danny ayalon 88.
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Israel should ask the US for increased military assistance, with the option of one-time special aid, to deal with "real and present" strategic threats, but avoid asking for any outright civilian aid, former ambassador to the US Danny Ayalon said Monday, as a high-level Israeli delegation began talks in Washington on the subject.
The team, headed by Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer, was scheduled to begin talks Monday on restructuring the US aid, as the framework that has pretty much weaned Israel off US civilian assistance comes to an end in 2008.
Ayalon, who was ambassador from July 2002 until November 2006 and is now chairman of Nefesh b'Nefesh, said that it was wise to try and reach a multi-year agreement with the US now, under the Bush Administration.
"The political clock is right," Ayalon said "We want to do it before the end of President Bush's term, not because of a fear of who may come after him, but simply because of the fact that a new administration - irrespective of who it will be - will need to take its time to establish itself and may take a long time before arriving at any decisions."
The high-level talks come as a 10-year plan launched by former prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu in 1998 to wean Israel from civilian assistance expires in 2008. Under the plan, civilian aid - which in 1998 stood at $1.2 billion - would be eliminated by 2008, while military aid would grow from $1.8b. to $2.4b. during this same period.
A number of issues need to be discussed in Washington, including whether to draw up another multi-year program, something Israel wants because it makes it easier to plan if the Defense Ministry knows that it can count on a certain amount of aid each year from the US.
If, as is expected, the decision is made to develop another long-term program, certain decisions need to be made such as whether to ask for an increase in the current level of $2.4b. in military aid to deal with new needs and threats.
These include the threats from Iran, including Teheran's long-range ballistic missiles, the ballistic missile threats from Syria, as well as the shorter-range missile threats from Hamas and Hizbullah.
In addition, the need to secure the southern border will also be raised, something that may make it necessary to build a fence along the border with Egypt that would cost billions of shekels.
One idea being discussed in Jerusalem is to ask the US to raise the annual military aid from $2.4b. to $3b., but to do this incrementally by increasing the annual aid by $100 million a year over the next six years.
Another idea being discussed is to keep the annual level the same, but ask for funds for special projects, such as assistance in the southern fence, or in developing anti-ballistic missiles.
"I recommend increased direct assistance for the military, with the option of one-time special assistance," Ayalon said, adding that he doesn't believe Israel - in its current economic situation - should ask for any civilian assistance.
"Israel has been weaned of American civilian aid, and I think the most we should ask for are loan guarantees for long-term development projects for the Galilee and Negev."
Ayalon was involved - during the recession of 2003 - in securing $1b. in special military aid that year, and in getting $9b. in loan guarantees. Conversely, following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and the strain that placed on the US budget, Ayalon recommended the US scrap plans to ask for $1.2b. in special aid for development of the Negev and Galilee following disengagement from Gaza in 2005.
Regarding the likelihood that the US would agree to an increased package, Ayalon said, "nothing is self-evident, and there will be real scrutiny. But I would say there is certainly good will." He said that the Americans would need to be convinced of Israel's needs and following "professional scrutiny."
Ayalon said Israel's case would be helped by the presence of Fischer, who he said has a great deal of credibility in Washington. He said that Fischer was perfectly suited to "explain the implications of the real security and defense needs on the Israeli economy if we do not get the aid."