An overwhelming majority of US senators signed a letter urging President Barack Obama to reach an agreement with Israel over a new defense aid package as soon as possible.
"In light of Israel's dramatically rising defense challenges, we stand ready to support a substantially enhanced new long-term agreement to help provide Israel the resources it requires to defend itself and preserve its qualitative military edge," said the letter exposed by news agency Reuters.
The initiative was led by Republican senator Lindsey Graham and Democratic senator Chris Coons. Senator Ted Cruz, vying for the top slot on the GOP ticket, also signed the letter, alongside 50 other Republicans.
The Democratic candidate, Senator Bernie Sanders, did not appear as a signatory, though 32 other Democrats signed.
The letter does not specify a target for the aid package. Israel has asked for $4-4.5 billion each year, as part of a new memorandum of understanding to replace the current agreement expiring in 2018. Washington sources have cited a lower figure of $3.7 billion.
Additionally, the letter calls on the White House to increase its cooperation with Israel in the research and development of missile defense programs.
At the beginning of April, it was reported Israel sent the White House and Pentagon a detailed list of weapons systems, ammunition, and aircraft it wanted included in the MOU as part of its talks over the new aid package.
Meetings between the two parties occurred at all levels, including with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Minister of Defense Moshe Ya'alon, the National Security Council, and the Ministry of Defense. Reports suggested the atmosphere was positive and talks were advancing well until Washington hinted it had no intention of significantly raising the budget. Officials in Jerusalem were disappointed, leading to much stalling in everything related to the negotiations.
The annual US defense aid package to Israel amounted to $3.1 billion since 2007. The figure does not include significant grants provided by the Americans for the procurement of missile defense batteries, R&D to combat the terror threat, and rearmament after weapons stocks dwindled during recent operations in the Gaza Strip.
Israeli defense officials hope the agreement will again extend over a ten-year period as with the current MOU.
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on April 25, 2016
© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2016