Number one ally

Sunday, 2016-09-25 13:50:03
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US President Barack Obama meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval office of the White House in Washington November 9, 2015. Photo: Reuters
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NDO – After ten months of negotiations, the United States and Israel have reached the final agreement on a record new package providing at least US$38 billion in US military aid, the biggest pledge in the history of US military assistance made to any allied country.

The move marks a crucial step forward in US-Israel relations, alleviating doubts about the friction in the relationship between the two allies at the end of US President Barack Obama’s term.

President Obama held talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the sidelines of the 71st session of the United Nations General Assembly, which could be the final meeting between the leader of the Israeli government and Obama as the US President. However, the talks marked a new step in the bilateral allied relationship which was said to be rather lukewarm under the Obama administration; as it took place right after the two countries signed an agreement on a new weapon aid package worth US$38 billion, succeeding another package scheduled to expire in 2018. The new deal will last ten years, with US$5 billion of the total to be spent on developing Israel’s missile defense system.

US National Security Adviser Susan Rice affirmed that the US-Israel deal indicated the close relations between the two countries, as well as the US’s support and durable co-operation for its ally. Israeli PM Netanyahu hailed the agreement as “unprecedented” and an extremely significant achievement for the Jewish State. The record aid package will help Israel strengthen its military power and missile defence system, as well as protect its interests, including those of the US, in the Middle East.

On their way to the new deal, both the US and Israel experienced months of negotiations with numerous disagreements on an array of issues. Israel asked the US to increase its assistance by at least US$1.5 billion per year and supplement about US$3.1 billion per year to the current aid package. Meanwhile, the US requested that all of its financial support for Israel be used to buy US-made military equipment. As a large weapon consumer of the US, Israel also required part of the aid package to be converted into its domestic currency so that Tel Aviv could buy military products manufactured by its own companies. Previously, PM Netanyahu was hesitant to sign a new military deal until the end of President Obama’s term, with the hope of receiving better provisions.

The US increasing the aid package to US$3.8 billion per year is a big success for Israel, while showing the priorities in Washington’s policies given to its important ally in the Middle East. The deal not only demonstrates the biggest military assistance pledges made by the US to any country but also includes concessions accepted by the Israeli PM. Accordingly, the Israeli side will not request the US Congress to grant assistance of greater value than the annual pledge. Israel also gives up the special term that allows it to use a part of the US’s aid money to buy equipment from Israel’s military contractors within six years, since the deal takes effect.

The relationship between the US President and the Israeli PM was not exactly smooth over the past two terms of the Obama administration, as Israel objected to Washington’s “soft” policies with Iran. President Obama still wants the Israel deal to be an important part of his “achievement dossier” before leaving office. However, the Israel policy of the White House under President Obama had yet to satisfy the Israel-friendly side in the US Congress. US legislators still wanted to revise the recently-signed military agreement with Israel by providing additional financial support and loosening control over expenditures in the deal. Some US parliamentarians have recommended a supplementary aid worth US$1.5 billion for Israel, and the “renewal” of sanctions against Iran, a nation confronting with the Jewish State. They fear that Israel’s security could be threatened as the nuclear deal helps Iran access billions of US dollars from blocked accounts. The abovementioned reality is posing a new challenge to President Obama as the deal with Israel has only recently been signed.

Regardless of the differences in the stances between the Obama administration and the Israeli PM on a number of regional issues, the new military deal demonstrates the US’s commitment to ensuring long-term security for its ally Israel. It is undeniable that Israel is still the US’s closest ally in the region, helping the no. 1 power ensure its national interests in the Middle East, a region with strategic geo-political location.