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House Panel Backs $650 Million in Additional U.S. Aid for Israel

The House Appropriations Committee has approved a Bush administration request for an additional $650 million in U.S. aid to Israel, to compensate for its added defense costs in the months during and leading up to Operation Desert Storm.

The funds, which still require passage by the full House of Representatives and the Senate, would “help pick up some of those very significant elements of expenditure that Israel faced as we went forward with this war,” Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.), a committee member, told a gathering of Simon Wiesenthal Center leaders here.

The unanimous vote of approval Tuesday, on an amendment sponsored by Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.), came three days after Secretary of State James Baker and Israeli Ambassador Zalman Shoval held an unusual Saturday meeting to discuss the supplemental aid question.

Israel had formally submitted a request to Baker on Feb. 20 for $1 billion in special aid to offset its added military spending since Aug. 2, when Iraq invaded Kuwait.

Although the Bush administration had said it would view sympathetically any Israeli aid request related to the war, last fall’s landmark budget agreement requires that any unforseen, non-emergency spending be offset by cuts elsewhere in the federal budget.

Budget Director Richard Darman had told the Senate Appropriations Committee on Feb. 26 that the aid for Israel could not be justified as emergency spending.

But the administration retreated from that position over the weekend, and settled on the $650 million figure in negotiations with Israel.

ISRAEL AGREES TO DELAY LOAN REQUEST

The aid is included in the second of two supplemental aid bills stemming from the Gulf crisis. One covers the Pentagon’s direct war costs, while the other includes a potpourri of other war-related spending.

As part of the deal, Israel agreed to wait until early September to request an additional $10 billion in U.S. guarantees for loans needed for immigrant resettlement, according to Jess Hordes, Washington representative of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith. Israel received $400 million worth of U.S. loan guarantees for that purpose on Feb. 20, after a nine-month delay.

Hordes said the administration has also agreed not to block any move in Congress to keep U.S. Patriot missile batteries deployed in Israel permanently. A pro-Israel lobbyist said negotiations on that point would take place “in the near future.”

The $650 million figure marks a retreat from the $910 million figure Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Arens floated during his Feb. 11 meeting here with Baker.

When the formal Israeli request for $1 billion was later submitted, it was criticized by pro-Israel lobbyists here as too much.

In a rare public statement late Tuesday, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee praised the administration’s commitment, saying it “demonstrates an understanding of Israel’s heightened security needs.” The statement also praised “Secretary Baker’s leadership and bipartisan support in the Congress.”

Hordes said the $650 million “goes some way to meet Israel’s needs, (but) it does not fully address the scope of Israel’s problems.”

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