US President Barack Obama (R) meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House October 1, 2014.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is to leave for Washington on Sunday in hopes of securing a decadelong, $5 billion a year military aid package to help Israel defend itself against Iran and other regional threats.
On Monday, US President Barack Obama plans to host Netanyahu at the White House for their first face-toface meeting in a year.
The interim 12 months have been most acrimonious in the seven-year relationship between the two leaders, whose perceived personal dislike has been elevated to the level of diplomatic legend.
Netanyahu and Obama exchanged continuous barbs over the Iran deal to curb Tehran’s nuclear weapons, which the prime minister believes to be an historic mistake that only strengthens Iran’s military and atomic capacity.
But now that the deal is in place, the Obama-Netanyahu meeting is intended to heal some of that rift and to focus on the day after, by looking at a way the two long-standing allies can strengthen their military cooperation.
“This will be a crucial meeting [between] our two administrations,” an Israeli official said.
“No one should underestimate the fact that both our political and security establishments, with the differences we had in recent times, still continue to work [together] very closely and very intimately and very frequently,” the official said.
Both governments are clear on one thing, “that Israel and America are fundamental and strategic allies that share the same interests and values.
“I am sure this will be reinforced next week as the PM conducts his visit in Washington,” the official said.
Israel now wants a decadelong security package, beginning in 2017 and worth $5 billion per year, according to sources; an increase from the last package that was worth $3 billion a year.
The US provides more defense aid to Israel than to any other nation.
White House officials have previously said they are prepared to increase foreign military financing and defense aid to Israel, but have not specified to what extent.
The proposed aid increase is far larger than previous rate hikes, and also more substantial those that had been discussed shortly after the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action was announced. At that time, discussions were over a marginal increase of $600 million-$ 700 million annually.
Israel faces several turbulent fronts, threatened by the civil war engulfing Syria to its east, the Iranian-financed Hezbollah militant organization to its north, Hamas in the Gaza Strip to its west and the hotbed of the Sinai Peninsula to its south, where ISIS is growing stronger.
“The day after the agreement with Iran is a much more complicated situation than the day before,” an Israel official said.
Iran’s military reach in the region has grown stronger, he said.
In Syria, “it has reinforced its military assets” – a move that brings “Iran another step closer to Israel,” he said.
When “we look at the reality after the nuclear agreement, we try to gauge is there any change in Iranian behavior or policy – the clear answer is no,” the official said.
The leaders are also expected to discuss the second topic that has consistently put them at odds: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Washington would like the peace process to resume and believes that settlement building is a significant obstacle to jump-starting those talks. Netanyahu has insisted that he will not halt Jewish building in east Jerusalem or the West Bank and that the heart of the problem is the Palestinian refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
After Netanyahu meets with Obama on Monday morning, he will deliver a speech to the American Enterprise Institute, where he will receive the 2015 Irving Kristol Award. It is the institution’s highest honor and is given to those who have made exceptional contributions in governance and political understanding.
On Tuesday morning, the prime minister is to address the annual Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly and afterward hold talks with congressional leaders.
In the evening, the Center for American Progress will host Netanyahu, where he is expected to speak on Iran, the Israel-Palestinian conflict and regional issues.
The prime minister is to return on Wednesday.