15 May 2015, NYT: Obama Pledges More Military Aid to Reassure Persian Gulf Allies on Iran Deal
JULY 15, 2015
U.S. Offers to Help Israel Bolster Defenses, Yet Iran Nuclear Deal Leaves Ally Uneasy
By JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS and MATTHEW ROSENBERG
WASHINGTON -- When President Obama called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday to discuss the nuclear deal with Iran, the American president offered the Israeli leader, who had just deemed the agreement a "historic mistake," a consolation prize: a fattening of the already generous military aid package the United States gives Israel.
The nuclear agreement, which would lift sanctions on Iran in exchange for restrictions designed to prevent it from developing a nuclear weapon, would ultimately provide a financial windfall to Israel's sworn enemy in the region, and Mr. Obama said he was prepared to hold "intensive discussions" with Mr. Netanyahu on what more could be done to bolster Israel's defenses, administration officials said.
But, as in previous talks with Mr. Obama, Mr. Netanyahu refused to engage in such talk "at this juncture," the officials said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to detail the private discussions. And on Tuesday, as administration officials fanned out to make the case for the Iran agreement, one aide suggested in a phone call to Jewish and pro-Israel groups that Mr. Netanyahu had rebuffed their overtures because he believes accepting them now would be tantamount to blessing the nuclear deal, say people involved in the call who did not want to be quoted by name in describing it.
The president himself has hinted that he believes the Israeli prime minister is loath to talk about any additional security assistance he may want from the United States until after Congress has had its say on the Iran deal. Lawmakers have 60 days to review the deal, which Mr. Netanyahu has urged them to reject.
Mr. Netanyahu "perhaps thinks he can further influence the congressional debate, and I'm confident we're going to be able to uphold this deal and implement it without Congress preventing that," Mr. Obama said in an interview with the New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman on Tuesday, hours after announcing the accord.
He went on: "But after that's done, if that's what he thinks is appropriate, then I will sit down, as we have consistently throughout my administration, and then ask some very practical questions: How do we prevent Hezbollah from acquiring more sophisticated weapons? How do we build on the success of Iron Dome, which the United States worked with Israel to develop and has saved Israeli lives?"
That conversation may begin as soon as next week, when the defense secretary, Ashton B. Carter, is planning to travel to Israel and meet with Israeli leaders. The Iran deal is likely to feature prominently in the discussions, defense officials said, but it remains unclear what, if anything, he might offer the Israelis.
That issue is the latest chapter in the long history of tensions and mistrust between Mr. Obama and Mr. Netanyahu, who have clashed publicly and privately over the nuclear deal and whose relationship became particularly strained this year after Mr. Netanyahu arranged to address Congress to denounce the pending agreement without first notifying the White House.
"The idea that somehow Israel would be compensated for this deal in the way the Gulf states would be is rejected by this prime minister as signaling that he is somehow silently acquiescing to it," said David Makovsky, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. "The negative optic would be, he is being bought off from his principled opposition. He sees any package now as muddying what he sees as the moral clarity of his objection."
In Israel, the question was not whether the deal would be followed by a robust new military aid package from Washington, but rather when such discussions would commence and what might be on the shopping list. Isaac Herzog, the leader of the opposition in Parliament, said Tuesday night that he would soon travel to the United States "to advance a package of security measures to suit the new situation."
Yuval Steinitz, the senior Israeli minister sent Wednesday morning to brief international journalists, was blunt when asked about Mr. Obama's promises: "It's wrong to use the word 'compensation' because there is no real compensation from a nuclear threat."
When pressed, he said, "Of course we are ready to speak on everything -- we never said no."
"Our attitude is first to focus on the agreement," Mr. Steinitz said, adding that there might still be room to "fix some things."
American officials said the Israelis were not interested in engaging in the kind of quid pro quo that appeared to go on when Mr. Obama invited Persian Gulf leaders to Camp David earlier this year. During that May visit, Mr. Obama offered Saudi Arabia and smaller Arab states new support  to defend against potential missile strikes, maritime threats and cyberattacks from Iran.
The United States has offered Israel an array of defense capabilities in recent years, some of which Israel decided against because of budget constraints.
United States Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel offered V-22 Osprey aircraft and aerial refueling tankers when he visited Tel Aviv in 2013.  But Israel decided that its own money and the security aid provided by America were better used on other items, said Derek Chollet, a United States assistant secretary of defense at the time.
Giora Eiland, a former Israeli national security adviser, said that adding batteries, radars and missiles to the Arrow missile-defense system should be "the No. 1 priority."
Focusing on such defensive capabilities would enable both sides to frame the deal not as political "compensation" but rather as a response to Israel's concerns that lifting sanctions will increase the threats against it by Iranian-backed groups like Hezbollah and Hamas, he said.
Some officials suggested that one way to indirectly placate Israel involved how much security assistance the United States will offer in coming years, under a memo of understanding being renegotiated before it expires in 2018.
The current agreement, which went into effect in 2009, provides for $3 billion a year, most of which is used by Israel to buy American military hardware, such as jets and components for missile defense.
In talks that started long before the Iran nuclear deal began to take shape, Israel requested between $4.2 billion and $4.5 billion a year for the next 10 years, an official familiar with the talks said.
Jodi Rudoren contributed reporting from Jerusalem.