Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is spearheading an effort to force Israel to give back $75 million in aid allocated by Congress last year, the Washington Free Beacon reported Friday.
The funds were awarded in defiance of the Obama Administration’s Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), which increased military aid to Israel from around $3 to $3.8 billion for the next ten years, with several provisos, one of which was a commitment on Israel’s part not to seek additional military aid from Congress. The other, even more devastating, was an eventual block on the money going to Israeli companies, essentially keeping all the money in the US.
Now the Trump Administration may be going to war with Congress over honoring the Obama administration’s MOU, and forcing Israel to give back whatever funds it has received above the official military aid package.
According to a senior Congressional aide familiar with the situation who spoke to the Beacon, Republican Senator Tom Cotton (Ark.) has “strongly warned the State Department” last week “that such action would be unwise and invite unwanted conflict with Israel.”
The Beacon quotes a “veteran congressional advisor who works extensively on Israel” who said that “this is a transparent attempt by career staffers in the State Department to [expletive] with the Israelis and derail the efforts of Congressional Republicans and President Trump to rebuild the US-Israel relationship. There’s no reason to push for the Israelis to return the money, unless you’re trying to drive a wedge between Israel and Congress, which is exactly what this is. It won’t work.”
Back in 2016, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) slammed the MOU provision that limits Israel from seeking additional US funds except in times of war. He issued a statement saying, “Congress is not a party to this agreement nor is this agreement binding on future congresses. Congress has an independent duty to make a decision about the proper level of support for Israel or our other allies. To suggest this (agreement) will bind future presidents and congresses for the next decade is constitutionally flawed and impractical.”
According to David Ignatius, writing for Real Clear Politics, Secretary Tillerson has preserved a working relationship with President Trump, despite his public criticism of the President’s views on the Charlottesville riots. Tillerson clearly offers diplomatic skills Trump does not have, and for that the President is prepared to accept some disagreement over ideology.
Meanwhile, on Thursday, according to Reuters, Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed his regret over awarding Tillerson the “Order of Friendship” in 2013. Speaking to an American participant at an economic forum in Vladivostock, Putin said, “We awarded your compatriot Mr. Tillerson the Order of Friendship, but he seems to have fallen in with the wrong company and to be steering in the other direction. […] I hope that the wind of cooperation, friendship and reciprocity will eventually put him on the right path.”