Israel has asked the United States for $4 billion in new military assistance to defray the costs of fighting terrorism and the potential expense of preparing for a U.S. war in Iraq, along with $10 billion in loan guarantees to bolster its struggling economy, Bush administration officials said.
The request was presented by Dov Weisglass, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's chief of staff, and the director of Israel's finance ministry at a White House meeting yesterday with national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, officials said.
Israel receives more U.S. military aid than any other country, in amounts governed by a bilateral agreement that annually increases military payments while reducing economic assistance. The State Department announced last week that it intended to ask Congress for $2.16 billion in military assistance to Israel for fiscal 2004, up from $2.1 billion requested for 2003 and $2.04 billion allocated in 2002. The payments requested yesterday would be in addition to those amounts.
In yesterday's meeting, the Israelis presented a detailed description of the country's economic woes-a combination of rising military costs, a growing deficit and increased unemployment along with falling income from taxes and tourism, according to an Israeli official. The official said Israel believed that several countries, including Turkey and Jordan, had discussed increased U.S. assistance in exchange for expenses they might incur during a war with Iraq, and felt that Israel could make the same case.
Rice made no commitment, according to administration officials, but said the request would be taken under consideration. Subjects of further discussion, officials said, included the time period over which such a sum could be paid, and whether to consider just the aid request, the loan guarantee, or both.
One administration official said the $4 billion figure included $800 million that Israel said the Clinton administration had agreed to as compensation for its May 2000 military withdrawal from southern Lebanon, which the Bush administration declined to honor. Also cited were ongoing costs to combat Palestinian attacks and for the continued occupation of parts of the West Bank; contributions to the global anti-terrorism campaign and what the official called "a pay-off for not responding to Iraq."
The United States persuaded Israel, whose arsenal is the most powerful in the Middle East and is believed to include a substantial nuclear stockpile, not to respond it Iraqi missile attacks during the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Similar requests have been made by the Bush administration in anticipation of another potential war with Iraq, although the Sharon government has said it would retaliate against a direct attack.