Israel

Former Amb. Oren Advises Netanyahu to Hold Off From Signing Defense Agreement with U.S.

The former Israeli ambassador to the United States advised Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to hold off from quickly signing a new memorandum of understanding on American defense aid to Israel, The Jerusalem Post reported Tuesday.

“Israel requires [additional] funding and capabilities to handle the challenges it is facing in the Middle East,” said Michael Oren, a member of Knesset who served as Israel’s ambassador from 2009 to 2013. “A number of specific challenges and circumstances should caution Netanyahu to go slow.”

The first challenge that Oren observed is the Obama administration’s request that Israel refrain from asking Congress for additional funding, as it did in the past for missile defense. This would hurt Israel’s relationship with Congress—an equal branch of government—and could complicate matters if the strategic outlook of the Middle East changes in the next decade, Oren explained.

A second concern he noted is that the deal requires all of the American aid to be spent in the U.S., rather than allowing a quarter of it to be spent in Israel, as was the case in the past. This provision could hurt Israel’s own defense industry and cost it thousands of jobs.

The final issue Oren raised is the possibility that with an upcoming presidential election, Republicans can claim that Israel is influencing U.S. domestic affairs by signing a major deal with a Democratic administration. Oren also warned that by signing now, Israel would lose leverage in future efforts to advance peace talks, possibly on unfavorable terms, between Israel and the Palestinians.

Israeli officials have been careful not to conflate “talks over the new Memorandum of Understanding with their concerns that the Obama administration may support international initiatives on Middle East peace,” according to the Post.

As Israeli and American officials iron out the terms of a new ten-year defense agreement, newly appointed Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman arrived in Washington to meet with his American counterpart, U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter.

A statement from the Pentagon about the meeting said that the two men “reaffirmed the strength of the US-Israeli defense relationship and the United States’ unwavering commitment to Israel’s security.” They also discussed “regional security challenges in the Middle East and areas of mutual defense cooperation.”

Liberman is scheduled to attend a ceremony in Dallas on Wednesday to mark the production of the F-35 fighter jet by defense contractor Lockheed Martin, as well as to tour the Texas branch of Israeli defense electronics manufacturer Elbit.

[Photo: Tomer Neuberg / FLASH90 ]