The US is committed to improving security ties with Israel, the White House said in advance of Monday’s meeting between President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at which the prime minister is expected to push for a 10-year, $50 billion military aid package.
“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit is a demonstration of the deep and enduring bonds between the US and Israel, as well as the unprecedented security cooperation, including our close consultations to further enhance Israel’s security,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters in Washington on Friday.
The meeting has been billed as an opportunity for both leaders to heal the wounds from their acrimonious battle over the Iran deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
During their conversation, Obama and Netanyahu are likely to define their expectations from the deal, which is designed to curb Iran’s nuclear program. They also are expected to discuss ways the US can strengthen Israel militarily so it can stand strong against growing regional threats from Iran, ISIS, and Syria.
“The president looks forward to discussing with the prime minister regional security issues, including implementation of the joint comprehensive plan of action to peacefully and verifiably prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon,” Earnest said.
Top on the agenda for Israel is the renewal of the 10-year Memorandum of Understanding that expires in 2017, under which Israel was guaranteed $31b. over 10 years so it could maintain its qualitative military edge over neighboring Arab states.
Israel believes the Iran deal strengthened Tehran’s military capacity and, in light of that danger and other regional threats, it wants to increase the MOU.
Israel could use the funds to acquire aircraft that can enhance its long-range strike capabilities, such as F-15i fighter jets and V-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft. The latter can be used for rescuing pilots who were forced to eject from their aircraft, or for special forces transport.
The IAF will soon begin receiving its first F-35A stealth fighter jets, which represent a major leap forward in longrange strike capabilities.
Israel also may show interest in purchasing bunker-busting GBU-28 laser-guided bombs and other precision-guided weaponry.
The defense establishment could also seek an increase in US financial assistance for Israel’s multi-layered missile-defense system, which includes the Arrow 2 ballistic missile-defense program; the Arrow 3 system, which intercepts missile threats in space; Iron Dome anti-rocket batteries; and the David’s Sling air-defense system.
US Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters on Thursday night it would be impossible to finalize any agreement with regard to that deal during Monday’s meeting.
“We’re certainly not going to be in any position to complete what is an incredibly complicated and consequential discussion in this meeting,” Rhodes said.
Similarly, a New York Times
editorial published Friday stated: “White House officials do not expect a new defense agreement to emerge from this meeting.
It is hard to see how such a large increase could be justified, especially when Congress is trying to keep a lid on federal spending and is cutting back many vital programs. And Israel has long been a leading recipient of American assistance.”
Former Israeli ambassador to the US Michael Oren, who is now an MK for the Kulanu Party, said it would be wrong to evaluate the success or failure of the meeting based simply on financial numbers and hardware. It is also important to define issues that arise from the implementation of the Iran deal, he said.
For example, “what would constitute a violation [of that deal] and what can Israel expect the American reaction to that violation to be,” Oren said.
He predicted it would be a good meeting. “I think that both sides have an interest in moving forward.”
The US has an historic commitment to helping Israel meet its military challenges and Obama has committed himself to this, Oren added.
But not all the tensions between Obama and Netanyahu have disappeared, now that the Iran deal is in place.
The two men have a very different view of what needs to happen when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which will also be a topic for discussion.
On Thursday, White House Middle East coordinator Rob Malley told reporters the Obama administration has faced the reality that a two-state solution would not be achieved during their time left in office.
Obama will be looking for Netanyahu to tell him what Israel will do to ensure that the door remains open for that option in the future.
On Friday, Earnest said part of the problem is that Netanyahu does not believe it is possible to achieve a two-state solution at this time.
“As long as the prime minister is suggesting that conditions are not ripe for a Palestinian state, it is going to be hard to have a two-state solution to the conflict between the two parties, if one of the parties is suggesting that the other one can’t have a state,” Earnest said.
Yaakov Lappin contributed to this report.