WASHINGTON - The United States will increase its military assistance to Israel and sign a new agreement securing American aid to the country for the next decade, President George W. Bush announced Tuesday following his meeting with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
Olmert had persuaded Bush to announce the aid increase, senior political sources said yesterday.
Prior to Olmert's visit to Washington it was agreed that the issue would be raised during their meeting, but the President gave his response to the Israeli request for increased military assistance only during the meeting with the prime minister.
"The increase of the military assistance is the most important result of Olmert's visit to the United States," the political sources said. This year, Israel will receive $2.4 billion in military aid from the U.S.
The agreement concluded by former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, according to which the United States' economic aid package to Israel would be gradually diminished and the military aid would increase, is ending this year.
According to the existing arrangement, most of the grant is meant for procurement from the U.S. industry, and Israel is allowed to spend 26.7 percent of the military assistance in shekel purchases for acquisitions from local defense industries.
Israel asked for a gradual increase in the aid over a 10-year period at the tune of $50 million per year. At the end of the 10 years, Israel will receive $2.9 billion annually in military assistance from the U.S.
Olmert told the president that an announcement on the increase in aid would be an expression of American support for Israel against the growing threates to its existence in the region.
In its announcement, the U.S. reiterated that the increased funds will allow Israel to deal with the new challenges it faces and to ensure a "qualitative military edge."
The prime minister asked U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates for his assistance in expediting the handling of a number of IDF procurement requests meant to complete the replenishment of equipment and stores used during the Second Lebanon War.
Gates pointed out that though there is no problem with the requests in principle, there is an orderly procedure. However, Bush intervened and directed the defense secretary to expedite approval of the IDF's requests.
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