Friday, January 21st | 19 Shevat 5782

November 13, 2016 4:34 pm

Report: Israeli Defense Establishment Sees Trump Victory as Opportunity to Remove Obama Restrictions on Military Aid

avatar by Ruthie Blum

Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman (left) and IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot. Photo: Israeli Defense Ministry.

Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman (left) and IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot. Photo: Israeli Defense Ministry.

Leaving the political echelon to ponder the attitude of US President-elect Donald Trump towards the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the Jewish state’s defense establishment is waiting — with cautious optimism — to see how the new administration develops a Middle East strategy as a whole, and to maintain Israel’s qualitative military edge in the region, the Hebrew news site Walla reported on Sunday.

According to the report, Israeli defense officials view Trump’s surprising victory last week as a source of hope, both due to statements the candidate made during his campaign about the Iran nuclear deal, and as a result of the strong pro-Israel make-up of Congress, which could override restrictions placed by the outgoing Obama administration on the $38 billion in defense aid  to Israel over the next 10 years.

However, Walla said, these officials are also following the events in Washington closely as a cause for potential concern. For example, where the Islamic Republic is concerned, though Israel was heartened by Trump’s claim during the AIPAC Policy Conference in March that he would rip up the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action signed with world powers in July last year, subsequent statements made by the soon-to-be occupier of the Oval Office indicated a backtrack on that threat.

In addition, Walla said, as the new administration spends the coming months forging its Mideast policy — particularly with regard to the civil war in Syria — Israel’s defense establishment fears that Washington might leave it up to Moscow to handle the war on ISIS, which would create a vacuum that could strengthen the radical axis of the Assad regime, Iran and its proxy terrorist organization Hezbollah, all backed by Moscow.

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At the moment, according to the report, the IDF General Staff is speculating about the recently agreed-upon $38 billion US defense-aid package. On the one hand, the sum is being touted as the largest-ever given to Israel by America. On the other, it comes with three caveats that are seen as dangerously restrictive. Israeli generals are therefore hoping that a Trump administration, backed by a Republican majority in the House of Representatives and the Senate, will be able to circumvent them. Among these was the promise, exacted in writing from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, that if Congress decides to provide Israel with money for special projects — such as the Iron Dome, Arrow or Magic Wand systems — any funds exceeding the amount in the agreement will be returned to the US State Department by Israel.

Another had to do with currency exchange and trying to prevent Israeli defense industries from competing with American companies for international tenders.

The third was a limitation on what Israel would be allowed to purchase with the aid money, forcing the Jewish state to invest it in US military technology and equipment.

According to Walla, Israel’s top brass feels that this issue could go either way, as one of Trump’s main campaign promises to the American people was to heal the economy — and therefore he might not be so amenable to increase spending on the Jewish state.

Israel, meanwhile, is waiting to see who becomes the new secretary of defense in the Trump administration. The person currently being considered seriously in Gen. Michael Flynn – formerly head of the Defense Intelligence Agency — who retired from the US Army in August, and has been serving as a top adviser to Trump.

Sources in the defense establishment told Walla that Flynn has widespread connections within the IDF, particularly in the intelligence community. Some of these sources described Flynn as a “true friend” to Israel.

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