ANALYSIS: Could Netanyahu Have Gotten More From the U.S.?

YERUSHALAYIM -
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu with Israeli National Security Adviser Yaakov Nagel (R) at the weekly cabinet meeting, Sunday. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool)
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu with Israeli National Security Adviser Yaakov Nagel (R) at the weekly cabinet meeting, Sunday. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool)

In former times, when Israelis talked about the “big coalition,” they meant the parties of the governing coalition, which gave a prime minister the ability to carry out his job.

Today, when Israelis refer to the “big coalition,” they mean something else altogether — the coalition of the left wing and the media who work together in seeking to bring down the government of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who refuses to act according to their agenda.

Following the signing of the 10-year military aid accord with the United States, Netanyahu has been assailed for not concluding the deal before the nuclear deal with Iran was signed, when, according to his critics, Israel could have gotten much more from Washington.

Are his critics right? Could he, in fact, have secured for Israel not the $38 of the new agreement, but $45 billion or even $48 billion?

The fact that no American president has ever given Israel more than what President Barack Obama agreed to is the strongest proof that the criticism is without foundation. Anyone who is familiar with the economic condition of the U.S. defense establishment — which is currently undergoing the most massive funding cuts since the end of World War II — understands that what Israel received was impressive in all respects.

Leading the critics is former prime minister Ehud Barak, in a pathetic campaign to make a political comeback by attacking Netanyahu in every available public venue, claiming that he could have gotten $10 billion more than he did.

How does he think that the Americans would have given Israel $10 billion more, at a time when they are reducing their own military budget by billions? At a time when the U.S. faces a shortfall of thousands of soldiers because there is no money to recruit them? When they are forced to ground fighter planes because they lack 4,000 technical personnel to maintain the aircrafts? When they are crying out for 750 more pilots? And when the air force is hobbled by a severe shortage of spare parts, keeping planes out of active service at military bases?

Someone here has lost all perspective. The Americans are giving approximately half of all their foreign defense assistance money to Israel, and some people are complaining that Israel could have received more?

The head of Israel’s National Security Council Yaakov Nagel, who has earned a reputation for being fair and honest and led the negotiations with the U.S., dismissed these critics, saying that most of them are uninformed about the agreement and the negotiations process, and are detached from reality.

“Since returning from Washington,” said Nagel, “I have been assailed by a campaign of disinformation carried on by irresponsible persons who have no knowledge of the negotiations that have gone for three and a half years.”

“The prime minister never promised the defense establishment the numbers that are being tossed about by the “big coalition…the fact that the senior defense officials have been planning for the coming years based on a package of $3.1 billion says it all,” Nagel asserted. On the contrary, he said, the agreement represents an “historic, unprecedented” achievement. He also noted that defense officials were kept informed of the negotiations as they developed and were supportive every step of the way. The anonymous sources quoted critics “are without foundation,” he said.

Regarding the issue of U.S. insistence on Israel making all its procurements from the U.S. defense industry, and the severe impact this will have on Israel’s manufacturers, Nagel pointed out that the restrictions will only take effect in the seventh year of the accord, such that Israeli industry will have overall 10 years to adjust to the change. As a result, said Nagel, “many of those who congratulated me on the outcome were from the Israeli defense industry.”

A senior American official whom we talked with attested that “at no time during the negotiations did we ever discuss a figure larger than the one finally arrived at, and that both sides can be pleased about it…it benefits both Israel and the U.S.”

Relating to the newly imposed requirement to procure the military equipment in the United States, he explained that while in the past the U.S. allowed for procurement of a portion of the package in Israel, that was at a time when the Israeli defense industries were still developing and were in need of it. It was an option granted to no other country receiving U.S. military assistance. But now that the Israeli industry has been developed, and is one of the top ten in the world, the situation has changed. In fact, the Israeli defense industry actually competes with its American counterpart, and we concluded that the time had come to recognize this change, the official said.

However, since eliminating the option entirely in the first year would have been a severe blow to the Israeli defense industry, it was agreed to spread it over ten years.

He denied that the agreement was in any way a compensation for the nuclear deal with Iran that Israel had so vigorously opposed. The U.S.-Israel talks began long before there was any prospect of a deal with Iran, “and there was no linkage of any sort,” the official said. “We would have made the deal with Israel even if there had been no deal with Iran.” That, because as National Security Advisor Susan Rice said, it is in the U.S. national interest to have strong and prosperous Israel, the United States’ most important partner in the Mideast.

And if a senior American official says it, the answer to the basic question is clear: Netanyahu’s critics, who seek every opportunity to find fault with him, in this case failed miserably.

Israel could not have gotten more than it did; and we can be glad that the Americans were willing to give as much as they did. And when receiving a gift you say “Thank you.” You don’t start an argument that the giver could have given an even bigger gift.