WASHINGTON – A senior Israeli official will arrive in Washington next week for a final round of negotiations pertaining to the largest military aid package ever given by the United States to another country.
Brig. Gen. Yaakov Nagel, the acting head of Israel’s National Security Council, was dispatched with instructions to meet with White House officials in the hopes of signing an agreement “as soon as possible,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said this week.
This represents a striking about-face for Netanyahu, who angered the Obama administration during a February cabinet meeting when he suggested that Israel might decide to wait and “reach an agreement with the next administration.”
Nagel’s visit signals that Netanyahu may have concluded that he will not necessarily get a better deal than the one Obama has offered. The two world leaders have had a visibly testy personal relationship.
Both countries are now eager to strike a deal before Obama’s term ends, The Washington Post reported.
The Obama administration has said it is prepared to sign a 10-year “memorandum of understanding” that significantly raises the $3.1 billion a year the United States currently grants Israel under an existing agreement, which expires in 2018. In addition, Congress has provided additional money for Israel’s missile defense system.
Earlier, during months of secret negotiations that picked up steam late last year, Netanyahu had been holding out for as much at $5 billion a year, according to accounts in the Israeli news media. Israelis argued that they need to spend much more on defense in the wake of last year’s Iran nuclear deal, which is freeing up frozen Iranian assets that Israel fears may be used in part to fund Iranian aggression in the region.
One major obstacle to finalizing an agreement, however, is a dispute over where the funds can be spent.
According to US and Israeli analysts familiar with the negotiations, the Obama administration is insisting on phasing out a special arrangement that has allowed Israel to spend 26 percent of U.S. aid on its own defense research, development and procurement.
No other country receiving U.S. funds is permitted to do so. The clause was made effective in the 1980s to allow Israel to build up its nascent defense infrastructure. With Israel’s defense industry now thriving, the administration wants to revoke the clause and require that more U.S. aid go to American companies providing goods and services in Israel.