White House Threatens to Veto Parts of 2017 Defense Budget Bill, Including Aid Increase to Israel

The House defense bill would give Israel additional $455 million to develop missile defense systems; Netanyahu says White House's objection to the clause does not portend cuts to U.S. aid.

AP

Israel has found itself caught in the battle between the White House and the Republican majority in Congress over the U.S. defense budget for 2017. The White House announced on Tuesday night that it would veto the House’s defense spending bill over $16 billion in appropriations, including a $455 million addition to Israel's military aid package that would go toward the development of missile defense systems.

"The administration opposes the addition of $455 million above the FY 2017 Budget request for Israeli missile defense procurement and cooperative development programs," the White House's Office of Management and Budget wrote in a statement. 

Also according to the statement, the administration opposes the House's demand to cut $324 billion from the Defense Department's budget request, which are meant to go toward the development of U.S. ballistic missile defense systems.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's bureau stressed on Wednesday that the statement does not portend cuts to U.S. aid to Israel.

"This is part of an internal argument between Congress and the White House over the annual addition to the defense missile program," the bureau said. "Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is working toward securing this addition as part of the negotiations over a [defense aid] agreement for the next 10 years. Aid for missile defense will not only not be cut, but it will be increased."

The bureau's statement further warned against turning the "dialogue with the U.S. into means of political attack." 

The White House's statement wasn't directed toward Israel and wasn't directly linked to defense aid. The backdrop for the announcement is the clash between the administration and Congress. "This is part of the bargaining with Congress over the final defense budget," a senior U.S. official said. 

The 6-page White House statement deals with dozens of defense budget clauses, 3 percent of which touch on the aid package to Israel. 

Neither is the statement directly tied to the negotiations between Israel and the U.S. over the new defense aid package. The new aid package would be in effect between 2018-2028, while the White House statement touches on the budget for 2017.

However, there is an indirect connection. As part of the aid negotiations, the U.S. administration stipulates that Israel should not conduct independent talks with Congress over annual additions to the aid package, but would make do with the sums agreed upon with the administration.