U.S. sources: Israel's defense handout may be cut to $1B
Defense Ministry D-G Amos Yaron on 'secret' mission to Washington to discuss aid package.
Several U.S. sources said the White House may scale back Israel's $4 billion defense aid request, possibly to under $1 billion, and Defense Ministry Director General Amos Yaron is on a "secret" mission to Washington to discuss the request defense aid request.
The Bush administration has scotched at least one long-term intelligence program underway in the IDF, which was bundled into the aid request. The $4-billion package over four years is meant to compensate Israel for expenses incurred in the war against Palestinian terrorism and the expected American attack on Iraq.
Yaron's office has been saying he is at home ill for the last two days, but he is in Washington: After last week, the Bush administration demanded the Defense Ministry present a new version of its aid request, with more detail and in order of priorities. Jerusalem understood that to mean Washington does not plan to provide all $4 billion, which as defense aid must be spent in the U.S. The Americans have already deleted long-term projects.
Sources in Washington said the $4 billion request had run into opposition both in the administration and on Capitol Hill, which is bracing for a war in Iraq that could cost U.S. taxpayers close to $100 billion. "The administration is not enthusiastic," one source said. "Israel is already a major recipient of U.S. largess and $4 billion was just too much at this time," one U.S. source said.
Israeli representatives explained to U.S. officials that the coming war in Iraq will be costly in alert time, flight time, and essential stockpiles, as well as increasing the alert in case of mass terror attacks and a possible flare up of the northern border.
Jerusalem remains optimistic about the other part of the aid request, an $8-billion loan guarantee, but the U.S. wants to make sure the money is spent to heal the economy and not for increased government spending.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon spoke on the telephone Wednesday with President George W. Bush, who congratulated him on his 75th birthday, and on his "impressive" election victory. The aid issue came up in the conversation.
According to a statement from the Prime Minister's Office, Bush praised the prime minister on "his efforts to improve the Israeli economy and to implement a new economic policy," and Sharon thanked the president for the administration's efforts preparing the aid package. The peace process also came up in the conversation, with Bush speaking of the need to disarm Iraq "and he expressed hope that after the possible American assault on Iraq, the process for peace in the Middle East will move forward."
U.S. officials deny any military and economic assistance would be tied to Israeli cooperation in any U.S.-led war with Iraq. "This is not directly related to compensation in the event of attack," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said at the start of negotiations in November.