From the Hebrew-language press: Shimon Shiffer & Yossi Melman on the Battle Over More $$ for Israeli Missile Defense

The ongoing disagreement between Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Obama Administration over the terms of a new 10-year Memorandum of Understanding -- expected to commit the U.S. to annual financial assistance to Israel that will be far greater than that of the current MOU ($3.1 billion annually) -- is in the news this week, as Netanyahu and friends in Congress play hardball over demands for significantly increased funding for Israeli missile defense (over and above the funding in the current MOU).

Below are two articles from the Hebrew-language Israeli press, offering views that are somewhat different from those seen in English-language reports. [Translations by Israel News Today.]

The Price of Arrogance
By Shimon Shiffer, Yedioth Ahronoth
June 16, 2016

(print edition only, as of this writing)

“Don’t panic.” That was the advice that aides to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu gave in response to the White House’s statement as if the administration was opposed to Congress’s demand to add close to half a billion dollars to the funding for [Israeli] missile defense systems in the context of the defense aid that is to be provided to Israel.

For the past seven months representatives from Israel and the United States have been trying—unsuccessfully, to date—to reach an agreement over the defense aid package that will be given to Israel over the course of the decade beginning in  2019. At present, no agreement appears to be on the horizon—but they have continued to tell us, “don’t panic.”

So perhaps we ought to start feeling anxious. Netanyahu has hinted that he might wait for the next American president to be in office before he closes the deal. As if that is going to deter the White House: Vice President Joe Biden, Israel’s greatest friend in Washington, tried several months ago to explain to our prime minister that he had better stop playing his usual games and stop trying to turn the Members of Congress against Obama. You aren’t going to get any more, Biden warned, and urged him to sign immediately.

Even the former defense minister, Moshe Yaalon, recognized the magnitude of the risk and was prepared to sign a memorandum of understandings about the defense aid package long ago. But he prioritized showing blind loyalty to Netanyahu over Israel’s national interests. It was only once he was on his way to being ousted that he began to regret that decision, but by then it was already too late.

Senior Defense Ministry officials have spoken about the sheer magnitude of the missed opportunity. There is no way of knowing when the next president is going to set aside time to address the defense aid package to Israel, nor is it clear who that president is going to be. Trump is liable to overturn everything and to reduce the scope of US aid.

It is important to understand that the American offer isn’t going to change. Washington is currently offering to give Israel between 3.4 and 3.7 billion dollars every year during the decade between 2019 and 2029.

By sheer coincidence, the new defense minister, Avigdor Lieberman, has decided to leave for Washington on Saturday night in hope of meeting with his counterpart, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, in order to discuss security-related issues, including the defense aid package to Israel. Lieberman has said in closed door conversations that there is no point in playing for time and that it is imperative to reach an agreement swiftly. Essentially, Lieberman has embraced the position held by the highest-tiers of the security establishment, who think that an agreement could be reached on all of the issues if only the prime minister would drop his arrogant and defiant stance vis-à-vis the White House. But that is not all: security officials find it incomprehensible as to why Netanyahu has given the task of overseeing the negotiations to his private lawyer, a decision that they describe as the “full privatization of state security.”

The prime minister is now learning in the context of the discussions about the defense aid package an important lesson about the limits of strength. What a shame that the State of Israel is going to be the one to ultimately pay the price for that.

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A Dangerous Game
by Yossi Melman, Ma’ariv
June 16, 2016

(Hebrew-language version is here)

In order to understand the old-new crisis between Israel and the United States over the defense aid agreement, you have to get inside the head of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. That’s a difficult task, bordering on impossible.

It is unclear what Netanyahu is seeking to accomplish by refusing to proceed with the negotiations with the administration. His conduct in this affair has put him on a collision course with not only US President Barack Obama, but with Israel’s entire top defense establishment, including Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman as of yesterday. They don’t say so explicitly, and certainly not in public, but behind closed doors they’re perplexed by his behavior.

The bilateral aid agreement will expire at the end of the year. Under its terms, Israel received approximately USD 31 billion over the past decade. Furthermore, in recent years Israel received additional aid totaling approximately USD 3 billion in R&D project investments for the Iron Dome, David’s Sling and Arrow missile defense systems. In short, the Obama administration has been the most generous of all US administrations in terms of military aid to Israel and its defense.

In the lead-up to the expiration of the military aid agreement and against the backdrop of the nuclear agreement with Iran, the US proposed that it and Israel start negotiating a new and improved aid agreement. Netanyahu, who was pushing the opposition to the nuclear agreement and joined forces with the Republican Party, declined. His military advisors, including former defense minister Moshe Yaalon, the IDF top brass, and even then-National Security Council director turned current Mossad director Yossi Cohen, were displeased with his behavior. Precious months were lost.

Later the prime minister came to his senses and was prepared to discuss a new military aid package, but demanded unreasonable sums. The Obama administration turned down the demand, but was still willing to increase the aid from USD 3.1 billion to USD 3.5 billion annually (for a decade). Netanyahu made out that he was offended and declined the offer.

Later, when he again came to his senses, he demanded that the addition earmarked for the continued development of Israel’s aerial defense systems be a permanent part of the agreement. This time it was the administration’s turn to be offended or get even, and it refused to add the addition to the agreement.

Netanyahu and his right hand man, Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer, went into action. They enlisted AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobby in Washington, which successfully brought Members of Congress around to the idea, who are initiating a plan  to pass legislation to make the addition a permanent feature in missile defense programs. But the administration stood firm and replied that it objected to making the extra funding permanently part of the basic aid agreement.

The prime minister is playing with fire, and mainly, is stroking his ego, all at the expense of the State of Israel’s interests. Obama’s generous administration has been willing to increase the aid, even though it is fed up with Netanyahu because of his campaign against the nuclear agreement with Iran. Yet Netanyahu, who represents a country that is a beggar that cannot be a chooser, is acting as if he were the one calling the shots.

The clock keeps ticking in the meanwhile, and not to Israel’s benefit. The next administration will not be more generous. Should Donald Trump be elected president of the United States, he is liable to cut aid for the Arrow project. Should Hillary Clinton be elected, she will offer Israel what Obama offered. Israel will not get more than that.

 

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