The 10-year, $38 billion military aid package signed last week between the US and Israel was in no way compensation for Washington reaching a nuclear deal with Iran, a senior US official said on Friday.
“We started discussing the MoU [Memorandum of Understanding] much before the [nuclear] agreement, and we had no expectations [then] that we would reach an agreement with them [the Iranians],” the official said.
“We still believe that the agreement with Iran was good for Israel’s security, despite disagreement with Israel on this matter.”
The official said that the US would have signed the MoU with Israel even had no deal had been signed with Iran.
The official said that US National Security Adviser Susan Rice summed up Washington’s thinking on the matter when she said that the MoU was motivated by a simple logic: “Israel is our closest partner in the region. We have shared interests and values and want to preserve Israel as a flourishing Jewish state that can be our partner. The Iran deal, the MoU, [the] twostate [solution] are motivated by the same logic, but are not dependent on each other. We are pushing them all.”
The senior official said that Israel can be very satisfied with the accord, and called it a “significant achievement for both countries.” For Israel, he said, it manifests the close relationship between the two countries and enables the IDF to carry out long-term planning.
Negotiations over the MoU, he said, began after President Barack Obama came to Israel in 2013, and some five rounds of talks between Israeli and US teams were held in 2013 and 2014, before the Iranian deal became serious.
Even though the MoU agreement is only two pages long, it took time to put together because there was a need to identify the threats to Israel, and to determine what weapons systems Israel needed to meet those threats, he explained.
“Throughout the process we had many questions about the IDF’s structure, how its budget is used, and how they see the growth in [IDF] force over the next 10 years,” he said.
“We wanted to understand the expectations regarding the missile defense program because that is central, especially after the success of Iron Dome.”
There were also things that Israel needs to understand about the US budget, he explained, adding that Israel already receives more than half of the $5b. annual US military aid worldwide, which goes – in addition to Israel – primarily to Pakistan, Egypt and Jordan.
“The pie is not that big,” he said. “And it was necessary for us to think about what the significance would be in increasing the Israeli piece.
This would be possible, but we had to find a budget source.”
The negotiations were progressing, the official said, until the fall of 2014, when progress began in the US negotiations with Iran over the nuclear deal, and differences emerged between Israel and the US over that deal.
In April 2015, after a conversation between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Obama, Netanyahu decided to halt the talks for the time being. This conversation came after Netanyahu’s controversial address to Congress against the nuclear agreement.
Obama’s position at the time, the official said, was that the talks on the MoU could either continue, despite the differences on Iran, or be resumed at a later date. Netanyahu preferred to put them on hold, and resume them later.
The two leaders spoke again in July 2015, and agreed that after the deal went through Congress, the MoU talks would resume. In November 2015, during a meeting in Washington, the decision was made to begin the talks again on the MoU, as well as on a number of other matters, such as Syria and missile defense.
The official said that at no point during this period, when it was decided to pause the talks, did Obama say or hint that if Netanyahu would return to the table, Israel would “receive more.”
The official praised Yaakov Nagel, the acting head of the National Security Council, for the way he conducted the talks after filling in for Yossi Cohen, who left the NSC in January to become head of the Mossad.
He also praised Maj.-Gen. Amikam Norkin, head of the IDF’s Planning Directorate, who he said played a central role in the negotiations.
Regarding the US insistence that by the end of the 10-year period in 2029, all the aid money be spent in the US – as opposed to the current situation, when each year 26% is converted to shekels and spent in Israel – the official said that in the past that was necessary to develop Israel’s military industries.
“This was something unique to Israel, that no other country received,” he said. Today, he added, Israel’s military industries are developed and among the top 10 in the world, even competing with American companies.
The official said that the US believed that allowing Israel to spend the money at home was something that was needed during a different era, and that the time had come to spend all the American dollars on weapons made in America.
Under the agreement, the process of doing away with spending the money in Israel is gradual, and does not take effect in earnest until 2026.
The official said that the US understood that it would be too big a shock to the Israeli military industries if this were done immediately, “and we did not want to cause damage.”
Another major change in the agreement had to do with using the money to buy fuel, something that was done in the previous accord, whereby Israel used some 14% of the annual $3b. it received for military fuel. Under the new MoU, this provision was done away with, and Israel cannot use the US funds to purchase fuel.
The official said that the US does not believe buying fuel is an efficient use of the funds, something he admitted Israel did not easily accept.
This money, too, will now have to be spent in the US on American-made military hardware.
Regarding the decision to fold into the overall all aid package supplemental funding for missile defense that Israel used to get each year from Congress, the official said that knowing 10 years in advance that $5b. will be available for this need makes it easier for both Israel and the US to plan for the future.
As to the obligation Israel took upon itself not to turn to Congress for additional funding – except in exceptional circumstances – the official said that Washington wanted to ensure the administration was the only track for military aid to Israel, and that there were not two tracks: through the administration and through Congress.
Nagel, meanwhile, issued a statement Saturday night dismissing as “disinformation” criticism that Israel could have received more if relations with the US had been dealt with better, and that the current deal is bad for Israel’s defense industries.
He said that this criticism was irresponsible and being leveled by people who know nothing about the details of the negotiations.
One of the loudest critics has been former prime minister Ehud Barak, who in a highly critical piece in The Washington Post on Thursday claimed that Israel could have received $4.5 billion a year, rather than the $3.8 it is to receive under the new deal, if Netanyahu had not harmed relations with the Obama administration.
Nagel said that at no point during the negotiations did the US offer more than what was eventually granted, and that the claim that Israel could have received an additional $7 billion dollars over the 10-year MoU was completely cut off from reality.”
Nagel also disputed criticism that Israel’s military industries will be harmed by the fact that by the end of the MoU in 2029 all the money will need to be spent in the US, saying that the country will now have a decade to calibrate and adjust to the new reality.