Benjamin Netanyahu shaking hands with Barack Obama at a meeting at the White House on November 9, 2015.
(photo credit: SAUL LOEB / AFP)
Now that the long, drawn out negotiations between Israel and the United States over the 10-year military aid agreement has ended, the carping in Israel will begin.
“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could have received much more had he negotiated with US President Barack Obama before the Iran deal,” some of his opponents will say.
“Had his relationship with Obama not been so sour, the US would not have demanded that by the end of the next decade, 100% of the aid money be spent in the US, doing away – as is the case today – with a clause allowing for 26% to be spent in Israel,” others will argue.
Now that the deal is locked in, there will be much hand-wringing and speculation over what could have been, and what Netanyahu should have done differently.
It is the nature of negotiations: everyone not involved thinks that if only they had been seated around the table, they could have gotten a better agreement.
The truth is that maybe a more generous deal – known as the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) – could have been had. Maybe instead of $38 billion, the US might have given $40 billion or even $42 billion, had someone else been at the helm in Jerusalem. Maybe the demand about doing away with the offshore procurement clause would not have been inserted had Netanyahu not infuriated Obama by fighting him so strongly over the Iranian nuclear issue.
But then again, maybe not.
Maybe, considering America’s own not insignificant budgetary considerations, this was the best deal to be had. No one will really ever know for sure.
But what we do know for sure is that, after months of negotiations, the US has agreed to the most generous military aid package given any single nation in its history.
And that is no trifling thing, for a number of reasons.
First, because no matter how you cut it, $38 billion is not a small amount of change, and though it may not be the $45 billion Israel originally asked for, it will go a long way toward ensuring Israel’s military superiority in the region.
Second, because it sends a powerful message to Israel’s enemies who – having watched the ups and downs of the Obama-Netanyahu relationship over the last seven years – could have been excused for thinking that US support for Israel is waning, and that if they only push long and hard enough, they could jar even wider the wedge that now exists.
This aid package sends the unmistakable message that this is not the case, and that when it comes to providing Israel with the wherewithal to defend itself, by itself, America still very much has Israel’s back – despite the occasional creaks audible from time to time.
From Tehran to Damascus, Beirut, Ramallah and Gaza, this type of US commitment to Israel’s security is noted.
And an additional $2 billion dollar, or a clause allowing for use of the funds for procurement in Israel, would not really matter to them that much.
They look at the package and see that Israel’s military power will remain formidable for the foreseeable future.
The package is also important for Israel regarding the internal debate in the US. It is not without significance that it is Obama who will sign the accord.
That it is Obama offering this package – a progressive Democrat who has had his disagreements with Israel and not been shy about making them public – means that wider swaths of the American public may be more likely to understand that this is something truly in America’s interests. And this point is notable given the rise in the Democratic party of a liberal wing – the Bernie Sanders wing – increasingly questioning Washington’s support for Israel.
Could a better deal have been gained had the relationship with the US been managed with a bit more finesse? Perhaps. But, as the saying goes, the perfect is the enemy of the good. And for Israel’s military and strategic position in the world, this deal – while it might not be perfect – is certainly very good.