U.s., Israel Ink Deal for Boost in Military Aid to Counter Iran

Israel has secured a windfall in U.S. military aid that will last well into the administration of whoever succeeds President Bush — and beyond.

U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns and Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer clinched a deal Thursday whereby the Jewish state would receive $30 billion in defense grants over the coming decade, a 25 percent increase.

Burns made clear that the Bush administration sees the aid as a means of protecting Israel against a roster of regional foes topped by Iran, even as the Olmert government seeks ways of reviving peace talks with the Palestinians.

“There is no question that, from an American point of view, the Middle East is a more dangerous region now even than it was 10 or 20 years ago and that Israel is facing a growing threat,” Burns told reporters after a signing ceremony in Jerusalem. “It’s immediate and it’s also long-term.”

“The United States faces many of the same threats from the same organizations and countries as Israel does,” he continued, “and so we felt this was the right level of assistance.”

Fischer said that Israel, which is scrambling to improve its military capabilities in the wake of the Lebanon war and ahead of any possible confrontation with Iran, considers the new funding key.

“It provides a good deal of confidence to Israel,” he said.

According to Fischer, Israel spends about 10 percent of its GDP on defense, and said that the U.S. willingness “to share a significant part of that burden”is a “critical element in the budget.”

Washington announced the boost on July 30, along with plans to increase military aid to Egypt and sell some $20 billion worth of advanced weaponry to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states.

Burns said the package was part of efforts to contain a “resurgent Iran” whose nuclear program has set off jitters not only in Israel, but also among Sunni Arabs.

“This contribution of $30 billion over the next decade will allow the State of Israel to plan its defense expenditures in a way that’s rational, in a way that takes into account its own appreciation of its situation in this region and allows successive American administrations to also know that our commitment to Israel will be secure, beyond the presidency of President Bush and into the next American presidency,” he said.

Israel initially raised objections to the prospect of the Saudis receiving cutting-edge weaponry, but Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was mollified by U.S. assurances that Israel’s military primacy in the region would be preserved.

Israel currently receives $2.4 billion annually in military grants from the United States, 26.3 percent of which it can spend on its domestic defense industries. Under the new deal, the payouts will gradually increase until they level out at $3.1 billion in 2012.

Olmert’s office said he had spoken to Burns to convey Israel’s thanks.

“The prime minister noted that the U.S. aid deal is a significant development for Israel and proves once more the depth of the relations between the two countries, as well as the commitment of the United States to the security of Israel and the preservation of its qualitative edge,” Olmert’s office said in a statement.

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