Netanyahu Defends U.S. Aid Deal in Face of Criticism

YERUSHALAYIM -
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) arrives to a weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, September 18, 2016. REUTERS/Dan Balilty/Pool
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu (C) arrives to the weekly cabinet meeting, Sunday.(Reuters/Dan Balilty/Pool)

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Sunday defended a new $38 billion U.S. defense aid package signed last week, against criticism that Israel could have negotiated a larger sum had he not angered the White House.

Speaking at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting in Yerushalayim, Netanyahu said the deal was the “largest assistance agreement that the United States has ever provided to any country in its history.”

He said it “proves the depth of the relationship, and the strength of relations, between Israel and the United States.”

Netanyahu expressed his thanks to President Obama, the American Congress and the American people.

Netanyahu then hit back at political opponents who argue that Israel should have received a larger package in compensation for the new threats Israel says it faces due to the nuclear accord with its arch-foe Iran.

“I hear all kinds of background noise and disinformation about the agreement. I would like to make it clear: We were never offered more. We were not offered more money, not even one dollar, and we were never offered special technologies. These are distortions and fabrications of interested parties; either they do not have the facts or they are distorting the facts, and they are, of course, showing ingratitude, and in my view this is the saddest thing of all, ingratitude to our greatest and best friend, the United States.”

Netanyahu was a strong opponent of the deal between Tehran and major powers led by Washington, and his campaign against it included an address to the U.S. Congress in March last year.

At the time, the Obama administration was angered by the address, which it saw as interference in the country’s internal affairs by a foreign leader.

Netanyahu’s critics said that he should have moved on from his campaign against the accord sooner and quickly begun negotiations on the new decade-long defense aid package.

Officials from both sides have been keen to stress the enduring bond between the two countries and the central role the military alliance plays in securing Israel in an unstable Middle East region.

Obama and Netanyahu have had tense relations, but the two were determined to put their differences aside and finalize the aid package.

Israel relies heavily on U.S. defense aid. Its total defense budget amounts to some $16 billion, excluding the U.S. aid.