(photo credit: AP)
If Israel asks, the US would "seriously consider" granting the Defense Ministry additional financial assistance because of the huge expenses incurred during the war in Lebanon, a high-ranking US diplomat revealed Wednesday.
According to ministry estimates, Israel spent close to NIS 30 billion on ammunition, fuel and other expenses during the war. The defense establishment has already asked the Treasury to be compensated for that amount. The US provides Israel with military assistance of more than $2b. annually.
"A request has not yet come," the US official said. "But we would consider it seriously."
According to diplomatic sources in Jerusalem, the government was considering asking for additional aid - one report said a request might be for $2b. There was also talk in Washington of a large-scale financial package to help rebuild southern Lebanon, in part to keep the Iranians out of the process. Israel was apparently hoping to fold its aid request into this package.
He said the US viewed Israel as the victor in the war from a military perspective, although not from a political standpoint. "Militarily, Israel did more damage to Hizbullah," he said. "Hizbullah suffered greater damage."
But the more Israel struck at Lebanese civilian infrastructure, the more damage, he said, it actually caused itself. "The people in Lebanon did not understand and that allowed Hizbullah to say Israel was punishing them... and that damaged Israel politically," he said.
Israel, he said, should work to improve its political standing in Lebanon, possibly by initiating peace talks with the Lebanese government. "They should build off of [Security Council Resolution] 1701," he said, adding that one way was to "negotiate and talk with Lebanon."
According to the official, Israel will most probably begin gradually withdrawing its troops from southern Lebanon within two to three weeks, as thousands of European troops begin to deploy as part of the strengthened multinational force. Within two months, he said, he envisioned a Lebanon without an Israeli presence.
The US, he said, was "encouraging" the European countries contributing troops to the force to deploy them as soon as possible and to enforce the arms embargo on Hizbullah.
The US had not been surprised by Israel's decision to go to war with Hizbullah following the kidnapping of IDF reservists Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, he said, stressing, "We were not given advance notice of the war, but were not surprised."
The official also rejected a report in The New Yorker magazine at the beginning of the month according to which Israel and the US had coordinated and planned the war in advance as a test to see how the military would function in the run-up to a possible strike against Iran's nuclear facilities.
"If it were planned, Israel would have done better," he said. "We needed this like a hole in the head."
He said the US had enough on its plate with the situation in the Gaza Strip following the abduction of Cpl. Gilad Shalit and that there was no interest in seeing Israel go to war with Hizbullah.
Backing up a similar claim by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, he said that the decision on August 11 to begin sending troops to the Litani River, hours before the UN approved the cease-fire, drastically improved the resolution's language in Israel's favor.â€¢