Rafael Advanced Defense Systems’ C-Dome system, a sea-based version of the Iron Dome anti-rocket battery, fires from an Israeli Navy missile ship.
(photo credit: screenshot)
WASHINGTON – A new decade-long US defense package to Israel worth billions is “very close” to completion, a senior Israeli official in Washington told The Jerusalem Post on Monday.
Speaking following high-level defense meetings between the two governments, the official said Israel hopes to wrap up negotiations as quickly as possible – and brushed off reports that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his aides are waiting until after the US presidential elections to close the deal.
Nor are Israeli officials conflating talks over a new Memorandum of Understanding – which they hope will amount to $5 billion a year in defense aid – with their concerns that the Obama administration may support international initiatives on Middle East peace at the UN Security Council this fall, the official added.
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman is in Washington for talks with his US counterparts after taking the reins from Moshe Ya’alon last month.
The Pentagon talks went smoothly, and Israel is optimistic a deal will close, not within days, but soon, the official said, noting there are only a handful of outstanding issues left for the two sides to bridge.
The official declined to outline what those outstanding issues are, but from previous discussions with US and Israeli officials, the two governments are understood to be negotiating not over what Israel’s broad security needs will be over the next decade, but over precisely how much funding Israel requires for each defense program.
The new MOU will incorporate US missile defense aid, which had been left out of the previous defense package set to expire next year. Confirming that missile aid would be included this time, the official expressed confidence that a final dollar figure could be settled upon shortly.
In their bilateral meeting, Liberman and US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter “also discussed regional security challenges in the Middle East and areas of mutual defense cooperation,” a Pentagon press secretary said.
Much of that discussion revolved around Iran’s continued destabilizing activities in the region, which are of mutual concern to both departments, said the Israelis.
Liberman plans to visit Fort Worth, Texas later this week for the roll-out ceremony of the first Israeli F-35 aircraft coming off of Lockheed Martin’s production line. “Israel will be the first foreign partner to receive the F-35, which will play a key role in maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge in the Middle East,” the Pentagon said.
Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon urged Liberman to complete the agreement without delay. The US offer of military aide for the next 10 years is fair, and Israel should accept it before the US election in November, he said on Monday.
“The offer is positive and fair. Our security services can get by with the current offer,” Kahlon said at a Kulanu faction meeting in Jerusalem. “I told the prime minister and defense minister, and I say to them today: Adopt the offer and put an end to this saga.”
The finance minister implied that waiting for the next US president could be seen as interfering in the election.
“There’s no reason we should do things that could be interpreted as involvement in America’s internal affairs,” he stated.
Kahlon added that the US is Israel’s most important strategic ally and should be treated as such.
“Authorizing the American aid plan, together with the multi-year [defense] budget we authorized, will give the IDF a significant strategic advantage and will allow it to be prepared for any scenario,” Kahlon said.Lahav Harkov contributed to this report.