Defending Israel Militarily and Diplomatically
By Sarah Ann Haves
At the 16th annual Herzliya Conference earlier this week, Malcolm Hoenline, head of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, voiced his concerns during a panel discussion on “The 2016 U.S. Presidential Election Campaign.” While most of the leaders on the panel analyzed whether Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton would be the best U.S. candidate for president, Hoenline took another approach. He talked about the critical issues that Israel would be facing in the coming months.
Interviewed on the sidelines of the conference, Hoenline was asked about the current U.S. military aid package to Israel that is due to expire in October 2018.
The Israeli government, the Obama Administration and the U.S. Congress are dealing with the parameters of a new 10 year aid package for Israel. Taking into account the volatile Middle East, and the need for Israel to keeps its qualitative edge intact, especially in light of Iran’s aggression in the region, this new aid deal is being viewed as a top priority by the Israeli government. Many Jewish leaders, including Hoenline, believe that Israel should try and negotiate the package, now, rather than wait and see what the new White House administration will do in January 2017 and beyond.
|[Israel wants the package
to be] more than
cost of living increases.
“Only the government of Israel can determine what it is that they can live with. It should certainly be more than the cost of living increases.”
The uncertainty of what Congress will look like next year, and how many pro-Israel representatives and senators will be working on Capital Hill, has been a concern for Israeli and Jewish leaders. Hoenline thinks that it could take months until the next White House administration is in place and ready to negotiate. Ultimately, he says it is up to the Israeli government to decide what is best for Israel.
“I do think that Israel should try to work it out now, if they can….They have to weigh the factors. We can’t decide from the outside. It’s only those on the inside.”
The Obama administration is looking to change the parameters in the new military aid deal. Rather than Israel having to petition Congress, each year, for increased aid specifically for missile defense, U.S. President Barak Obama would like to include it in the new 10 year defense package. It would give Israel the predictability it needs to advance and upgrade these specific systems. But, the White House wants to allocate much less money to Israel than what Congress has proposed.
“The idea the administration wants to build in is that you can’t have costs-ups, meaning that the Congress can’t add more money to it. That, obviously, would have complicated the past funding for Iron Dome, David’s Sling, etc., where Congress increased the funds, which is why Congress is so important,” Hoenline explains.
In fact, the U.S. House of Representatives recently passed a defense appropriations bill (the National Defense Authorization Act), which included a boost of $635 million for Israel’s missile defense. As in times before, the White House opposed this increase, having suggested less money for Israel’s program.
The extra missile defense funds that Israel has requested from Congress during the past few years have not been seen as a positive step by the White House. With this future 10 year aid package, if missile defense funds are included, then Israel will not have to go to Congress each year, asking for additional appropriations. Hoenline is hopeful a financial accommodation will be sorted out in Israel’s favor.
“Every year there is this fight over anti-missile defense. The Congress proposes, the Administration opposes, and they work it out. God willing that will happen now, too. It is unfortunate that we have to go through this process, but I think that we shouldn’t overact until we see how the process works out.”
Reports indicate that negotiations between the two allies for the new aid deal are in the final stages. The current aid that Israel receives is $3 billion each year. Israel is looking for $4-5 billion a year in future military aid.
Hoenline says that few people in the international community realize that most of the U.S. aid given to Israel is required to be spent in the United States, helping U.S. defense industries expand their operations and employ more Americans. This is based on the current Memorandum of Understanding between the United States and Israel.
“The money that is spent creates tens of thousands of jobs in America, maybe up to 100,000 jobs,” declares Hoenline.
Only about 26 percent of U.S. military aid is allowed to be spent in Israel. Obama wants to reduce that percentage even more, which is a sticking point for Israeli defense industries. They want to plan and increase the development of Israel’s air defense systems. But, the uncertainty about the allocation of funds under the new 10 year proposed aid deal is affecting their ability to finalize their budgets, along with U.S. defense firms that they have partnerships with.
Hoenline is opposed to pushing Israel into a corner about what they can spend at home. “The idea of stopping the 20-25% that can be domestic purchases is ridiculous.”
Israeli officials are also wondering what the diplomatic price will be in the defense negotiations as the White House holds this leverage over Israel. Not only will the outcome of the new Memorandum of Understanding affect Israel’s ability to defend its homeland, Israel must look to other issues that are on Obama’s agenda, especially after the new presidential elections in November.
The period of the “handover” of political control from the White House to Obama’s successor begins November 8, 2016, and ends on January 20, 2017. During those months, Obama could consider bringing a resolution before the United Nations Security Council, looking to set parameters for the formation of a Palestinian State. In the past, the Obama Administration has been willing to veto most anti-Israel resolutions at the UN.
Israel’s former ambassadors discussed the issue of the U.S. veto on the Herzliya Conference panel, “Friend or Foe? The UN and Israel”. They admitted that they have depended on U.S. vetoes to help save Israel from imminent threats of sanctions and force. But, they also stated that they cannot rely on the U.S. veto in the future.
Hoenline does not think that the Obama Administration will try and create a Palestinian State at the UN. But, he believes that Obama could encourage some kind of a resolution before year’s end.
“We could see a resolution. There are a lot of things we hear at the UN. But, he knows that imposing something is not going to work.” However, Hoenline added, Obama could propose an initiative that would not be in Israel’s favor.
of the global effort
…to isolate Israel…
In Herzliya, Hoenline spoke of the global effort in the UN to increasingly isolate Israel, including organizations such as UNESCO, the Human Rights Council and other forums that vote for anti-Israel measures. “Every vehicle, every place is becoming a battle ground for us.”
Yet, he spoke positively that he and other Jewish leaders actively spend time contacting members of the UN Security Council, and they do not see much enthusiasm on the part of member states to further isolate Israel in the global arena.
As the United States elections draw nearer, most Israelis have national security on their minds. Will the new U.S. Administration, as well as new members of Congress continue to support Israel in military matters? This is a priority for Jewish citizens. Secondly, Israelis do not want to face international isolation. They hope to see Israel’s interests accepted in the diplomatic world.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continues to reach out; looking for friends he can rely on to help Israel in its quest to keep its qualitative military edge over its neighbors. Netanyahu believes that a majority of U.S. citizens still want to back the needs of the Jewish state, including the assurance that Israelis can live and work, in safety and security, in their own homeland.
“The Lord will mediate between nations and will settle international disputes. They will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will no longer fight against nation, nor train for war anymore.” Isaiah 2:4 (NLT)
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Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright ©1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Ms. Haves is a news analyst, reporting on political, diplomatic, military and spiritual issues in Israel and the nations.