Senior Official: U.S. Military Aid to Israel Is the 'Biggest Possible'

Netanyahu's conduct over the Iran nuclear pact had no impact on the 'historic' defense package, acting national security adviser says. The deal 'isn’t an American compensation for the agreement with Iran. It never was.'

ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid
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U.S. National Security Advisor Susan Rice, Israeli acting National Security Advisor Jacob Nagel (left) and Undersecretary of State Tom Shannon (right) at the signing ceremony for a new ten-year military aid pact, in Washington, September 14, 2016.
U.S. National Security Advisor Susan Rice, Israeli acting National Security Advisor Jacob Nagel and Undersecretary of State Tom Shannon at the signing of a new aid pact, September 14, 2016.Credit: Gary Cameron, Reuters
ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid

Jacob Nagel, the acting head of the National Security Council who led the team that negotiated the new defense aid agreement with Washington, told reporters on Wednesday that Israel had won the biggest U.S. aid grant possible. Even if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s conduct over the nuclear agreement with Iran had been different, the deal could not have been better, Nagel added.

“I’ve heard statements that Israel could have achieved more,” Nagel said in a conference call with reporters shortly before signing the agreement. “As the one conducting these talks since 2013 I can say that at no stage of the negotiations was there a higher American offer on the table than the one we ultimately received.”

“There are many speculations, but my stand is clear that a bigger sum could not have been obtained. The figures thrown in the air, about whether we hadn’t made the speech in the Congress, are simply not true,” he said.

Nagel said that at no stage of the negotiations was a connection made between the defense aid and the nuclear agreement with Iran. He said Israel stopped the talks on the defense aid agreement close to two years ago for what he described as “lack of ripeness,” which had nothing to do with the agreement being forged between Iran and the powers.

He confirmed, however, that Netanyahu decided not to resume the talks until the struggle against the nuclear agreement was over.

“I didn’t feel our activity in the matter of the nuclear agreement with Iran harmed the defense aid agreement,” Nagel said. “This agreement isn’t an American compensation for the agreement with Iran. It never was. The agreement is intended to support Israel’s security. My clear, personal position is that we wouldn’t have obtained a better agreement if we had conducted the talks with the United States at the same time the agreement with Iran was being approved. Beyond that, the Iranian issue was so important to us, that in my opinion we shouldn’t have ‘sold’ it for higher aid,” he said.

Netanyahu said in private conversations several times over the past year that he was aiming for an aid agreement of $40 billion or even $45 billion. The fact that the agreement didn’t reach these sums even made Netanyahu consider at a certain stage to put off signing it until after the elections in the United States, in the hope he could get a better deal with the next president.

Nagel, who described the aid agreement as a historic achievement for Israel, said the sum – $38 billion over 10 years – is close to Israel’s expectations at the beginning of the negotiations.

“I feel very good,” Nagel said. “I think it’s a good, historic and strategic agreement. It has so many positive aspects and hardly any negative ones. I believe it’s the maximum the Americans could give us considering their economic situation and defense budget cutbacks.”

“Many said when we started out that we wouldn’t even get an agreement similar to the previous one, but in the end the aid was increased both nominally and in real terms,” he said.

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