Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) listens to US President Barack Obama in the Oval Office.
(photo credit: AFP PHOTO)
Just as Jerusalem Post diplomatic correspondent Herb Keinon astutely predicted, upon the conclusion of the 10-year military aid agreement with the United States last week, the carping in Israel has begun.
Despite the general touting of the deal as “the most generous military aid package given any single nation in US history,” serious doubts have been raised by critics – who happen to be former leaders of Israel’s security establishment.
The critiques do not follow the sour grapes model, but are based on genuine concerns for Israel’s security.
As expected, some say Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could have received much more money had he not alienated US President Barack Obama by addressing Congress to oppose the nuclear deal with Iran.
While Obama’s notable declaration that the US “has Israel’s back” was duly noted by Israel’s enemies, what the president meant was that this guarantee would be on his terms. This is why, for example, Obama demanded that by the end of the next decade, 100% of the aid money be spent in the US, with the negative impact this would have on Israel’s defense industries.
A chorus of objections to the aid deal was raised by several former heavy hitters in Israel’s defense establishment. The most outspoken was former prime minister, defense minister, and IDF chief of staff Lt.-Gen. (res.) Ehud Barak, who accused Netanyahu of undermining the nation’s security.
This is no small indictment, given the added personal dimension that Barak was Netanyahu’s commander in the Sayeret Matkal, the elite General Staff commando unit. On the other hand, Barak served as Netanyahu’s defense minister from 2009 to 2013.
What was perhaps most unusual about Barak’s opinion was that he expressed it the day after the deal was signed in an op-ed in The Washington Post. Among other complaints, he accused Netanyahu of “reckless conduct” by “blatantly interfering with US politics” in a public quarrel over the Iran deal, which he said gained Israel much less than the $45b. originally asked for.
The Likud damage-control apparatus immediately issued a statement calling Barak’s op-ed “nonsense written by the most failed prime minister in Israel’s history, who continues to make a mockery of himself in a pathetic comeback attempt.”
Barak let stand his oft-repeated denial of any plans for a comeback and instead focused on the numbers. “Given the more than 20% cumulative rise in the cost of arms since the last 10-year agreement entered into force [in 2007], the newly agreed-upon amount represents no greater purchasing power – and even these funds will be conditioned on Israel refraining from requesting additional funding from Congress,” he wrote.
Barak castigated Netanyahu for the way he expressed legitimate opposition to the Iran deal. “Instead of holding a candid dialogue behind closed doors with President Obama,” Barak wrote, he “went behind his back to deliver a speech to Congress, shaking the foundations of bipartisan support for Israel and dividing [US] Jewish opinion.” On Thursday, Barak said Netanyahu’s political meddling in US affairs “cost Israel [an additional] $7b.”
Barak’s critique was not alone. Maj.-Gen. (res.) Amos Yadlin, a former head of IDF Military Intelligence, said Israel would now be “paying for” Netanyahu’s 2015 speech to Congress and that, in fact, Washington had “stung” the prime minister, the US Congress and even AIPA C, with its requirement Jerusalem not seek additional funding from Congress.
Yadlin, a former IDF attaché in Washington and now the director of the Institute for National Security Studies, told Army Radio that an analysis of the aid package indicates it is actually $100 million lower than previous arrangements.
“Barak is right that the aid package we received is slightly less than what we received in the previous agreement; it’s a decrease of $100 million,” Yadlin said. “We could have received a better aid deal, [but] the prime minister gave an unnecessary speech to Congress, and we’re paying for it,” Yadlin said.
Whatever the actual dollar value of the deal, former defense minister and chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. (res.) Moshe Ya’alon objected to the aid deal from a national defense perspective. “Put it in another way,” he said in a speech last week at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, where he is a visiting fellow. “I don’t think $38b. will provide all the capabilities or meet all our needs.”