TEL AVIV, Israel — Israel is seeking a hefty surge in annual security assistance from Washington and has begun preliminary talks with the US administration on a long-term package that would provide up to $45 billion in grant aid through 2028.
In recent months, working-level bilateral groups have begun to assess Israel's projected security needs in the context of a new 10-year foreign military financing (FMF) deal that will kick in once the current agreement expires in 2017.
Under the existing, $30 billion agreement signed in 2007, annual FMF grant aid to Israel grew from $2.4 billion to $3.1 billion minus, in recent years, rescissions of some $155 million due to a government mandated sequester.
Under the follow-on package, endorsed in principle by US President Barack Obama during a March 2013 visit to Tel Aviv, Israel wants "$4.2 billion to $4.5 billion" in annual FMF aid, a security source here said.
That's on top of steadily increasing amounts of US war stocks prepositioned here and available for Israel's emergency use, and nearly $500 million in annual funding for cooperative anti-rocket and missile defense programs in recent years.
US materiel prepositioned in Israel is valued at $1.2 billion. And just last week, the House Appropriations' Defense subcommittee's draft of the 2016 defense appropriations bill included $487.5 million in funding for various US-Israel active defense programs.
Meanwhile, the 2016 defense authorization bill approved by the House on May 19 calls for cooperation to develop an anti-tunneling defense system to deal with the subterranean threat.
In interviews, US and Israeli experts insisted that embryonic talks toward a new 10-year FMF deal are separate from any prospective compensation package the Obama administration may offer Israel in the event that the US and other world powers sign a comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran.
Similarly, the FMF package through 2028 would not be connected to any potential security enhancements Washington may be prepared to offer in the event that Israel would agree to a two-state peace deal with the Palestinian Authority.
Last week, Israel's Haaretz newspaper reported that the two sides have begun "preliminary, unofficial contacts regarding special American military aid" to compensate for threats from Iran or potential erosion of its qualitative military edge due to major new arms sales planned for Gulf Cooperation Council members.
"We are always in constant relations with the United States," retired Maj. Gen. Amos Gilad, director of political-military affairs at the Israeli Defense Ministry, told i24 cable news network last week.
But ongoing talks, he said, "are not vis-a-vis the coming agreement" with Iran, about which "our position is well known."
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated his opposition to the emerging agreement with Iran in a May 20 meeting with Federica Mogherini, the European Union's high representative for foreign affairs and security policy.
"If we want to know what will happen with Iran as a result of this deal, just look at what happened with North Korea as a result of that deal. Despite the inspections and despite the commitments, North Korea became a nuclear power. ... I think the international community is about to make the same mistake," Netanyahu said.
With Washington investing billions each year in troops and treasure to preserve its interests in the Middle East, Israelis and their US supporters on Capitol Hill argue that Israel is the bedrock of democratic, pro-American stability in a region roiling from unprecedented turmoil.
But given the multiplicity of increasingly sophisticated threats at its borders and beyond, Howard Kohr, chief executive officer of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), estimates that Israel may have to spend $160 billion on defense in the decade to come.
That would represent a significant increase from recent years for a budget-constrained nation that is already spending more as a percentage of gross domestic product — some 6 percent — than any other nation in the industrialized world, he said.
"Israel has always fought its own battles and has never asked American troops to fight on its behalf. Instead, it has requested US assistance to supplement the tremendous resources Israel already invests in its defense budget," said Kohr in testimony last month before the House Appropriations subcommittee on foreign operations.
Kohr noted that Israeli defense spending coincides with "accelerated military investment fueled by the oil revenues of Israel's Arab neighbors," while Iran's military spending has almost doubled over the past decade, despite economic sanctions.
"The military hardware, including American-built advanced fighter aircraft, vertical takeoff aircraft, naval vessels and armored troop carriers, that Israel must acquire over the next decade to maintain its [legislatively mandated qualitative military edge] is far more sophisticated and expensive than previous Israeli purchases from the United States," he said.
Whereas F-16Is purchased under the existing FMF agreement cost some $45 million each, additional F-35s that Israel hopes to purchase later in the decade will cost more than three times that amount, the head of the premier pro-Israel lobby group said.
In parallel, Kohr said, "new realities of the rapidly changing Middle East have also led to many unexpected costs for Israel, including the need to build a $360 million barrier along Israel's southern border with Egypt and a similar, more modern one at its northern border with Syria."
Finally, Kohr emphasized that all but 26 percent of every dollar invested in Israeli FMF is spent in the United States on US-made defense goods and services that support the US economy.
"AIPAC strongly believes that the broader US foreign aid budget, which includes security assistance to Israel — nearly 75 percent of which comes right back to the United States through the purchase of US-made aircraft and other equipment — is an essential component of America's national security strategy."