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September 21, 2016 6:16 pm

Israeli Minister of Science, Technology, Space: ‘We Are, Should Be Grateful to US for Unprecedented Defense-Aid Package’

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Israeli Minister of Science, Technology and Space Ofir Akunis. Photo: Courtesy.

Israeli Minister of Science, Technology and Space Ofir Akunis. Photo: Courtesy.

“We are and should be grateful to the United States for what amounts to the largest-ever military-aid package in the history of relations between the two countries,” Israel’s minister of science, technology and space told The Algemeiner on Wednesday, referring to the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed earlier this month between US President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which granted the Jewish state $38 billion in defense funds over a period of ten years.

For emphasis, MK Ofir Akunis added, “It is unprecedented; full stop, exclamation point. And even though Obama is finishing his term in four months, our expressing thanks is a necessary and vital part of strengthening Israel-US relations.”

Akunis, who is among the Israeli dignitaries who arrived in New York this week to attend the 71st session of the United Nations General Assembly, said he feels this way “despite having frequently been at odds with the administration in Washington over a wide range of issues during the past eight years.”

Addressing the question of two vociferous critics of the MoU – one staunchly pro-Israel US senator, and a former Israeli prime minister fiercely opposed to the Netanyahu government in general, and recently to the MoU in particular – Akunis said:

As for Lindsey Graham [R-SC], he, too, knows that ultimately, the US has budget limitations. And given those constraints, this was the best package Israel could possibly hope for. Ehud Barak is a different story, however. In the first place, when he served as Israel’s leader – for a shorter term than any other PM before or since – he brought the country no military-aid package whatsoever. So his claim that Netanyahu negotiated a bad defense package for the country is disingenuous, to say the least.

Second, it was he who was prepared at Camp David sixteen years ago to hand over to the Palestinians control over everything, including Jerusalem, without receiving a single thing in return – other than the Second Intifada, of course, which was launched [by PLO chief Yasser Arafat] precisely as a result of the willingness to make such sweeping concessions.

Third, all of his attacks on the current prime minister are clearly politically motivated. I don’t know whether he is planning a comeback, which is certainly his right. And if he does, the public will be the one to judge him. In 2001, the public ousted him in democratic elections, and replaced him with Ariel Sharon.

Asked whether he considers it ironic that the Obama administration is providing so much aid for Israeli defense, after it signed the nuclear agreement last year with the regime in Tehran, which has threatened to wipe Israel off the map, Akunis reiterated his government’s position that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) was and is a “bad deal.” And “not just for Israel, but for the entire Middle East.”

Indeed, he said, “The MoU came in some sense on the heels of the JCPOA, which means that the aid will be used to bolster our security in the event of an attack. Nor is Iran the only hostile entity we have to worry about. There is ISIS, the Al-Nusra Front and many others that do not want Israel to exist. And we will have to keep staving off and confronting all these threats.”

News of a suspicious package in downtown Manhattan — appearing on the screen of a TV in the room in which the interview was taking place — spurred Akunis, a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, to segue into his take on the terrorist attacks in America, at a Minnesota mall last week and in New York and New Jersey over the weekend.

“What my colleagues and I have been saying for years has been proven true: that Israeli settlements in Judea and Samaria [the West Bank] have nothing to do with terrorism,” he said. “I don’t think anyone can say that the attack in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood — or those in Europe – are Israel-related. In the world today, there are good forces and evil ones. The good ones, including Israel, are liberal democracies. The evil ones want to return to the Dark Ages, by imposing an Islamic caliphate on everyone else, to prevent us from living life in freedom. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict doesn’t even interest most of the other Arab terrorists, who only pay occasional lip service to it, and the world is beginning to wake up to that fact.”

He went on: “When I meet with foreign leaders behind closed doors – not when the cameras are rolling, and they have to cater to the Palestinians – they acknowledge that this is a phenomenon that began about 20 years ago, and can be traced back to the rise of the ayatollahs in Iran in 1979. Furthermore, both Europeans and Americans not only understand the problem has nothing to do with Israel, but have been asking for our help and know-how to combat it, such as by securing airports and cyberspace.”

As for how this jibes with the growing Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, Akunis asserted that though it is not only “vile,” and to some extent poses a problem for Israel, “Its success is minimal.” In fact, he said, “The desire to cooperate with Israel has increased, not decreased, over the past few years.”

“Those pushing for BDS should be ashamed of themselves,” he said, invoking the practices put in place prior to the Holocaust. “It is antisemitism, pure and simple.”

Challenged that proponents of BDS, and Israelis who sympathize with them, claim they are only boycotting products made beyond the Green Line — or the 1967 borders — Akunis replied, “First of all, I do not recognize the existence of a Green Line. The entire land of Israel is the ancient homeland of the Jewish people, and Jerusalem has been the capital of the Jewish nation for 3,000 years.”

In addition, he said, “Those BDS-ers should know that the Palestinians who are happily employed by factories targeted because of their so-called disputed location, are the main ones who suffer as a result of boycotts. And anyone truly interested ought to know that such kinds of cooperation and coexistence are the key to peace.”

Finally, Akunis addressed the issue of the Amos 6, the Israeli communications satellite that was destroyed when the rocket set to carry it into orbit exploded on a launch pad at Cape Canaveral at the beginning of this month.

“It was a very sad occurrence,” he said. “But it was not Israel’s fault. I cannot go into the details of the investigation, because it is being carried out by the Americans. But I immediately convened an emergency meeting after it happened to provide aid to Israel’s space industries, and to request that recommendations for moving forward be submitted as soon as possible.”

Akunis concluded: “Israel has enormous technological capabilities, in space and all fields, which are crucial for both military and civilian use. My job is to enhance these capabilities, and that’s what I’m trying to do.”

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