Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is weighing a plan to pressure Israel to return tens of millions of dollars in military aid allocated by Congress for the Jewish state, claiming the funds violate an agreement signed during the Obama administration.
According to a report in the Washington Free Beacon, the Trump administration is mulling an effort to retrieve $75 million in military aid for Israel; a move that is being spearheaded by Secretary Tillerson.
Tillerson, the Beacon claims, cited last year’s Memorandum of Understanding, signed by President Obama and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, laying out American aid for Israel over the next decade.
The 2016 MOU, which replaced a 2007 agreement signed during the Bush administration, raised the amount of aid over the next decade to $38 billion, or $3.8 billion a year, a slight increase over the $30 billion in the previous MOU once inflation is accounted for. In constant 2016 dollars, the 2007 MOU pledged close to $36 billion in aid.
Unlike the previous MOU, however, the 2016 document stipulated that Israel may not request any additional funds from Congress during the next decade nor accept any offered from 2017 to 2018 – effectively turning the MOU from a guarantee of a minimum level of funding into a ceiling, capping total aid to the Jewish state.
Under previous MOUs, Congress has regularly exceeded the minimum amount of aid pledged, providing funds for Israel’s defense during major conflicts and extra allocations for the defensive Iron Dome anti-missile shield.
While the 2016 MOU forbade Israel from requesting money beyond the amount offered in the MOU, Congress dismissed the clause, pledging an extra $75 million in a bipartisan vote.
Secretary Tillerson, however, is aiming to contest this extra funding package, the Beacon reported, with the aim of enforcing last year’s MOU.
But some on Capitol Hill have already expressed their opposition to such a move.
Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton (R.) reportedly indicated that such a move by the State Department would not be supported by Congress.
Cotton, the Beacon reported, “strongly warned the State Department” last week "that such action would be unwise and invite unwanted conflict with Israel," one congressional aide said.
The State Department has categorically denied the Beacon report.
“Israel is a valued ally. The Administration is committed to ensuring that Israel receives the assistance that has been appropriated by Congress,” a State Department spokesperson stated.