US, Israel sign largest ever military aid deal, hail ‘unbreakable bond’

WASHINGTON — Israeli and US officials hailed the “unbreakable bond” between the two nations on Wednesday as they signed Washington’s largest defense aid package to any country in history.

The defense package, also known as the memorandum of understanding, “constitutes the single largest pledge of bilateral military assistance” ever, the State Department said ahead of the signing ceremony in the State Department Treaty Room.

The new package will grant Israel $3.8 billion annually — up from the $3 billion pledged under the previous agreed-upon MOU — starting in 2018 and through 2028.

The acting head of Israel’s National Security Council, Yaakov Nagel, who arrived in Washington on Tuesday, signed the agreement on behalf of Israel. US National Security Adviser Susan Rice and US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas Shannon signed on behalf of the US.

Secretary of State John Kerry walked into the ceremony at the end, after the three principles made the agreement official.

US and Israeli officials were present, along with leaders in the American Jewish community. In attendance were Israel’s ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer, US ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro, AIPAC President Lillian Pinkus, AIPAC CEO Howard Kohr and Anti-Defamation League chief Jonathan Greenblatt.

Speaking at the event, Nagel said the “unprecedented funding” would strengthen the “remarkable” alliance between the United States and Israel and provide the Jewish state with a necessary military edge over its regional adversaries.

“The military assistance package that the United States has generously agreed to provide Israel is not taken for granted and will help us shoulder the enormous defense burden that we face,” he said at the event held at the US State Department in Washington.

“It will enable Israel to better defend itself, by itself, against an attack,” he added, using the axiomatic phrase over Israel’s necessary security capabilities to which US policy has long remained committed.

Ambassador Rice, representing President Barack Obama at the ceremony, described the aid package as “an unprecedented commitment to the security of Israel” and said that “no other American administration in history has done more for Israel’s security.”

“I’m delighted to join you as we reaffirm the unbreakable bond between the United States and Israel,” she stated, before acknowledging that there was tension between the two sides during the negotiating process.

“Like any discussion between friends these talks have had their twists and turns, but I think the end result speaks for itself,” she added.

Rice also took the occasion to emphasize the Obama administration’s conviction that the Iran nuclear deal enhances Israel’s security and restate its commitment to a two-state outcome to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“As we strengthen Israel’s security for the coming decade, we also remain committed to Israel’s security over the long-term,” she said. “That’s why we worked with our international partners to achieve an Iran nuclear deal that has closed off every one of Iran’s paths to obtaining a nuclear weapon, which we will continue to vigorously enforce.”

“That’s also why we continue to press for a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—two states for two peoples, living side by side in peace and security,” she added. “As the President has said, the only way for Israel to endure and thrive as a Jewish and democratic state is through the realization of an independent and viable Palestine.”

Speaking before the ceremony, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked the United States for the newfound accord between the two allied countries.

“This agreement will ensure an unprecedented level of defense aid for Israel in the next decade,” Netanyahu said in video. “This is the largest military aid package the US has ever given out to any nation.”

“The agreement will help us continue building our armed forces, improve our missile defense systems,” he added. “I want to thank President Obama and his administration for this historic agreement.”

Under the terms of the deal, Israel pledged not to seek additional funding from Congress for the next decade. The agreement also includes a provision curtailing Israel’s ability to spend the funds on its own arms industry over the next six years — a key area of dispute during talks.

Washington had wanted Israel to spend a larger amount of the funds on American-made products. Currently, Israel can spend 26.3 percent of US military aid buying from its own domestic defense companies.

The US also reportedly wanted to remove a clause in the memorandum that allows Israel to spend $400 million a year on “military fuels.”

According to earlier reports, Israel had asked for a separate $400 million deal for missile defense spending — which could have raised the total amount to more than $4 billion annually. The final figure, however, was set without that provision.

In his statement, Netanyahu recognized the diplomatic disputes between Jerusalem and Washington that have enveloped the relationship over the last several years, but said they “had no effect whatsoever on the great friendship between Israel and the US.”

“These are disputes you have between family,” Netanyahu said. “This agreement demonstrates the simple truth that the relationship between Israel and the US is strong and powerful.”

Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon also welcomed the agreement, and thanked his US counterpart Samantha Power for her role in “further strengthening the close ties between our countries and our peoples.”

In a statement unveiled ahead of the signing, Danon said the Jewish state “has no greater, nor more important, ally than the United States of America.”

The US has either jointly developed or financed all three tiers in Israel’s missile defense program — Iron Dome (short-range missile interceptor), David’s Sling (medium range) and Arrow (long range).

The aid agreement is seen in Israel as key to helping it maintain its “qualitative military edge” over potential threats, including from an emboldened Iran now flushed with cash after many nuclear-related sanctions were abrogated during the past year in a deal signed with world powers.

For the US, Israel is cited as a rare island of stability in a region in turmoil, as well as an ally on non-nuclear security issues in the region, including cyber warfare and efforts to rein in Islamist terror groups.

Missile defense technologies developed in Israel using US funds are available to US defense contractors involved in the development. Some of these Israeli-made technologies are set to be deployed to protect US troops and allies in other global trouble spots.

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