We’re going to be treated to the biggest show in town on Wednesday. Two talented actors, Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu, will be meeting in New York, in the shadow of the UN General Assembly. They will act in front of the cameras. They will smile their big smiles, shake hands and even possibly embrace. They will state, without blushing, that relations between Israel and the United States have never been better, and that the military aid deal is the best in the world.
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But the truth is the diametric opposite. Behind the forced smiles lies rage. If they could, they’d strip off their suits and get into the boxing ring. But that’s how it is with big actors: when the stage lights are on, so are they.
Netanyahu has to defend the agreement, partly because he’s a signatory to it and partly because it’s a way to defend his “Mr. Security” status against the critics.
Obama wants to leave behind a legacy of loving Israel and to help Hillary Clinton fight Donald Trump over the Jewish vote. After all, Clinton is following in the trail he blazed. By the way, Obama wants Clinton to win not because he holds her in esteem: he’s simply horrified by the thought of Trump in the White House, poking through its drawers and finding dark secrets from his eight years in power.
So both will be smiling — but Obama will be enjoying the last laugh. He has waited a long time for this moment, and now he’s ready to serve his revenge to Netanyahu, cold as ice.
He can’t — and doesn’t want to — forget Netanyahu’s insults, from failing to fulfill his promises to resume negotiations with the Palestinians, to continuing to build in the territories in order to torpedo any possibility of a two-state solution, to that boorish speech in Congress last year against Obama’s Iranian nuclear deal. Now Netanyahu is paying for all of that, big time. Actually, we’re the ones paying the price.
Let’s start with the numbers. In the last 10 years, Israel has received $3.1 billion a year from the United States, plus the cost of developing anti-ballistic missiles. Altogether, the aid has come to $3.5 billion a year. The new amount, $3.8 billion a year, is significantly lower in real terms. It’s not worth more than $3.2 billion a year, according to a capitalization rate of 20 percent over 10 years. Therefore, in real terms American aid to Israel has diminished, not increased — in contrast to what Netanyahu says.
The bigger blow lies in the exclusion of Israel’s defense industries. Until now, Israel could convert 26 percent of the aid into shekels (which worked out to about $800 million a year) and use the money to order equipment from Israeli military companies. The new agreement phases out that agreement, which is a rough deal for the big defense companies, and a deathblow for dozens of smaller companies and the subcontractors of the big companies.
Now we come to the third clause, which was designed to be personally anti-Netanyahu: the humiliation. This is the article forbidding Israel to ask Congress for any more aid, of any type, for two years. If Congress does decide to add some, Israel will have to repay the money posthaste. A clear Israel supporter, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham asked Netanyahu how he could agree to an agreement that “neuters” Congress. Netanyahu didn’t answer. He knew he not only had to neutralize all his friends in Congress: he had to shear the locks of the AIPAC lobby and ambassador Ron Dermer. Look how far Obama’s vengeance has reached.
Yet all of this pales compared with the strategic damage inherent in the agreement. It has no accords on cooperating against Iran, which will have the capacity to manufacture nuclear bombs in 10 years’ time. It does not expand the collaboration on science, technology and intelligence. It does not provide Israel with advanced fighting systems to preserve its qualitative advantage in the region. That is why it’s a bad deal. Clearly, a better one could have been achieved if Netanyahu hadn’t bitten the hand that feeds us, time and again.
But why dwell on minutiae? The cameras are about to start rolling. Let’s sit back and watch the greatest show in town.