Israeli leaders look to ease concerns over US missile aid

Officials in Jerusalem have looked to calm a disagreement on the level of American funding for Israel’s missile defence programme, after the White House rejected a Congressional request to add an additional £318 million to the budget for this purpose.

The White House issued a six-page statement, without Israel’s prior knowledge, rejecting Congress’ request for a further £318 million towards Israel’s missile defence. It comes at a delicate moment in protracted negotiations over the United States’ overall military aid to Israel. The current defence package is worth more than £2 billion, but is due to expire in 2017. The two countries have been discussing a new ten-year agreement, but gaps appear to remain on the financial extent of the deal, the military hardware it will include and how much of the aid can be spent on domestic military products.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been criticised by opponents for attempting to drive too high a bargain. Israel’s opposition leader Isaac Herzog said that the White House statement was evidence that Netanyahu places “ego games” above the wellbeing of Israelis.

However, Netanyahu’s office insisted that “there has been no cut in American assistance,” and that missile defence funding will in fact be increased as part of the overall military aid package. The statement said that the dispute on missile aid is “an internal debate between Congress and the White House,” and described attempts to turn it into a “domestic Israeli political tool” as “improper”.

Meanwhile, acting National Security Council Director Yaakov Nagel made a rare television appearance. He said: “There is no crisis over the defence aid package.”

The United States helps fund the development of Israel’s multi-layered missile defence system, including the Iron Dome, which was deployed with resounding success during Operation Protective Edge in 2014, intercepting numerous short-range missiles fired from the Gaza Strip. Washington also financially backs the development of the Magic Wand and Arrow-3 systems, which are designed to intercept longer-range missiles. The US budget for these purposes, which in 2015 totalled almost £250 million, is paid in addition to Washington’s overall defence aid to Israel.

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