these are defined as new diplomatic possibilities with countries like Greece and Cyprus; improved relations with rising powers in Asia; a new openness to cooperation on the part of some regional Sunni countries; the “special relationship” with Russia; and the international axis against Islamic State.