The White House’s objection to increase funding for Israel’s missile defense system is not the result of a crisis in the U.S.-Israel relationship, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insisted on Wednesday.
As reported, the White House announced on Tuesday its opposition to a congressional proposal to increase funding by $445 million for Israel’s missile defense program in the 2017 budget. In a “Statement of Administration Policy” released by the White House’s Office of Management and Budget, the administration said it “opposes the addition of $455 million above the FY 2017 Budget request for Israeli missile defense procurement and cooperative development programs.”
In a statement AIPAC said it was “deeply disappointed” that the increased funding has been objected by the administration.
Israeli opposition leaders immediately blamed Netanyahu’s public spats with President Obama for the administration’s rejection of an increase in funding. “American aid is essential for protecting our citizens, and now, because of the prime minister’s ego games, we’re losing a critical part of it,” Labor leader Isaac Herzog wrote on Facebook. “If Israel will remain without air defense system in the next war, we can already now set up an inquiry into how Netanyahu makes decisions about national security,” he said.
Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid added, “The deterioration of ties leads to a situation in which issues that we used to be able to sort out in close discussions and negotiations among friends have become raucous public debates on matters critical to the State of Israel.” Lapid used the occasion to once again call on Netanyahu to sign the MOU with the Obama administration without delay, instead of taking the risk of waiting for the next administration.
But the prime minister’s office dismissed those claims as “misleading” by clarifying that at no point has there been a cut in U.S. military aid. “There is an internal debate between Congress and the White House on the size of the annual supplement to the missile defense program,” the prime minister’s bureau said in a statement. “Prime Minister Netanyahu is working to anchor this supplement as part of the discussions on the assistance agreement for the next ten years. Not only will security assistance for missile defense not be cut, it will be increased.
Netanyahu also hinted that his political opponents are using every minor disagreement with the United States to portray the relationship as failing. “The attempt to turn the dialogue with the US into a domestic Israeli political tool is improper; expressions of panic are not warranted,” the statement read.
According to Democratic strategist Aaron Keyak, the Obama administration is continuing a longstanding tradition of presidents lowballing requests for missile cooperation funding. Congress has for years substantially upped the presidential ‘ask.’ In 2002, Congress granted an additional $200 million in aid to Israel as part of an emergency anti-terrorism spending bill, way above the $65 million requested by President George W. Bush.
UPDATE: State Department John Kirby defended the administration’s opposition to the funding increase on Wednesday, calling it “the largest such non-emergency increase ever.” Kirby added that the increase “would consume a growing share of a shrinking U.S. Missile Defense Agency’s budget.”
Tal Shalev contributed to this report