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Opinion Sen. Lindsey Graham: ‘No time to nickel and dime Israel’

Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) sounded irate in a brief phone interview Monday afternoon with Right Turn. His subcommittee, with strong bipartisan support, has already passed legislation to hike military aid to Israel from $3.1 billion to $3.4 billion for 2017. But as has been reported in Israeli papers, the administration — with one more kick in Israel’s shins before President Obama leaves office — has told Israel there will be no increase this year or in a new 10-year memorandum of understanding (MOU). Moreover, the long-standing offshore procurement (OSP) agreement that allows Israel to purchase a significant percentage of its defense equipment from Israeli companies may get nixed or squeezed.

Haaretz reports that Israel is “giving up” many requests, which is a polite way of saying the administration is refusing to bolster aid to Israel despite a vast increase in weaponry acquired by Hezbollah and new aid flowing into Sunni neighbors:

[Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu is leaning towards giving up most of his demands and plans to acquiesce to the majority of American conditions for the new aid package. These include a gradual phasing out of Israel’s spending of up to 40 percent of American aid on purchases from Israeli defense contractors and for fuel.
“Israel places great importance on its ability to plan and to have certainty regarding the military aid it receives from the U.S., as well as respecting bilateral agreements,” the statement from the Prime Minister’s Office said.

This comes in the context of a 10-year funding agreement set to expire in 2018. Haaretz explains, “After a few rounds the talks ran aground in May. The Americans made clear that their offer was final and it was up to Israel whether to sign while President Barack Obama is still in office or wait for the next president to take office in January 2017.” The administration also wants to include missile defense spending within the next 10-year deal, thereby curtailing another avenue for funding.

According to Graham, Israel is not voluntarily “giving up” its request but is being strong-armed by the administration to back away. “Now is not the time to nickel and dime Israel,” Graham says tersely. “This is totally out of sync with what is happening in the region.” He notes the huge buildup in Hezbollah forces after the Iran deal and the presence of Russian and Iranian forces in Syria.

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As important as the dollar amount in aid to Israel is the provision that allows Israel to buy from its own defense industry. Those familiar with the issue tell Right Turn this allows Israel to keep its defense industry robust and to innovate on its own. Since we share defense intelligence and know-how with Israel, this ultimately redounds to our benefit as well.

Graham notes that Jordan, for example, has enjoyed increases in aid in two of the past three years. “I wish Obama would have been as tough on Iran as he is on Israel,” he says in reference to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Graham underscores that Congress is not party to any MOU and can appropriate whatever amount it sees fit. Congress therefore may still insist on the higher spending number in the next omnibus spending bill (or continuing resolution). And the next president of course can renegotiate all of this.

Graham nevertheless vows to take new steps. He plans on working with other lawmakers including Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) to reverse sanctions relief and/or impose new sanctions on Iran in light of its illegal missile tests. He also says he plans on pushing through a supplemental funding bill. “Shouldn’t Israel get 1 percent of what Iran got?” he asks, arguing that $150 billion was released to Iran in the context of the JCPOA. He therefore plans on putting in another $1.5 billion for Israel in light of the increased dangers he thinks the JCPOA helped create.

If nothing else, this latest fight should remind voters that this administration has gone out of its way to complicate Netanyahu’s and Israel’s security needs. As has so often been the case when the administration has slighted allies, Russia takes advantage. A separate news report tells us: “Netanyahu persisted in complaining again about the Russian arms reaching the Lebanese terrorist group in his latest phone conversation with Putin on Saturday, July 23. He made the call . . . primarily to raise another topic at issue, the UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) flights from Syria into Israeli airspace on July 17.”

In short, as Russia and its allies tip the balance of power in the Middle East, the United States retreats and undercuts its closest ally Israel. Perhaps the next administration will understand the mutually beneficial alliances we enjoy with individual countries and with multilateral organizations.