NYT: Israel denies waiting for Obama successor to strike defense aid deal

Israel wants $4b. to $4.5b. in aid in a new agreement to replace the current memorandum of understanding, or MOU, which expires in 2018.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) listens to US President Barack Obama in the Oval Office (photo credit: AFP PHOTO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) listens to US President Barack Obama in the Oval Office
(photo credit: AFP PHOTO)
Reports that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is waiting for a new administration to assume power in Washington before reaching an agreement with the United States on a new defense aid package are false, an Israeli official told The New York Times on Thursday.
The official spoke to the influential American daily newspaper on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of negotiations between Jerusalem and the Obama administration – talks that have been dragging on amidst disagreement over the precise dollar figure attached to a proposed 10-year memorandum of understanding.
The tension and acrimony that have characterized the relationship between Netanyahu and US President Barack Obama – fueled by policy disagreements over key issues like the Iran nuclear deal and the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations – are giving rise to speculation that the premier would prefer to wait for a new administration so as not to hand the president an achievement that he could cite as evidence of his pro-Israel credentials.
Israel wants $4b. to $4.5b. in aid in a new agreement to replace the current memorandum of understanding, or MOU, which expires in 2018.
US officials have given lower target figures of about $3.7b. They hope for a new agreement before Obama leaves office in January.
The Obama administration wants to cement a new 10-year defense aid deal before he leaves office in January to demonstrate his commitment to Israel’s security, especially after reaching a nuclear agreement with Iran that Israel strongly opposed.
A White House official said discussions with Israel were continuing. “We are prepared to sign an MOU with Israel that would constitute the largest single pledge of military assistance to any country in US history,” the official said.
This past February, Netanyahu told the cabinet that negotiations over a new MOU not be concluded during Obama’s remaining time in office - this despite saying weeks earlier in Davos that an agreement could be reached "in the coming months."
Netanyahu told the cabinet that he would like to conclude the MoU as soon as possible, but that the issues are complex, detailed and take time.
Israeli and US teams have already been working for months on a new MoU that will replace the 10-year framework that expires in 2017, which provided Israel with about $3 billion annually.
In light of the recently signed nuclear agreement with Iran and the new strategic threats this presents for Israel and the region, Israel is asking for an increase in the annual package.
Likud ministers and MKs close to Netanyahu expressed satisfaction on Monday with 83 US senators writing a letter to Obama urging him to quickly approve a new defense aid package for Israel worth more than the current $3.1 billion per year.
Obama has reportedly agreed to raise the package to $4b., but Congress wants him to go higher.
“There is wide support for Israel’s security needs, crossing camps in the Senate and among the American people,” said Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, who has become Netanyahu’s closest political ally.
“The letter proves relations are strong, and attempts to paint our relations as if they are in crisis are wrong. The reality is very different.”
Levin denied any involvement of Netanyahu and his loyalist, Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer, in encouraging the letter. But Channel 10 quoted sources saying that AIPAC was involved, and “AIPAC does not do anything without getting a green light from Jerusalem.”
Israeli officials said it was encouraging to see such strong support for Israel from both parties and the American people. Likud MK Nava Boker went further, saying that the letter proved wrong those who thought Netanyahu had damaged relations between the two countries by delivering a controversial address against Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran to a joint session of Congress.
“All those who have blabbered about international isolation should stop lying to the public,” Boker said. “Unfortunately, there are still people in Israel who believe Israel must fit itself to the demands of its allies instead of acting out of Israel’s national interests.”
Kulanu MK Michael Oren, a former ambassador to the US, suggested that the senators who signed the letter understand Israel’s security needs better than Obama.
He mocked the US president for saying in Germany that the current era is “the most peaceful, most prosperous, most progressive era in human history.”
“President Obama’s claim that the world is more peaceful will not reassure the citizens of the Middle East, hundreds of thousands of whom have been murdered and millions displaced,” Oren said. “Israel is dealing with many significant security challenges in the heart of the Middle East, and I’m glad that this has been recognized by the 83 senators who signed the letter.”
Zionist Union MK Nachman Shai said Netanyahu should stop playing off the current American government against the next one.
“This is a dangerous step and a gamble that Israel cannot not allow itself to take,” Shai said.
At the World Economic Forum in Davos this past January, Netanyahu was asked whether he felt that Obama was responsive to providing Israel with “even more security guarantees and cooperation” than in the past.
“In terms of protecting Israel, and by extension protecting our part of the region, the American assistance to Israel is about $3.1 billion a year,” he said. “We’re talking about a bigger package.”
Netanyahu stressed, however, that this figure pales in comparison to the billions of dollars Iran will have at its disposal for nefarious purposes in the region as a result of sanctions relief.
“I think we’ll probably reach a successful conclusion, I hope in the coming months,” he said.
“And it’s a sign of how strong the American-Israeli alliance is. You know? We can have our disagreements. We do. They’re always publicized, they’re very dramatic. But the alliance between the United States and Israel is so strong and so powerful that the only thing that’s collapsed is the talk of the imminent American-Israeli collapse. It’s very clear that’s not going to happen and that this partnership is rock-solid and will remain so.”