Diplomacy & defense

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
The official cites 'Netanyahu's unsuccessful navigation' as the primary cause for the stumbling talks

The US and Israel are allegedly at loggerheads over the size of the Americans' military aid package, a senior Israeli official has told Haaretz.

The Americans and the Israelis are in negotiations over a new 10-year deal that is set to take over when the current package, signed in 2007, expires in 2018. The deal has provided Israel with three billion dollars a year, at a total value of $30 billion.

For the new package, which would run until 2028, the Israelis have been pushing for a substantial increase of $1-2 billion a year, Haaretz reports. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been making intensive diplomatic efforts to boost the overall value of the package to $50 billion and is not prepared to accept less than $40 million.

However, the Americans offered an extra $400 million per year during the last round of talks in Jerusalem a week ago, falling well short of Israeli expectations, the senior official told Haaretz. As a result, the talks have ground to a halt.

The negotiations over US military aid to Israel have already hit several stumbling blocks. Controversy erupted last week when Netanyahu allegedly indicated that should Israel not deem the military aid package the two sides are currently negotiating on sufficient, he will wait until the next US president is sworn in to continue talks.

In response to Netanyahu's comments, which were reported in Haaretz and which the Prime Minister's Office refused to confirm or deny, US officials said that the deal on offer was the best Israel could hope for.

Moshe Milner/GPO

The US officials further told Haaretz that the Americans are prepared to sign the biggest military aid package to any country in the US's history, despite their challenging budgetary environment.

In addition to citing budgetary restrictions, American officials have also suggested Israel has presented some excessive demands, according to the Israeli official who spoke with Haaretz.

Netanyahu also suspended the talks back in July 2015 over the Iran nuclear deal, although they recommenced last October.

The Prime Minister's Office has denied the latest report, according to Haaretz, telling the paper: "This report is riddled with mistakes… The Israeli team is continuing to work with the American team."

Nonetheless, the senior Israeli official told Haaretz that the issues had been caused by "Netanyahu's unsuccessful navigation.

"His whole tactic collapsed," the official continued, referring to Netanyahu's decision to reject Obama's offer last July to recommence talks in order to try and torpedo the recently-signed Iran nuclear deal by turning Congress against it.

"Nobody criticized his objection to the agreement with Iran and the struggle he conducted, but the question was whether to start the talks before the Congress agreement. Netanyahu didn’t enable that and now we’re getting less than we could have, and Israel’s security interest is harmed," the security official added.

Whether a deal can be thrashed out or not will become clearer over the next few weeks, firstly with Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon's visit to Washington in March, where Netanyahu will also travel to a fortnight later.

The discussion of the military aid package may well also come up in a visit to Israel by US Vice President Joe Biden, reported in Israel Hayom.

Biden last met with Netanyahu a month ago during the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where they discussed the package as well as the ongoing reconciliation between Israel and Turkey.

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