September 17, 2016

The Landmark Deal That Wasn't

According to governments in Jerusalem and Washington, this was a great week for the US-Israel relationship. The two countries arrived at a "memorandum of understanding" to extend US aid to Israel's military budget until 2028.

President Obama declared: "America's commitment to Israel's security is unshakable." Nice, except America's commitment to Israel's security is quite shakable, and Obama has done much of the shaking (see below).

Despite the general touting of the deal as "the most generous military aid package given any single nation in US history," critics have raised serious doubts.

Obama’s demand that by the end of the next decade, 100% of the aid money be spent in the US is basically a subsidy for American defense companies, and will no doubt have a negative impact on Israel's defense industries.

And still nursing a wounded ego, Obama demanded that Israel forgo any funding Congress would want to give it that exceeds what was in the aid agreement that expires in 2018. This is enshrined in a secret annex to the memorandum.

Let’s hope the next US president “begins to heal the damage caused by the current president’s blunders in the region,” writes Eli Lake. To which we say: AMEN.

New York Post  |  September 17, 2016

Obama's Not-So-Landmark Deal With Netanyahu

By Eli Lake

President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (with back of head to camera) Photo: AP / Andrew Harnik

According to the governments in Jerusalem and Washington, this was a great week for the US-Israel relationship. The two countries arrived at a “memorandum of understanding” to extend the US subsidy of Israel’s military budget until 2028. President Obama, no fan of Israel’s current leader, declared: “America’s commitment to Israel’s security is unshakable.”

It would be pleasant to believe this. It’s not true though. America’s commitment to Israel’s security is quite shakable. Indeed, Obama has done much of the shaking.

For much of Obama’s presidency, he said he would lift sanctions on Iran in exchange for Iran dismantling its nuclear infrastructure. This was a big part of how he dissuaded Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, from bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities.

But that’s not the deal the US and other nations struck with Iran. When Netanyahu protested to Congress, the White House quietly encouraged fellow Democrats to boycott his speech.

After all of this bad blood, in the last months of his administration, Obama has decided to sign an agreement with Israel that guarantees $3.8 billion per year between 2018 and 2028. On paper it seems generous. As Susan Rice, Obama’s national security adviser, said Wednesday, this is the “single largest pledge of military assistance — to any country — in American history.”

The key word in Rice’s statement is “pledge.” Congress is the body that appropriates the annual aid budget. When Obama is long gone, it will be Congress that doles out the money for Israel to spend on US military equipment. So one aspect of the aid deal should raise eyebrows: terms saying Israel will stop making its case directly to Congress for military aid.

Morris Amitay, a former executive director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, said he’d never heard of a president asking a sovereign country, as part of an aid-package deal, not to lobby Congress.

At first Netanyahu didn’t want to give up Israel’s ability to ask Congress for more funding. But he relented. A secret annex to the memorandum signed Wednesday requires Israel to forgo any funding Congress would want to give it that exceeds what was in the aid agreement that expires in 2018.

It’s unclear how restrictive the lobbying restriction will actually be. Israel doesn’t lobby Congress much. Far more pro-Israel lobbying is done by AIPAC, which comprises US citizens. Could an agreement between Israel and the US limit the rights of Americans to petition Congress? When I put this question to AIPAC’s spokesman, Marshall Wittman, he said: “The agreement, of course, is only between the two governments. When the two governments reach an agreement on an issue, we give that factor great weight.”

For the time being, AIPAC says it’ll lobby Congress to enact the terms of the new 10-year aid agreement.

Obama’s deal is less than it seems, not only because the White House can’t appropriate and because the lobbying restriction is off target, but also because Obama’s successors may not honor his pledge. Obama himself discarded an agreement with Israel’s leaders that was made by George W. Bush and supported by Congress, to accept the legitimacy of some settlements in and around Jerusalem.

The White House also got its way on another key issue, known as the “off-shore procurement” carve out, whereby Israel is allowed to spend around 26 percent of the US aid on its own defense industry. In the new aid deal, Israel will spend all of the US subsidy on US defense equipment by 2024.

In this sense the US aid to Israel is a subsidy to American defense companies. The US also retains the leverage that comes from subsidizing around 20 percent of a sovereign nation’s defense budget.

Of course, Israel doesn’t even need the money. When the US began giving Israel serious military assistance in the 1960s, the country’s planned economy was minuscule. Today, Israel’s economy is thriving.

Defenders of the US aid package to Israel say it sends a message to its adversaries at a time when many in the Middle East doubt US resolve.

But the way to show resolve is not through arms sales and defense assistance. It’s through action. In this respect Obama reaps what he sows.

He decided to sit on the sidelines as Syria imploded, to intervene in Libya and then leave the reconstruction to others, to cut a deal with Iran that enriched the state as it was making war on US allies in the region, to exit Iraq and stay relatively silent as its leaders persecuted the country’s Sunni minority and to let Russia set up air bases in Syria to defend a dictator.

All of this has shaken America’s alliances throughout the Middle East, not just with Israel. The way to fix that is not by congratulating Obama on an aid package that’ll begin two years after he has left the White House. It’s to make sure the next president begins to heal the damage caused by the current president’s blunders in the region.

© 2016, Bloomberg View

Original article here.


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