A hold-up over a new US defence package for Israel was behind Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to forgo a meeting with President Barack Obama in Washington this month, a senior Israeli official said on Thursday.
Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely’s remarks contrasted with a statement by Netanyahu that cited his reluctance to risk being drawn into the US presidential campaign as the reason for declining a White House offer to host him on March 18.
Current US military grants to Israel, worth about $3 billion (£2.1 billion) annually, expire in 2018.
Israel, which last year requested $5 billion in future annual aid but whose officials have since set their sights on $4 billion to $4.5 billion, says it needs to expand its military, rather than just upgrade technologies, given spiralling arms procurement it anticipates by arch-foe Iran and Arab states.
US officials have given lower target figures of around $3.7 billion. The dispute prompted Israeli officials to hint that Netanyahu may bank on Obama’s successor for a better deal.
“There was a decision not to go to the president as long the agreement over the compensation package is not concluded,” Hotovely told Israel Radio, using a term linking the future US aid to last year’s international nuclear deal with Iran, which brought sanctions relief that Tehran may use for arms purchases.
“The prime minister wants to honour the US president by going when there is a basis, good news on the matter of the US aid package,” she said. “This really has to be taken seriously.”
US officials say they still hope for an agreement before Obama leaves office next January.