Moshe Kahlon warns continued foot-dragging could be viewed as interference in US internal affairs

Kulanu party leader Moshe Kahlon speaks during a party faction meeting at the Knesset, on May 23, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Kulanu party leader Moshe Kahlon speaks during a party faction meeting at the Knesset, on May 23, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)


Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon called on the Israeli government on Monday to put an end to its haggling with Washington over a military aid package to the Jewish state, and to accept the deal being offered by the White House. He warned that failure to do so could be seen as an attempt to meddle in internal American affairs.

“I told the prime minister and the defense minister last week, and I say it to them again today: Accept the offer and put an and to this saga while the current [US] government is still in term,” Kahlon told members of his Kulanu party at a meeting.

His statement came as Avigdor Liberman was making his first visit to the US as defense minister to discuss the massive aid package, among other things.

A senior Israeli official said Monday that Israel wants to complete the 10-year, multibillion-dollar defense aid deal as soon as possible. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that although an announcement would not be forthcoming in the next few days, the remaining gaps between the two countries’ positions could be overcome.

Speaking earlier in the day, Kahlon said the Obama administration’s offer was “a good deal.” And while he conceded that “there are always things to improve and you can always try to get more,” he stressed that Israel’s defense establishment “can definitely work with the current offer.”

He added that a swift approval of the pact, coupled with Israel’s own defense budget, would give the Israeli army a significant strategic advantage over its enemies and “enable the military to focus on defense [rather than] securing budgets.”

More importantly, the finance minister noted, “there is no reason for us to make moves that will be seen as an intervention in the internal affairs of the US… The US is our most important strategic partner, a true friend, and should be treated as such.”

Kahlon’s apparent admonishment of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Liberman came amid a controversy over US military aid, and in particular assistance for Israel’s missile defense system, after the White House said last week that it opposed a move by the House of Representatives to increase funding for Israeli missile defense procurement by an additional $455 million above the administration’s budget request for the 2017 fiscal year.

Netanyahu has rejected claims that he is interfering in the argument, saying last week that this was an “internal debate” between Congress and the White House.

A test of the David's Sling missile defense system (Defense Ministry)
A test of the David’s Sling missile defense system (Defense Ministry)


But he also signaled that he is interested in the increased aid, saying that “not only will the security assistance for missile defense not be cut, it will be increased.”

And the premier’s national security adviser warned last Wednesday that Jerusalem would not seal a deal with the Obama administration if it wasn’t agreeable to Jerusalem.

“We want to finish it with the current administration — but not at any price,” Yaakov Nagel, who works closely with Netanyahu, told diplomatic correspondents.

While he declined to provide details of the ongoing negotiations with the White House — which he has been heading since 2013 — Nagel said that “we are close to the conclusion. We’re hopeful that we’ll be able to sign soon.

“We are in the middle of negotiations to reach the best possible deal for the State of Israel. We are close to the end of the process, but I don’t want to determine whether it will be another week or another month,” he continued.

Yaakov Nagel (Miriam Alster / Flash90)
Yaakov Nagel (Miriam Alster / Flash90)

Nagel said he did not see the White House statement “as a signal that the administration wants to cut funding” for Israeli missile defense.

The Israeli opposition has been quick to blame Netanyahu’s well-publicized spats with US President Barack Obama for the White House’s position on additional funding for missile defense assistance.

“American aid is essential for protecting our citizens, and now, because of the prime minister’s ego games, we’re losing a critical part of it,” opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) wrote on his Facebook page last week.

As reported by The Times of Israel