Admin Considering Demanding Israel Give Back Key U.S. Military Aid
By Adam Kredo
September 8, 2017
The Trump administration is considering forcing Israel to
hand back some $75 million in U.S. aid dollars that were awarded by Congress
following a hotly contested effort by the Obama administration to financially
limit the U.S.-Israel military alliance, according to senior Congressional
sources and others familiar with the situation.
Congress allocated Israel an additional $75 million in U.S.
aid last year, bringing the total package to around $38 billion, despite
attempts by the Obama administration to restrict Israeli efforts to lobby
Congress in favor of greater funding for several key military projects.
Lawmakers had objected to the Obama administrationís last
minute Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Israel, which capped U.S. aid
dollars to the Jewish state and included a provision barring Israel from
requesting greater financial assistance from the U.S. Congress.
Now, the Trump administration is considering forcing Israel
to hand back the extra $75 million in order to stay in line with the Obama
administrationís original MOU, according to multiple sources, who told the Free
Beacon that Congress is preparing for a fight with the current
administration if it chooses to move forward with the plan.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is said to be spearheading
the effort to request Israel give back the additional funding, arguing that
Israel must stick to the letter of the former Obama administrationís MOU,
despite objections by Congress, sources told the Free Beacon.
Sen. Tom Cotton (R., Ark.) is said to have "strongly
warned the State Department" earlier this week "that such action would
be unwise and invite unwanted conflict with Israel," according to one
senior Congressional aide familiar with the situation.
Congressional leaders remain concerned that the Obama
administrationís MOU with Israel limits lawmakersí constitutional right to
allocate U.S. aid dollars in whatever manner they see fit. The MOU has long been
a cornerstone of the U.S.-Israel military alliance and Congress has
traditionally amplified funding after consulting with Israeli counterparts.
The State Department is said to be engaged in a lobbying
effort to convince the White House National Security Council (NSC) to allow it
to request that Israel hand back the additional $75 million so it remains in
line with the Obama administrationís MOU, sources said.
Cotton and other Congressional leaders see this as a
reckless and unnecessary move that would only increase tensions with Israel at a
time when the Jewish state and the U.S. are cooperating on a range of key
issues, including the fight against ISIS, Iran, and other terrorist forces in
the Middle East.
If the State Department does choose to demand that Israel
hand back the money, Congress is prepared to strongly react, sources said.
Insiders who spoke to the Free Beacon about the
brewing situation said the State Department-led effort is an attempt to
undermine Congress and derail the White Houseís strong working relationship
Tillersonís State Department has emerged as a source of
tension inside the administration, with multiple sources telling the Free
Beacon earlier this year that Foggy Bottom is perceived as being in "open
war" with the White House on a range of key issues, including the
U.S.-Israel relationship, the Iran portfolio, and other matters.
"This is a transparent attempt by career staffers in
the State Department to fók with the Israelis and derail the efforts of
Congressional Republicans and President Trump to rebuild the US-Israel
relationship," according to one veteran congressional advisor who works
extensively on Israel. "There's no reason to push for the Israelis to
return the money, unless you're trying to drive a wedge between Israel and
Congress, which is exactly what this is. It won't work."
Sources said there is an easy workaround to bring Israel in
line with the MOU that would avoid sparking Congressional ire and tensions with
the Trump administration.
This method involves clipping the additional $75 million
from future appropriations for U.S.-Israel aid, a move that would quietly bring
the countries back in line with the agreement and avoid public tensions.
"It's not clear to me why the Secretary of State
wishes to at once usurp the powers of the Congress and the derail his boss's
rapprochement with the Israeli government," one longtime foreign policy
operative familiar with the matter independently told the Free Beacon.
Sen. Lindsay Graham (R., S.C.) had held up passage of the
2016 MOU over disagreements with the Obama administrationís restriction about
Israel personally lobbying Congress for increased funds.
"Congress is not a party to this agreement nor is this
agreement binding on future congresses," Graham said in
a statement. "Congress has an independent duty to make a decision about the
proper level of support for Israel or our other allies. To suggest this
(agreement) will bind future presidents and congresses for the next decade is
constitutionally flawed and impractical."
Graham is said to have viewed it as an effort to trample on
Congressí right to allocate U.S. taxpayer funds and he worked to ensure Israel
received the additional $75 million, which was included in the final fiscal year
2017 appropriations bill.
A State Department official, speaking on background, told
the Free Beacon that the 2016 MOU "remains in place," but
would not specifically comment on internal deliberations about potentially
requesting that Israel had back the millions in additional funding allocated by
Asked about the matter, an NSC official told the Free
Beacon, "We are not going to comment on internal United States government