The trip is a sign of the strained relations between Washington and Jerusalem. Israel's defense establishment is expected to receive less than what Prime Minister Netanyahu promised them. It appears that Netanyahu's attempt to pressure the Obama administration using the US Congress has backfired.
The US aid agreement to Israel is renewed every ten years, and the negotiations for the new agreement—set to come into effect in 2018—have caused a political earthquake that shook DC. At the height of the drama, Netanyahu had to tell the White House that he is distancing himself from some of Israel's biggest advocates in the Senate.
For the Americans, the story is a bit different. During the administration's campaign to push the Iran nuclear agreement through Congress, Obama promised the Democratic senators that if they vote in favor of the nuclear agreement, he in turn will help Israel. Meanwhile, Netanyahu, acting on advice he received from Republicans in Congress, decided to fly to Washington to give a speech against the wishes of the White House, in which he fiercely criticized the administration's policy on Iran.
The White House didn't forget and didn’t forgive Netanyahu.
As a result of the negotiations over military defense, the two sides mutually agreed that all of the additional anti-missile defense funding that the US Congress has allocated over the years would be included in the 10-year agreement. This brings the aid figure to approximately $3.7 billion a year.
And while Netanyahu claimed that he would able to get the number up to at least $4 billion, receiving over $40 billion over 10 years, the White House has clarified that this won't happen. Regardless, Netanyahu decided to draw out the negotiaions in the belief that Obama will fold because of the upcoming elections and the nearing end of his term. Various people, including Vice President Biden, have warned Netanyahu that he is risking failure, but Netanyahu is standing his ground.
The struggle reached its climax on April 25, when 83 out of the 100 US Senators signed a document supporting an increase in military aid to the Jewish state.
"Due to the dramatic rise in security challenges which Israel is dealing with, we are willing to support an agreement to increase aid, and provide Israel with the necessary resources to defend itself and maintain its qualitative edge," the letter said.
The White House was furious. The Senators' letter was immediately and publicly rejected, leading Netanyahu's office to send a surprising, secret message to the administration, claiming that the Senators' letter was done at their own initiative, and the Israelis didn’t know anything about it.
The White House demanded the leaders of the initiative, Republican Lindsey Graham and Democrat Chris Coons, to declare they acted of their own volition, without the knowledge of the Israeli government. I tried in vain to see if such a statement was released. But what really happened only those involved—the Senators, the Jewish lobby, the Israeli ambassador and the Prime Minister's Office—know.
The Obama administration then demanded that Israel not make any additional aid requests for the next decade. While Netanyahu instructed his negotiation team to refuse this caveat, the White House insisted.
The White House also wanted all of the aid to go to the purchases of US-made weapons, causing the Israelis to retort that this would be the death knell for the Israeli defense industry, and that tens of thousands of Israeli workers would lose their jobs. The Obama administration therefore agreed to acquiesce to the Israeli request for the first five years of the agreement, but after that, the amount of money to be transferred to Israeli security manufacturing would be gradually reduced to zero—except for joint US-Israeli projects.
The US Congress offered to give Israel an additional $600 million for anti-missile defense in 2017. This angered the US administration, and Netanyahu promised not to make any more requests during fiscal year 2017.
The Israeli prime minister said in a statement that "Israel places great importance on the capacity and the certainty of the US military aid package." Netanyahu has finally accepted the conditions that he rejected just a year ago.
Signing the agreement will finally end the Israeli-American dispute over the Iran nuclear agreement – one that cost Israel NIS 11 billion in preparations for the off-chance of an Israeli strike against Tehran, led to a serious confrontation with the US administration, caused a rift within the US Jewish community, and distanced Israel from the US Democratic Party.
And now, Israel also lost the chance of getting an increase in aid funds – something which was promised to Israel when the battle over the Iran deal began.