Former Israeli PM says 'reckless' Netanyahu harmed US aid


Jerusalem (AFP)

A former Israeli prime minister on Thursday said incumbent premier Benjamin Netanyahu eroded national security and the size of US defence aid by "irresponsible" handling of relations with Washington.

"Netanyahu’s reckless conduct has... undermined Israel's security," Ehud Barak wrote in a Washington Post op-ed.

"Israel will receive $3.8 billion a year -- an important contribution to our security but far less than what could have been obtained before the prime minister chose to blatantly interfere with US politics."

The United States on Wednesday promised Israel $38 billion between 2019 and 2028 to buy advanced planes and weaponry and boost its missile defence shield, the biggest pledge of military aid in US history.

Barak and other critics say that an even more generous deal could have been achieved if Netanyahu had not campaigned so publicly and vociferously against a nuclear agreement with Iran backed by US President Barack Obama.

Frosty relations between the two leaders went into a deep chill last year, after Netanyahu appeared before the US Congress to lobby against the Iran deal.

The White House viewed the appearance as unprecedented interference by a foreign leader.

"Expressing our opposition to the Iran nuclear deal was certainly legitimate," Barak wrote.

"But instead of holding a candid dialogue behind closed doors with President Obama, Netanyahu went behind his back."

The previous 10-year aid package amounted to $30 billion, but did not include the $5 billion US assistance for missile defence contained in the update.

Barak served as the Labour party's prime minister between 1999 and 2001 then as defence minister from 2009 to 2013 in a coalition government under Netanyahu.

The highly decorated former armed forces chief said the new US defence package packs less bang for the buck than it might appear to, due to erosion caused by inflation in arms prices and some of the deal's terms.

One is the gradual phasing out of a concession which in the past allowed Israel to spend 26.3 percent of the aid outside the United States, a privilege which gave a valuable boost to the Jewish state's own advanced defence industry.

Another condition is that Israel agrees not to lobby the US congress for extra missile defence funding, except in emergencies and only with the agreement of the US administration.