Barack Obama and Binyamin Netanyahu met for the first time in a year on Monday, pledging to spend much of their meeting discussing ways to expand US military aid to Israel.
Putting aside recent disagreements over Iran and Palestine, the US president and the Israeli prime minister struck a hawkish tone during opening remarks in the Oval office.
“Israel has shouldered a tremendous defence burden over the years and we have done it with the generous assistance of the United States of America,” said Netanyahu, who is thought to be pushing for an existing 10-year deal struck by George W Bush that is worth a total of $30-billion to be replaced by a substantially more generous one once it expires.
While White House officials have been playing down expectations of completing their negotiations on the size of the new 10-year military aid package during this week’s visit, Obama made clear there was no question it would be renewed.
“It will be expiring in a couple of years but we want to get a head start on that to make sure that both the US and Israel can plan effectively for our defence needs going forward,” said the US president.
“It’s no secret the security environment in the Middle East has deteriorated in many areas and, as I’ve said repeatedly, the security of Israel is one my top foreign policy priorities and that has expressed itself not only in words but in deeds.”
Obama also expressed solidarity with Israel in the wake of recent increased violence on the West Bank and claimed security links with the US were stronger than ever.
“I want to be very clear that we condemn in the strongest terms Palestinian violence against innocent Israeli citizens and I want to repeat once again that it is my strong belief that Israel has not just the right but an obligation to protect itself,” the president said.
“We have closer military and intelligence co-operation than any two administrations in history,” Obama added. “The military assistance that we provide we consider not only an important part of our obligation to the state of Israel, but also an important part of US security infrastructure in the region.”
US and Israeli officials are thought to have broadly agreed what weapons systems Israel may obtain under the so-called memorandum of understanding but are still discussing Israeli requests to increase the overall size of the existing $30-billion commitment – reportedly from $3-billion to around $4.5-billion per year.
Israel has received $124.3bn in military assistance from the US since its founding, according to a recent congressional report .
“We are obviously tested today by the instability and insecurity in the Middle East. Everybody can see it with the savagery of Isis and the aggression and terror of Iran’s proxies and Iran itself,” said Netanyahu on Monday.
“This is a tremendously important opportunity for us to work together to see how we can defend ourselves against this aggression and terror and how we can roll it back. It’s a daunting task.”
The visit has been billed as an opportunity for the two leaders to build bridges in the wake of their clash of Iranian nuclear talks, but there was little hint of compromise during their opening remarks to reporters on Monday apart from a renewed commitment by both leaders to work toward peace with Palestinians.
“I also will discuss with the prime minister his thoughts on how we can lower the temperature between Israelis and Palestinians, how we can get back on a path toward peace and how we can make sure that legitimate Palestinian aspirations are met through a political process even as we make sure that Israel is able to secure itself,” said Obama.
“I want to make it clear that we have not given up our hope for peace. We will never give up our hope for peace,” added Netanyahu.
“I remain committed to a vision of peace of two states for two peoples: a dimilitarised Palestinian state that recognises the Jewish state.” – © Guardian News & Media 2015