Large Majority of Senate Pushes Obama to Boost Israel Aid

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -
FILE - In this Feb. 24, 2016, file photo, Republican members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., center, and committee chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., speak at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington. Graham and McCain are assembling a harsh critique of Donald Trump’s worldview by soliciting rebuttals from U.S. military leaders that challenge the accuracy and legality of his most provocative foreign policy positions. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. (C), and committee chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., speak at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington in February. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

More than four-fifths of the Senate have signed a letter urging President Barack Obama to quickly reach an agreement on a new defense aid package for Israel worth more than the current $3 billion per year.

Eighty-three of the 100 senators signed the letter, led by Republican Lindsey Graham and Democrat Chris Coons. Senator Ted Cruz was one of the 51 Republicans on board. The Senate’s Democratic White House hopeful, Bernie Sanders, was not among the 32 Democrats.

“In light of Israel’s dramatically rising defense challenges, we stand ready to support a substantially enhanced new long-term agreement to help provide Israel the resources it requires to defend itself and preserve its qualitative military edge,” said the letter, which was seen by Reuters.

It did not provide a figure for the suggested aid. Israel wants $4 billion to $4.5 billion in aid in a new agreement to replace the current memorandum of understanding, or MOU, which expires in 2018. U.S. officials have given lower target figures of about $3.7 billion. They hope for a new agreement before Obama leaves office in January.

The funding is intended to boost Israel’s military and allow it to maintain a technological advantage over its Arab neighbors.

The letter said the Senate also intends to consider increased U.S. funding for cooperative missile defense programs, similar to increases in the past several years.

Obama has asked for $150 million for such programs, but lawmakers are believed to be willing to send Israel hundreds of millions for programs like its Iron Dome air defense system and David’s Sling medium- and long-range defense system.