Israeli official links Netanyahu's cancelled US trip to defence aid hold-up

Netanyahu declined an offer to meet President Barack Obama at the White House and canceled his trip to Washington


Reuters March 10, 2016
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem February 28, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

JERUSALEM: A hold-up over a new US defence package for Israel was behind Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's decision to forgo a meeting with President Barack Obama in Washington this month, a senior Israeli official said on Thursday.

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely's remarks contrasted with a statement by Netanyahu that cited his reluctance to risk being drawn into the US presidential campaign as the reason for declining a White House offer to host him on March 18.

Current US military grants to Israel, worth about $3 billion (£2.1 billion) annually, expire in 2018.

Israel's Netanyahu declines offer to meet with Obama: White House

Israel, which last year requested $5 billion in future annual aid but whose officials have since set their sights on $4 billion to $4.5 billion, says it needs to expand its military, rather than just upgrade technologies, given spiralling arms procurement it anticipates by arch-foe Iran and Arab states.

US officials have given lower target figures of around $3.7 billion. The dispute prompted Israeli officials to hint that Netanyahu may bank on Obama's successor for a better deal.

"There was a decision not to go to the president as long the agreement over the compensation package is not concluded," Hotovely told Israel Radio, using a term linking the future US aid to last year's international nuclear deal with Iran, which brought sanctions relief that Tehran may use for arms purchases.

"The prime minister wants to honour the US president by going when there is a basis, good news on the matter of the US aid package," she said. "This really has to be taken seriously."

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US officials say they still hope for an agreement before Obama leaves office next January.

Fraught relationship

The White House's announcement on Monday that Netanyahu had turned down the meeting with Obama was seen as the latest episode in a fraught relationship that has yet to recover from deep differences over the Iran nuclear deal.

Some US sources assessed that Netanyahu wanted the MOU concluded before meeting Obama and that the lag was among the reasons for not coming to Washington, where he was to have addressed the annual conference of the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC.

Vice President Joe Biden, in Jerusalem on Wednesday for discussions with Netanyahu that included the "Memorandum of Understanding" (MOU) on defence aid between 2018 and 2028, appeared to acknowledge Israel's terms.

"We're committed to making sure that Israel can defend itself against all serious threats, maintain its qualitative edge with a quantity sufficient to maintain that," Biden said.

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It was not clear if that signalled a deal was close.

US negotiators have made clear that, while they want Israel to maintain a technological advantage over its neighbours, they differ over the level of risk of increased quantities of less-advanced arms in the hands of Washington's Arab allies who seek to counter Iran.

COMMENTS (1)

quatro | 5 years ago | Reply Obama doesn't like Netanyahu and would probably prefer he remains in Israel. Netanyahu doesn't like Obama and wants to renegotiate his military deal with the next President. Not that complicated.
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