TEL AVIV — The Obama administration said Tuesday that it was opposing a call by U.S. lawmakers to increase funding for Israel’s missile defense program.
The White House released a statement opposing the House of Representatives’ demand to increase funding by $455 million above the budget request for the 2017 fiscal year.
“This peculiar fight with our most important ally has erupted today, now the citizens of Sderot and Kiryat Shmona will pay the price for Netanyahu’s arrogance,” Zionist Union MK Isaac Herzog said, referring to Israeli towns within rocket range of Lebanon and Gaza. Herzog clearly intended to turn Obama’s move into an Israeli partisan political debate.
According to the Jerusalem Post, Herzog also called for a committee to be formed to investigate “Netanyahu’s decision-making process when it comes to national security.”
Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid expressed the urgency of “rehabilitating” Jerusalem’s ties with Washington “without waiting for the next administration.”
However, Kulanu MK Michael Oren highlighted the fact that Congress, and not the administration, “represents the will of the American people and it transcends the administration of this president or any other.”
“While we appreciate the White House’s willingness to sign a security agreement with us for the next decade, Congress’ right and ability to strengthen Israel’s security must be respected and upheld,” Oren continued.
In a letter to Congress, the administration said it objected to the proposed defense legislation on account of its failure “to provide our troops with the resources needed to keep our nation safe.”
“At a time when ISIL continues to threaten the homeland and our allies, the bill does not fully fund wartime operations,” the letter stated. “Instead the bill would redirect $16 billion of Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) funds toward base budget programs that the Department of Defense (DOD) did not request, shortchanging funding for ongoing wartime operations midway through the year. Not only is this approach dangerous but it is also wasteful. The bill would buy excess force structure without the money to sustain it, effectively creating a hollow force structure that would undermine DOD’s efforts to restore readiness.”
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a pro-Israel lobby, said it was “deeply disappointed” by the letter and the administration’s criticism of “Congress for funding US-Israel missile defense cooperation.”
“On a bipartisan basis, Congress has increased funding above administration requests this year, as it has done for well over a decade,” AIPAC noted. “These cooperative programs—including the Arrow, David’s Sling, and Iron Dome—are critical for Israel’s defense against a growing array of missile threats and make an important contribution to US missile defense programs.”
“We applaud Congress for consistently supporting these key programs, and urge their full funding in both the FY 2017 National Defense Authorization and Appropriations Acts.”
The Senate passed its draft of the National Defense Authorization Act on Tuesday, the Times of Israel reported. Senator Ted Cruz slammed the administration’s low levels of funding at last week’s debate on the Senate floor.
“This has been an ongoing partnership between Israel and the United States of America, and yet, unfortunately, the Obama administration in its request submitted to Congress zeroed out procurement for David’s Sling and Arrow 2 and 3, vital elements of Israeli missile defense,” Cruz lamented. “This is at a time when the threats are growing; the administration decided zero was the appropriate level.”
The Prime Minister’s Office, meanwhile, criticized Israeli lawmakers for using the controversy as a political tool, saying that it was an internal dispute between Congress and the White House.
“Attempts to turn the dialogue with the U.S. into a tool for Israeli political gloating is unacceptable and any expressions of panic are out of place,” the PMO stated, adding that Netanyahu was working with the U.S. to secure the additional funds.