US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson believes Israel must return millions of dollars in military aid to America, sources say, claiming that he has already discussed the issue with President Donald Trump.
The State Department has been lobbying with the White House to convince Israel to hand back some $75 million in aid it was given last year, on top of the military aid that it receives annually, according to the Washington Free Beacon.
The then-President Barack Obama’s administration came under fire last year for trying to limit Israel’s ability to lobby with Congress for more money in case new conflicts break out in the Middle East.
Critics argued back then that extra payments were necessary in order to fund Israel’s several key military projects.
The report noted that Tillerson’s chief of staff, Margaret Peterlin, had personally advised White House National Security Council official Dina Powell about the secretary’s stance.
While Tillerson’s spokesman has denied such conversations, sources within the administration told the Beacon that the White House had balked at the request and made it clear that Trump had the final say on the issue.
The state secretary hopes that the request would be brought up in a White House meeting with Israeli officials, the report noted. Trump is slated to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House in a few days.
Last September, the US and Israel agreed on a record new package of at least $38 billion in US military aid over a period of 10 years.
Under the deal, Washington must pay Tel Aviv at least $3.8 billion in annual aid, up from $3.1 billion per year under the current pact, which expires in 2018. Israel had originally requested $4.5 billion a year.
of Tillerson’s plans have already angered pro-Israeli members of Congress.
Republican Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas has “strongly warned the State Department” earlier this week “that such action would be unwise and invite unwanted conflict with Israel,” according to a senior congressional source.
Cotton and other congressional leaders fear that the request would revert back US-Israeli ties to the Obama-era, where the two sides were divided on many issues ranging from the Iran nuclear deal to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Things have warmed up under Trump.
South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, another Republican, has also came out against the deal, saying he would make sure that Israel would receive the additional $75 million, which was included in the final fiscal year 2017 appropriations bill.