In bid for more aid, Netanyahu evokes cost of America’s wars

WASHINGTON — Seeking to bolster his bid for increased military assistance from the US, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday compared the annual sum provided to Israel to what Washington has spent on its military interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“The United States supports Israel to the tune of 3 billion [dollars] a year. You spent on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq a trillion and half. So that’s five centuries’ worth of support for Israel,” Netanyahu told the American Enterprise Institute, a Conservative think tank.

Israel deeply appreciates US military aid to Israel, he continued, adding that during his meeting earlier in the day with President Barack Obama, he had discussed a new memorandum of understanding that would regulate the assistance for the coming decade.

“The president today said supporting Israel is not just important for Israel,” Netanyahu said. “It’s something that we deeply appreciate. It’s also a very solid investment for American security. We’re an ally that doesn’t ask for any American troops. We never have and we don’t intend to. We can defend ourselves. We just want to have the tools.”

Getting Israel “the tools to defend itself” was one of the key ways to deter Iran, Netanyahu said.

Israel currently receives about $3 billion in military aid per year, but reportedly seeks about $5 billion. During their meeting at the White House, Obama and Netanyahu reportedly agreed to increase the amount Israel receives per annum.

A US delegation led by Yael Lempert, the director for the Levant, Israel, and Egypt on Obama’s National Security Council, will visit Jerusalem in early December to start negotiations about the new memorandum, Israel’s National Security Adviser Yossi Cohen told reporters Monday. The current memorandum lapses in two years’ time, but negotiations for the upcoming one will be concluded well in advance of 2017, Netanyahu told reporters on Monday.

“We didn’t focus on the exact sum, but I presented our needs,” he said, adding that the president had signaled understanding and willingness to increase the administration’s aid. The last memorandum was signed in 2007, but “today’s Middle East cannot be compared to what it was then,” the prime minister said, explaining that the currently volatile situation in the region has created new challenges for Israel.

Later, addressing nearly 2,000 guests at a black-tie dinner hosted by the American Enterprise Institute, which honored him with its highest award, Netanyahu also spoke of the Syrian civil war, indicating that he didn’t believe the war-torn country could ever be fully rehabilitated.

“There’s talk now of an arrangement in Syria,” he said, adding that he was not convinced that goal was achievable. “I am not sure humpty dumpty can be put back together. I have strong doubts. I’m not sure Syria as a state can be reconstituted.”

However, any international agreement about Syria’s future needs to take into account Israel’s security concerns, he demanded. Specifically, Iran needs to be prevented from “continuing its aggression against us directly or by transferring weapons to Hezbollah,” Netanyahu said. “We have very clear policy demands in Syria. We keep them and we will continue to keep them: The defense of Israel is what concerns me in Syria first and foremost, and on that we continue to act forcefully.”

While Israel provided humanitarian assistance to Syrians wounded in the civil war, Jerusalem has avoided taking sides, Netanyahu said: “I’ve left the internal battle in Syria untouched, because I am not sure what to choose. You have to openly admit it.”

The conflict in Syria presents Israel with two bad options: Either you support a “horrible secular dictatorship” or Islamist fundamentalists, he said. “When two of your enemies are fighting each other, I don’t say strengthen one. I say weaken both.”

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