WASHINGTON (JTA) — Michael Oren, the former Israeli ambassador to the United States, reportedly is counseling Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu not to conclude an agreement with the Obama administration to expand and extend defense assistance to Israel.
Oren, the Jerusalem Post reported on Wednesday, a Knesset member with the centrist Kulanu Party, has in closed meetings broken with party leader Moshe Kahlon, the finance minister who is urging Netanyahu to conclude the deal. Israel’s current package, averaging $3 billion a year, is set to expire in 2018, and the Obama administration hopes to conclude a ten-year extension that would increase assistance to between $4 billion and $5 billion a year.
According to the Post, Oren, who is U.S. born and who has emerged since leaving the ambassadorship in 2013 as a harsh critic of President Barack Obama, opposes the agreement as it currently stands because it wraps missile defense spending into the agreement; because it calls for cuts in spending the allocation in Israel’s defense sector; and because it would anger Republicans, who might see the deal as burnishing Obama’s legacy. He apparently favors waiting out the elections to pursue the deal.
Until now, missile defense spending has been subject to the approval of Congress, which routinely greatly increases whatever the president – Republican or Democrat – requests. Wrapping missile defense into the defense assistance package would freeze out Congress and constrain Israeli bids to increase spending for projects like Iron Dome or Arrow.
U.S. defense assistance routinely comes with a requirement that the money a beneficiary country gets is spent on U.S. defense contractors. Israel is the only exception, with a codicil that until now allows a quarter of the package to be spent in Israel.
Kahlon and others in Israel’s political and defense establishments favor closing the deal now in part because Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, has not committed to defense assistance for Israel. On at least one occasion, he has said he would consider making Israel pay for the assistance.
Netanyahu until now has been reluctant to close a deal reportedly because he fears Obama will use it to bolster his pro-Israel credentials ahead of setting out recommendations for a final status arrangement between Israel and the Palestinians.