US, Israel close many gaps in defense aid talks

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opens the weekly cabinet meeting at his Jerusalem office. (Reuters)

The United States and Israel have closed many of the remaining gaps in negotiations over a new multibillion-dollar military aid package for Washington’s top Middle East ally, and the two sides hope to reach a deal soon, a senior US official said on Wednesday.

Jacob Nagel, acting head of Israel’s national security council, wrapped up three days of closed-door discussions in Washington over a new 10-year defense pact, including a meeting with US national security adviser Susan Rice.

Drawn-out aid negotiations have underscored continuing friction between US President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over last year’s US-led nuclear deal with Iran, Israel’s arch-foe. The United States and Israel have also been at odds over the Palestinians.

However, with Obama due to leave office in January, both sides have appeared increasingly determined to come to an agreement to enshrine US assistance to Israel over the next decade.

“We’ve made progress and closed many of the remaining gaps. We hope soon to be able to reach final agreement,” the senior official told Reuters after the talks concluded. However, the official declined to elaborate or provide a precise timetable for completing negotiations.

Raising hopes for removal of a key sticking point, Israel had signaled at the start of the talks that it might accept the Obama administration’s demand that US military funds, until now spent partly on Israeli arms, will eventually be spent entirely on US-made weapons, according to US sources.

It would mark a major concession by Netanyahu.

The right-wing Israeli leader, who has had a fraught relationship with Obama, has decided it would be best to forge a new memorandum of understand (MOU) with him rather than hoping for better terms from the next US president, according to officials on both sides.

The White House has pledged to sign a new MOU that would “constitute the largest single pledge of military assistance to any country in US history.”

The current pact, signed in 2007 and due to expire in 2018, gave Israel around $30 billion in foreign military financing.

US negotiators are believed to have stuck to a previous offer of $3.5 billion to $3.7 billion annually for Israel under the new MOU, substantially less than the $4 billion a year Netanyahu has sought but still a sizeable increase.

Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:52 - GMT 06:52