On the eve of his upcoming trip to Israel — and the President’s trip to the epicenter in March — Secretary of State John Kerry is sending a disturbing message: U.S. military assistance to Israel may soon be cut.
With tensions mounting between Israel and Iran, and with Syria imploding, now would be the wrong time to undermine Israeli national security and create new doubts in the region about the solidity of the U.S.-Israel alliance. Nevertheless, Kerry is warning that the Obama administration is looking at a “$300 million cut from foreign military financing accounts, which could result in cuts to assistance to Israel, Egypt, and Jordan,” according to a report by Foreign Policy magazine.
Is this a warning to Congress, or Netanyahu, or both?
The context of Kerry’s message is a warning to Congress about the effects of not soon striking a deal to avoid automatic, across-the-board federal spending cuts, known in Washington as “sequestration.” The Administration is saying to Congress: Give us the deal the President wants, or people are going to be hurt, including Israel.
At this same time, however, Kerry’s message could also be interpreted a subtle shot across the bow of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: Give us what the President wants, or we may find ourselves “forced” to cut military funding for vital programs, like the Iron Dome and/or other missile defense projects.
The President has made his position clear in recent years: 1) he wants Israel to divide Jerusalem and allow the Palestinians to make East Jerusalem their capital; 2) he wants Israel to make sweeping territorial and security concessions to create a sovereign and contiguous Palestinian state in the 1967 borders; and 3) he wants Israel to promise not to launch a preemptive strike on Iran’s nuclear program but rather let the world powers deal with it.
Thus far, Netanyahu has not said yes to any of these three demands. Is the Administration now considering using U.S. aid to Israel as leverage to achieve its goals (while simultaneously trying to blame the potential cuts on the Republicans in the House)?
“At the beginning of March, across-the-board cuts to all discretionary spending accounts will go into effect, based on the 2011 Budget Control Act and the failure of the ‘supercommittee’ to agree upon discretionary budget cuts in 2012,” notes Foreign Policy’s blog, The Cable. “Congressional appropriators are planning to reorganize those cuts when the continuing resolution that has been temporarily funding the government expires at the end of March, a GOP Congressman told The Cable. ‘Sequestration would force the Department and USAID to make across-the-board reductions of $2.6 billion to fiscal 2013 funding levels under the continuing resolution,” Kerry wrote in a letter to Sen. Barbara Milkuski (D-MD) on Feb. 11. Cuts of this magnitude would seriously impair our ability to execute our vital missions of national security, diplomacy, and development.’ Kerry also said that sequestration would hurt the State Department’s efforts to ramp up security for diplomats abroad, despite that Congress already approved State’s request to devote an additional $1 billion to that effort. ‘These cuts would severely impair our efforts to enhance the security of U.S. government facilities overseas and ensure the safety of the thousands of U.S. diplomats serving the American people abroad,’ Kerry wrote.”
The next few weeks will prove quite interesting in U.S.-Israel relations, to say the least.
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