The AP reports this morning that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta are rejecting Republican criticism of President Barack Obama’s policy on Israel.
The two senior Administration officials say the attacks, fueled by the 2012 elections, ignore the strong cooperative relationship and the record billions of dollars in U.S. aid for the Jewish State.
The two appeared separately on Capitol Hill on Wednesday.
Clinton highlighted Obama’s budget for next year, which calls for $3.1 billion in military assistance for Israel, a slight increase over the current level and the most for any foreign country. Panetta said U.S. support for Israel is unshakeable.
But if the overall US support for Israel continues to hover around $3 billion, let’s not forget that, though very large, it is the same amount promised at the signing of the Camp David Accords in 1978 – not adjusted for 34 years of inflation. The real figure should have been just under $10 billion ($9,913,218,705 to be exact). It was awarded to Israel back then in exchange for giving back the Sinai, to cover one-time as well as on-going costs born by the major restructuring of its military operations.
If not for the $3 billion going to Israel and $2 billion to Egypt, there would have been no Camp David accords. Indeed, the Muslim Brothers have threatened to revoke the accords should the US halt its aid to Egypt.
Also — the military aid money is being spent in the US, on purchases from American companies, a hidden government jobs program, if you will. Opting not to reduce it, at this point, is the same as opting not to commit political suicide — regardless of who sits in the White House.
Clinton noted that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had called the bilateral security cooperation between the two countries unprecedented.
All of this is taking place just before Netanyahu’s visit to Washington next week and his scheduled meetings with Obama and congressional leaders.
The AP story points out that Republicans see a political opening in the disagreements between Washington and Jerusalem over two major issues: Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria and their influence on the peace talks with the Palestinians, and the Obama administration’s pressure on Israel to hold off on a military strike against Iran’s nuclear program.
A House Budget Committee pressed Panetta on why the administration budget requests for Israel’s missile defense program to help protect Israel from short-range ballistic missiles and rockets that might be fired from Gaza or from Lebanese Hezbollah territory or for longer-range missiles from Iran or Syria had declined.
Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga. wanted to know “what justification, given what we see out of the nation of Iran, can you give?”
Panetta struggled to show the panel that the Administration has significantly increased, rather than decreased the funding, “It’s now $650 million, which more than doubles what was the level in the prior administration of about $320 million.”
But the bulk of Republican accusations has not been so much about foreign aid to Israel, but about military support in a strike against Iran.
AP reports that Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., asked Panetta why the administration “doesn’t give complete support to Israel and say, you know, if Iran continues with its program, we will do whatever is necessary to stop that program and give Israel the support that I think they need.”
Not highly articulate, perhaps, but quite astute. The support Israel really needs should come in the form of American air power that would make possible a multi-pronged attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Israel, according to recent expert views, can only consummate a single such attack, while the US can get the job done.
When Netanyahu arrives in Washington, he will surely be pushing this point both with the President and on the Hill.