A senior State Department official warned Friday that proposed congressional restrictions on military and economic aid to Egypt come “at the worst possible moment” and risk harming relations with the new government in Cairo.
Andrew Shapiro, assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs, said that, before Congress acts on legislation that could also cut off assistance to Lebanon or the Palestinian Authority, “We must ask ourselves, if we are no longer a partner, who will fill the void?”
House and Senate committees have added language to fiscal 2012 foreign assistance bills that would block the $1.3 billion in military aid that goes to Egypt annually if the government fails to hold free elections and take other steps toward reform. The president would have to certify that U.S. aid is in the national interest.
The legislation could also block funds intended for Lebanon or the Palestinian Authority.
Shapiro said the administration is working on Capitol Hill to get the provisions removed or at least modified.
“The administration believes that putting conditions on our assistance to Egypt is the wrong approach,” Shapiro said, adding, “now is not the time to add further uncertainty to the region or disrupt our relationship with Egypt.”
Shapiro made his remarks during a talk at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy where his prime message was that, despite cutbacks in the U.S. foreign assistance budget, Washington would continue to provide aid to Israel. In fact, he said, foreign military funds scheduled for Israel in fiscal 2012 will top $3 billion, the highest in history for a single year.
He said he recognized that some were questioning why, at a time when the United States is reducing its own defense spending, it continues “to spend hard-earned American taxpayer dollars on Israel’s security.” His answer: “We don’t just support Israel because of a long-standing bond, we support Israel because it is in our national interest to do so.”
Shapiro said threats to Israel are growing and if Israel “were weaker its enemies would be bolder ... [making a] broader conflict more likely, which would be catastrophic to American interests in the region.”
He also pointed out that Israel’s defense industries, which are also supported by up to 25 percent of the $3 billion aid package, have contributed to innovations such as sensors, unmanned aerial vehicle technology, surveillance equipment and devices that detect improvised explosive devices in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Israel is facing economic problems of its own. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet last month approved a 5 percent reduction in its defense spending. Asked if U.S. funds would be sought to make up for Israel’s own cutback, Shapiro said that no such request had been made but that, if it were, the response would be based on U.S. national security interests.