WASHINGTON — Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon hopes to finalize details on an American ten-year military aid package to Israel "very soon," he said while on a visit here to meet with top US officials.
Ya'alon, speaking at the Woodrow Wilson Center here Monday morning, indicated the topic would be brought up during his visit with Secretary of Defense Ash Carter later in the day.
"The issue of the [memorandum of understanding] is on the table, we hope to conclude it as soon as possible," Ya'alon told the audience. "I have agreed with Secretary of Defense about the capabilities available to the state of Israel in order to keep what is called our qualitative military edge in the region, and hopefully we will be able to sign the MOU sooner rather than later."
The proposed package, a follow-on to the $30 billion, 10-year memorandum of understanding signed in 2007, would grant Israel reprogramming authority over a larger pool of money, but would block the US Congress from regular increases to the funding levels.
The ultimate top line is still being negotiated between the US and Israel. Sources in Israel have said that if the final figure comes in around $40 billion, Israel will have to limit fighter procurement to additional squadrons of F-35s. If that number is closer to $50 billion, Israel will be able to accommodate new F-15I buys. Israel would like to buy two additional squadrons of F-15I fighters.
Asked last week what topics would be discussed between Carter and Ya'alon, Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook declined to go into specifics, but did offer that "additional steps the United States can take to help bolster Israel's defense" will be "front and center" during the discussions.
"This is someone [Carter] knows well," Cook said of Ya'alon. "They have a host of areas in which they have reason for conversation."
One issue that seems likely to be discussed – a pair of Irnian missiles launched March 8-9. The weapons, two Iranian versions of the 2,000-kilometer-range North Korean No Dong, were inscribed with the Hebrew message "Israel must be wiped off the face of the Earth."
Ya'alon called the test "very provocative," and said Iran only launched them because Tehran believes "they are not going to be harmed because we shouldn't be the party spoilers of the [nuclear] deal."
During a question and answer session, Ya'alon was asked whether Israel would support an independent Kurdish state. While not answering the question directly, the minister did hold court on his belief that Syria is irrevocably broken as a nation.
"There is no way to unify Syria. We are talking about some strategy to unify Syria… no chance. Wishful thinking," Ya'alon said. "So there is a need for a different grand strategy regarding Syria. But the idea to unify Syria back to become as it was in the past is [wishful] thinking."
He also poked at critics of Israel's handling of the Palestinian issue, forcefully telling the audience that Westerners should not "be manipulated or deceived by slogans like 'occupation, apartheid' — there is no apartheid in Israel whatsoever."
The minister described such "false propaganda" as a "nonconventional-type weapon" that is used by Israeli's enemies to cause economic harm to the nation through boycotts or sanctions.
"It is a new weapons as a result of our success for dealing with the conventional type of warfare," Ya'alon said. "We need this kind of understanding, we do need this kind of moral support, and that is what I am asking here in Washington."
Barbara Opall-Rome in Tel Aviv contributed to this report.
Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.