Senior U.S. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) blasted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday over the signing of a new 10-year U.S. military aid agreement to Israel. Netanyahu, Graham told Jewish American leaders in conference call, "pulled the rug" from under Israel's friends in Congress.
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“Here is what I would tell Bibi," Graham, who heads the Senate Appropriations Committee, said "When members of Congress come to Israel, you do a great job talking about the State of Israel’s needs and threats. Well, don’t tell us about all those needs and when we try to help you, you pull the rug from under us. I think that is bad for Israel.” Graham's remarks were published by Jacob Kornbluh in the Jewish Insider.
Graham led in recent months a campaign to increase U.S. military aid to Israel beyond what the Obama administration had offered, and even publically confronted the White House on the subject while using harsh language. The Republican senator tried to push through legislation that would grant Israel additional $600 million aid in 2017 and 2018. The additional funds were to be allocated in the timeframe of the current military aid deal and would have violated it.
It was Graham's initiative that forced the White House to postpone the signing of the new defense package by a month after concluding the negotiations between Israel and the U.S. Senior Obama advisers told Netanyahu's top bureau officials that there was no point in signing a new defense deal if Israel intends to collaborate with Congress in violating the current military aid agreement.
Netanyahu a few days ago spoke with Graham by telephone and tried to convince him to back down. In a press briefing on Wednesday, Acting National Security Adviser Jacob Nagel told reporters that Netanyahu had told Graham over the phone that between a stable 10-year agreement with the U.S. administration and an additional $600 million in 2017-2018, he chooses the former. However, "Graham wasn't persuaded," Nagel said.
To solve the crisis, Netanyahu offered the White House a pledge, that Israel would not lobby Congress for additional funds beyond those agreed in the new aid package without the White House's consent. This pledge, Netanyahu said, would be made in a side letter to the agreement on the day the deal would be signed. Netanyahu further guaranteed that if Congress does decide to allocate additional military aid to Israel, it would not spend the funds, but would immediately return them to the United States.
Netanyahu's offer to the White House, which showed he favors the administration over Congress, convinced the White House to sign the agreement. Netanyahu's choice infuriated Graham and made him harshly attack the prime minister publically.
The agreement is "absurd." Graham said. "How do you [Netanyahu] construct an executive branch MOU that has the power to shut out Congress and the next president? I don’t think it’s appropriate to have an agreement which shuts the next president and the next Congress out. I don’t think that it’s appropriate to have an agreement which shuts out me out and my colleagues."
Graham suggested that Netanyahu's decision to sign the agreement was influenced by internal Israeli politics. "I think Bibi is in a bad spot, politically," Graham said, "he wanted to show he could work with Obama Bibi made a decision he wanted to do a deal with Obama.”
The senior senator noted that he has no intention of backing down initiative to increase defense aid to Israel beyond what was agreed in the current and future deals. “I am going to push back. We will see what Bibi does," he said. "But I will tell you right now, from my point of view, the prime minister has made a mistake here, and, basically, setting up a situation where his friends in Congress – on both sides of the aisle – can’t help Israel apart from what this president says.”
Graham added: "And in the end of the day, I would tell our friends in Israel: Congress is your friend. Don’t pull the rug from under us."