Translated by Ollie Richardson for Fort Russ
8th February, 2016
Washington advised Jerusalem to moderate their appetites and to agree on an aid package, which was offered by the American President Barack Obama. Yesterday, the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: “If the U.S. doesn’t offer more money on security, Jerusalem will have to wait until Obama is gone from office.” At the same time, the requested amount by Israel may change. In the meantime, the generosity of the White house depends on Obama, and the current Syrian conflict.
In November, Israel urged the United States to increase their aid package, which Washington has sent for the last nine years, strengthening the security of its main ally in the Middle East in accordance with a bilateral Memorandum of understanding. The validity of the document expires in 2017. Currently, Jerusalem receives $3.1 billion per year. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants that amount increased to $5 billion, but it now appears that the requirement to increase spending could mean the suspension of negotiations between Netanyahu and U.S. President Barack Obama.
On Sunday, February 8th, Haaretz, the oldest and one of the most influential left-wing Israeli newspaper, published a statement by an anonymous source from the White house, which urged the Israeli Cabinet to think twice before stopping the approval of aid.
According to him, in the next two years the economic position of the United States will not improve, and Jerusalem, “undoubtedly, will not find another President who will treat Israeli security more seriously than Barack Obama.”
“No administration in history has done more for Israeli security,” — said the interlocutor of the paper. According to him, whilst he has been the head of the USA, Obama has sent Israel $20.5 billion in military aid and another $3 billion — for the modernization of their missile defense systems.
Obama’s Change of Course
A comment in Haaretz was the only public response by the White house on a statement Netanyahu made yesterday. The Israeli Prime Minister, at the meeting with the Cabinet, warned that a new Memorandum of understanding, which will discuss the 10-year package of U.S’ funding for Israel in 2018, may be concluded after the end of the presidential term of Obama. According to Netanyahu, the Israeli leadership will take time to weigh all of the challenges that face the security of the country.
“Netanyahu’s words should not be taken as a threat. It’s just a pragmatic approach,” said a former adviser to Netanyahu, Israeli political analyst Benny Briskin, to “Gazeta.Ru”. According to him, $5 billion, which today Jerusalem requires from Washington, is the amount, taking into account costs from Obama’s policies, particularly towards Iran.
The “nuclear deal” with Iran, which Obama sought for so long to conclude,” is a problem for Israel, according to Briskin. Following the easing of international sanctions with the Islamic Republic, which Jerusalem believes is the main threat to its security, they gained access to their accounts, which were frozen in foreign banks. “The money Iran will be allocated could be used for financing terrorist organizations or its ballistic missile program”, — says the source to “Gazeta.Ru”. Thus, Israel believes that the threat to the security of the Middle East, a result of Obama’s policies, has only grown.
According to Briskin, the chance that a Memorandum for a new aid package to Israel will be signed after Obama, is quite high. However, this does not mean that the negotiations will stop. “The dialogue will continue to engage professionals at the level of Ministries of Defence, where contact is very dense, and these people will continue regardless of the political component,” — said the former adviser to Netanyahu. “But at the political level, the Israeli leadership needs to understand who will come to power in Washington and if they will choose a hard line on Iran”.
Elections in the USA will be completed in November. The most likely successor to Obama’s Democratic party is considered to be former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who recently criticized the White House’s policy in the Middle East. As did the Republican candidates, including the favorites: billionaire Donald trump and the Senator from Texas, Ted Cruz.
If, in November, it will become clear that the next US President will change policy towards Iran and raise the question of the return of sanctions, the amount requested by Netanyahu may be reduced, says Briskin. “The same thing can happen if less conservative and anti-Israel forces come to power in Iran,” he added.
Closer to Russia
A change of administration in the White house is unlikely to fundamentally change the current U.S. policy in the Middle East, according to the expert of the Moscow Carnegie center Alexey Malashenko. According to him, Washington continues to view the Alliance with Israel a priority in its regional policy. However, there is another factor — the Syrian conflict, which today is the center of attention of the world media and the candidates in the American presidential race.
According to Malashenko, today the USA are working closely with the Sunni regimes in Syria. But these regimes, primarily Saudi Arabia, in relation to Israel are viewed just as negatively as Iran.
“Today Netanyahu has to put pressure on Washington, because he understands: if the Israeli Prime Minister will ease the pressure, it will put his reputation in jeopardy, — the interlocutor told. “Gazeta.Ru”. “If the USA moves too close to Jerusalem, it could jeopardize the U.S. operation in Syria and cooperation within the antiterrorist coalition led by Washington.”
In early February, three of the Arabian countries – Saudi Arabia, UAE and Bahrain – stated their readiness to increase participation in the U.S. coalition. They expressed their willingness to send a limited military contingent to participate in ground operations in Syria. The operation would be aimed against the international terrorist organization “Islamic State” (IS; banned in Russia).
So far, the Western coalition has bombed positions of the Islamic State from the air only. The US and its partners (total of 26 countries) planned to discuss the topic of the extension of hostilities this week in Brussels.
Talks about the expansion of Western operations in Syria began after the unprecedented successes of troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad. Supported by the Russian aviation, the official armed forces of Damascus broke through to Aleppo, the strategically important city in the north of the country. Because Aleppo holds troops from the Syrian opposition, Assad’s artillery is already striking their positions.
Against this background, the delegation of negotiators of the official Damascus strengthened their position in Geneva, and are trying to find ways of rapprochement with the Syrian opposition.
Israel is in a somewhat paradoxical situation, said Benny Briskin. “Russia is trying to save the Assad regime in Syria, which is not considered a security threat, but is perceived as the shadow of Iran. Syria, under Assad, has always been the closest ally of the Islamic Republic, — the interlocutor told “Gazeta.Ru”. “But according to my sources, Jerusalem regards the ongoing contacts between Israeli and Russian intelligence services on Syria as extremely useful and effective. The US, by contrast, from the point of view of Israel, now looks like a mysterious player in the Middle East”.