US President Barack Obama speaks at the Righteous Among the Nations Award Ceremony, organised by Yad Vashem, at Israel's Embassy in Washington January 27, 2016.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
WASHINGTON -- Debate over a congressional proposal to increase Israel's missile defense aid next year is something of a distraction: The real story is that 2016 may be the last year this debate needs to be had.
According to a senior Obama administration official, the Israeli government has succeeded in securing a central request in its negotiations over a decade-long US defense package: A long-term guarantee of missile defense aid, incorporating an annual allocation that had previously been negotiated each and every year into the National Defense Authorization Act.
Israeli journalists characteristically proclaimed the sky was falling upon news that the White House, in a statement of policy, objected to a quadrupling of its proposed Israeli missile defense budget for 2017. It has, indeed, shrunk its budget proposals consecutively over the last three years, since Israel's last war with rocket-happy Hamas, and has each year experienced pushback from Congress for plus-ups of aid between $329 and 455 million.
And the administration did, for the very first time, write in an objection to the plus-up in its policy statement. But this is not the first president to repeatedly propose figures lower than Congress. George W. Bush, as well, found his own budget proposals on Israeli missile defense doubled on no less than three occasions.
President Barack Obama opposes several provisions in the House and Senate defense appropriations bills that have already passed through their committees. Should language from the House version of the FY2017 NDAA, which incorporates an additional $455 million for Israeli missile defense, survive floor action and enter into law with Senate support, it is unlikely Obama would veto the omnibus bill over this particular issue.
In other words, Congress still retains power of the purse here, and the White House's "objection" in its statement of policy is not an actionable rejection. The plus-up may still proceed.
And none of this appears to be of particular concern to Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who called on people to stop panicking over the White House's objection earlier on Wednesday.
Perhaps that is because Netanyahu sees the forest for the trees– a larger, much more important negotiation, entering its final stages, which would put these annual budget tussles to rest.