- The Washington Times - Monday, February 24, 2003

Israel is asking the United States for billions of dollars in direct aid and loan guarantees to help prop up its stumbling economy and bolster the Israeli Defense Forces as war looms in Iraq.
Dov Weisglass, a top aide to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, led a delegation that met with Bush administration officials for three days last week to lay the groundwork for congressional approval of about$12 billion in aid, in addition to the $3 billion given to Israel each year.
"Our request, after being substantiated, supported by the data that we have provided to our American colleagues, will be submitted for consideration and approval of the political level here in the United States and hopefully that will happen in a very timely manner," Mr. Weisglass said.
Israel reportedly is seeking $4 billion in direct aid mostly for the military and $8 billion in loan guarantees to help lift the country out of a two-year recession.
A source at the Israeli Embassy said he is "optimistic" that Congress would approve the additional funds. If passed, the aid would come on the heels of a request by Turkey of more than $6 billion in direct aid and $20 billion in loans as U.S. forces prepare to use bases in that country as a staging area for any attack on Iraq.
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Florida Republican, led a congressional delegation to Israel last week, and talked with government officials about the need for this aid.
"All the officials with whom we met are hopeful that they can get this economic package," said Mrs. Ros-Lehtinen, who sits on the House International Relations Committee. "Israel is not economically self-sufficient and depends on borrowing to maintain its economy."
Israel, which was hit by Iraq's Scud missiles during the Persian Gulf war in 1991, has "already spent millions" preparing for a repeat of Iraqi retaliations, said a source at the Israeli Embassy.
"Even if there is no conflict with Iraq, and we hope the situation can be resolved peacefully, Israel has spent millions preparing for that war missile defense, homeland defense, inoculations for civilians," the source said. "The Iraq situation is causing us to spend more than anyone thought, in the tens of millions."
Israel is in the midst of a recession, brought on by a severe decline in the tourism industry since violence with the Palestinians intensified two years ago.
Andy Fisher, spokesman for Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee, said hearings on the additional funds will be held "in the next couple of months."
"The chairman [Sen. Richard G. Lugar, Indiana Republican] hasn't passed judgment on the aid proposal," Mr. Fisher said. "I can't tell you what members will come back in the mood for as far as military aid. That's why there will be hearings."
Mrs. Ros-Lehtinen said she expects Israel's aid request to be granted, but it could hardly come at a worse time.
"It comes at a difficult time for us because we are in a deficit and have spent a lot on our own security," Mrs. Ros-Lehtinen said. "But it's important for us to come forth with this aid package because Israel could bear the brunt" of a war with Iraq.
Duncan L. Clarke, professor of international relations at American University, said "Israel tends to get what it wants from Congress."
"The combination of Congress being a yes man for Israel and a president who is the same way, I'd say that bodes well for Israel and poorly for the American taxpayer," Mr. Clarke said.
The question that he said probably is not being asked on Capitol Hill is: "Is it the appropriate role of the U.S. to pump up a foreign country's economy?"

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