The United States and Israel are closing in on a massive military aid agreement that will reportedly become the largest security package the American government has ever struck with any nation.
A senior Israeli official is expected to visit Washington next week to finalize negotiations, The Washington Post reported Friday — and the edict from Tel Aviv is to get the deal done “as soon as possible.”
The reported agreement represents an apparent change of heart for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who said publicly in February that he was thinking about waiting for the next U.S. president to take office before nailing down such an assistance deal.
Despite being a bit miffed by Netanyahu’s remarks, the Obama administration nonetheless said it would sign the accord — based on a memorandum of understanding that outlines the package’s rough framework — 10 years and up to $4 billion annually, which is greater than the $3.1 billion Tel Aviv gets from Washington under the present agreement, which expires next year.
The U.S. proposal also says the Israeli government would get additional funding for its missile defense.
Some observers say Israel’s apparent willingness to work on a new deal with President Barack Obama might suggest that Netanyahu now believes the outgoing American leader represents the best terms possible.
Brig. Gen. Yaakov Nagel, the acting head of Israel’s National Security Council, is the one who will meet with White House officials next week, the Post report said.
Some sources have claimed that Netanyahu has been holding out for a pact pledging $5 billion annually, citing increased security needs in light of last year’s Iran nuclear deal.
However, the biggest obstacle in reaching an agreement, the Post reported, may be determining where the funds can, and cannot, be spent.
Obama reportedly wants to phase out a recurring 30-year-old clause that allows Israel to spend about a quarter of the U.S. aid on its defense development. No other nation that receives American aid is allowed to do that. Israel, though, received the exemption during the 1980s as a measure to stimulate Tel Aviv’s then-relatively young defense apparatus.
With those days long gone, though, administration officials now apparently want that provision dropped in favor of using the money to directly benefit American businesses that provide goods and services in Israel.
The result of such a move, naturally, would be the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars in government funding for Israeli defense companies — a prospect already causing concern in the Middle Eastern nation.
Earlier this month, Netanyahu turned down Obama’s offer of 10 years and $38 billion — which also includes a clause that prevents Israel from seeking additional funding from the U.S. Congress. Any new aid package is expected to become the largest of its kind ever given by the United States to any nation.
Any agreement between Obama and Netanyahu, though, might be surprising to some, as the two leaders have butted heads in the past over various political and security matters.
“For them to agree on this would send a signal to the world that although their personal relationship is not great, here Obama is making a down payment on 10 years of deep U.S.-Israeli security cooperation,” Ilan Goldenberg, director of the Middle East Security Program at the Center for a New American Security, told the Post. “That’s a powerful message.”