Officials: Netanyahu will sign MoU with Obama

Officials in Washington believe Netanyahu will consent to sign agreement on military aid with Obama and not wait for the next president.

Elad Benari,

Netanyahu and Obama (archive)
Netanyahu and Obama (archive)
Avi Ohayon

Officials in Washington believe that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will consent to sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Obama administration on arrangement for the aid package to Israel for the next decade, starting in 2018.

This is contrary to the threat made by Netanyahu earlier this year that it might be preferable to wait for the next president, hoping to receive a more generous aid package. This was reported to the Globes financial newspaper by aides to Capitol Hill legislators and pro-Israel sources in the U.S.

The current defense agreement between Israel and the United States remains in force until 2018, and Netanyahu has been urged to accept President Barack Obama’s 10-year military aid package which reportedly includes a total of $145.8 million for Israeli missile defense programs, a sharp drop in financial support.

A total of $3 billion in defense aid is given annually, but Netanyahu has asked for an increase to $5 billion annually, in light of the greater need for security due to the growing Iranian threat after the nuclear deal.

"The administration and the congress agree that the Netanyahu will back off from the tough stance he adopted when he stated that 'it's not yet clear that we will come to an agreement' with the U.S. regarding the new MoU and that Israel may have to wait for the next president, whoever it is," an aide to a senior legislator told Globes on Sunday.

The source added that legislators from both parties and both houses of Congress have sent Israeli diplomats and Netanyahu's close advisors an unequivocal message: in addition to the growing budget constraints that will affect Washington decision making in the next year, Israel should not jeopardize billions of dollars, considering uncertainty regarding the results of the elections in the November.

"No one clearly addresses the elephant in the room but even the prime minister, who is not one of President Obama's supporters, cannot bury his head in the sand and believe that anyone, even Donald Trump, will be better than the current president," the source added.

"This message has also come from certain U.S. Jews, some of them Republican, who look at the confirmed nominee with growing concern, particularly considering his conduct after the recent use of anti-Semitic imagery in an anti-Hillary elections ad,” the source added.

Trump has continuously expressed his support for Israel and recently said at a rally in New Hampshire that he would “support Israel 100%”.

Previously, a senior aide to Trump told Israel's Channel 2 News that Israel need not rush to negotiate a new Memorandum of Understanding with the current administration because a Trump White House would significantly increase aid to Israel.

Despite the recent statements, the source told Globes, Netanyahu is well aware of Trump's initial statements in the preliminary elections campaign, which might reflect his real outlook: rich states in which he also listed Israel will have to return aid funds to the U.S. Trump made a statement to this effect before the AIPAC policy conference.

Trump also stated, early in this campaign, that he wishes to be "neutral" regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in order to become a fair mediator who can push for "a deal" later on.

Furthermore, a pro-Israeli U.S. source told Globes that it is clear to the Prime Minister's bureau that Israel will not be saved by Hillary Clinton being elected president not because she is anti-Israeli, but because she will not radically deviate from the Obama administration policy, specifically not regarding a sensitive issue such as aid to Israel.

"We know that some of Netanyahu's advisors warned him that agreeing to sign the MoU with Obama will rile up Republican legislators, who does not wish to add ammunition to the election campaign of Obama's successor, Hillary, but your prime minister should remember that there is a fair chance that control over the Senate will shift to the democrats in the November elections. What will Netanyahu do then?" the source said.

The aid proposed by Obama will include $3.8 billion in aid annually, but subject to two conditions: 1. Merging the separate aid for Israel's missile defense program into the general aid package, forfeiting the various additions the congress used to provide for these programs annually. 2. Plus-ups Israel will have to spend all aid funds on procurement from U.S. companies.

In the current MoU, Israel was permitted to spend about 25% of the aid on procurement from Israeli companies and several hundreds of millions of dollars on aircraft fuel a significant boost accelerating defense industry growth, noted Globes.

Netanyahu, for his part, recently expressed optimism that the MoU will be signed soon.

“I hope that we’ll conclude a new memorandum of understanding for the invaluable American support for Israel’s defenses for the next decade,” Netanyahu said at a Fourth of July celebration at American Ambassador Dan Shapiro's residence.

An Israeli official late last month expressed optimism about the chances of the sides reaching an agreement on the military aid package, noting that “the gaps are not significant.”