As it has usually done for many years, the US Senate last week voted to increase US aid to Israel for development and production of anti-missile defense systems. The aid was part of the US Department of Defense's budget for the 2018 fiscal year. The US House of Representatives approved the same amount for the Israeli missile defense programs in July. Such Congressional supplements to US aid for Israel will not occur again in the next 10 years; Congress thus took advantage of its last opportunity until 2029 to increase US aid for Israel's weapons procurement.
Starting in the 2019 fiscal year, Israel will be unable to ask Congress for an increase in military aid beyond what is written in the memorandum of understanding signed by two countries for military aid in the coming decade. Such requests were routinely made in previous years.
The Trump administration proposed granting Israel $147 million for its anti-missile programs in the 2018 fiscal year. At Israel's requests, the Senate increased the grant by $558 million to $705 million, $100 million more than the aid that Israel received last year for this purpose.
US aid for the missile programs is unlinked to annual military aid. It comes from the US Department of Defense budget, while military aid is part of the US foreign aid budget. In addition to the $705 million for missile defense, Israel will thus also receive $3.1 billion in regular military aid, an annual amount set by a 10-year Israel-US memorandum of understanding.
Starting in 2019, the rules of the game will change when the new memorandum of understanding goes into effect. Military aid will be $3.8 billion annually - $3.3 billion in regular military aid and $500 million in aid for the missile program. Israel will no longer be able to ask Congress to supplement this aid. This was an explicit demand by the previous administration, which did not like the demonstrations by Congress of love for Israel because of their cost to the US taxpayer. The Obama administration demanded that Israel settle for the amounts stipulated in the memorandum of understanding, and refrain from asking Congress for more money as long as the memorandum is in effect. For lack of choice, Israel undertook to refrain from making such requests.
The amounts added by Congress for Israeli missile defense programs in 2017 and 2018 have created an interesting situation. Many in Washington assumed that the ban on asking for additional aid would also apply to the missile defense programs. The question was whether Israel would have to return the over $1 billion added by Congress to the administration's budget proposals for these years.
The answer turned out to be no. Jerusalem emphasizes that the undertaking in the appendix applies only to regular military aid, not to the aid for the missile defense programs. Israel therefore demanded, and received, all of the $600.7 million in aid for the missiles programs in the 2017 fiscal year, and expects to receive the entire $705 million in aid approved by Congress for the missile defense program in the 2018 fiscal year.
Whether the same will be true of the $75 million supplement to the regular defense aid approved by Congress for 2018 is unclear.
According to a September 11 report by the "Washington Free Beacon" rightwing website, the US State Department considered demanding that Israel return $75 million from its 2017 military aid package to the US Treasury. Israel received this aid after signing the memorandum of understanding with the Obama administration, in which it undertook to return any amount added by Congress to the aid amount in the memorandum. This argument was consistent with what Israeli representatives said when the memorandum was signed.
Following the report, the Israeli Embassy in Washington announced that it did not wish to respond, but State Department spokesperson RC Hammond said, "The administration is committed to ensuring that Israel receives the assistance that has been appropriated by Congress.
Legal experts in Washington, however, said that no spokesperson of any government department was authorized to cancel a formal agreement between two countries, and that at this stage, there was no certainty that Israel could keep the $75 million in question.
Published by Globes [online], Israel Business News - www.globes-online.com - on September 24, 2017
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