- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 8, 2015

A new military aid package for Israel will be on the agenda Monday when President Obama meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, their first meeting since the U.S. signing of the Iran nuclear deal sank relations to their lowest point in Mr. Obama’s presidency.

While the two leaders aren’t expected to finalize a deal, they will discuss Israel’s defense needs for the next 10 years in the face of persistent threats from Iran and its ally Hezbollah, a rampaging Islamic State, the civil war in neighboring Syria, a new wave of attacks by Palestinians and other security challenges.

“It’s very important that, in an uncertain security environment, we are signaling our long-term commitment to Israel and its security, and are designing a [military aid] package that is tailored to the threats and challenges that Israel will be facing over the course of the next decade,” said Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser to the president.

Israel receives about $3 billion annually from the U.S., and wants to increase that aid to $5 billion per year over 10 years. The Israelis might seek more F-35 fighter jets; they’re due to begin receiving their first shipment of the warplanes in 2016, the first country in the Middle East to get the aircraft.

Monday’s meeting in the Oval Office will be the first between Mr. Obama and Mr. Netanyahu in 13 months. Relations reached a low point last spring, when Mr. Netanyahu angered the White House by accepting an invitation from congressional Republican leaders to speak at the U.S. Capitol in opposition to the pending Iran nuclear deal.

Now that the nuclear agreement is going forward, administration officials and national security analysts say Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Obama will try to move beyond that major disagreement.

SEE ALSO: Israel asks U.S. for $5 billion in annual defense aid

“Both sides would like this to be a ‘make-nice’ session,” said Ilan Goldenberg, director of the Middle East security program at the Center for a New American Security. “They’ve had a very difficult time over the last few months. Both sides are looking for a way to get back to business as usual [and] strengthen the defense relationship It’s no secret that these two leaders don’t work very well together, but they do need to work together for the next year.”

Before arriving in Washington, Mr. Netanyahu tried to tamp down a controversy at home about his appointment of a new communications director, Ran Baratz, who had accused Mr. Obama of anti-Semitism and suggested that Secretary of State John F. Kerry had the brain of a 12-year-old. The State Department said that Mr. Kerry spoke to the Israeli leader about Mr. Baratz last week and that the prime minister would be reviewing the appointment.

Mr. Netanyahu said he had been unaware of Mr. Baratz’s postings online, and disputed the State Department’s characterization of his conversation with Mr. Kerry.

“I didn’t say I’ll ‘review’ Ran Baratz’s nomination, but that I’ll attend to this when I return,” Mr. Netanyahu wrote on Facebook.

Mr. Obama and Mr. Netanyahu also are expected to discuss details of implementing the Iran accord, which will ease economic sanctions against Tehran in return for placing limits on its nuclear enrichment program.

U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro said the discussion will be “a continuation of long-standing coordination between our experts on Iran that involve the sharing of intelligence, sharing of our technical knowledge, and charting some of the same strategies and specific tools that we use to monitor and enforce” the Iran deal.

Mr. Obama also wants to hear Mr. Netanyahu’s views for the future of talks with Palestinians on a two-state solution, a goal which the president has conceded won’t happen before he leaves office in January 2017.

Rob Malley, a White House national security aide on the Middle East, said the president is seeking Mr. Netanyahu’s ideas on “what can be done in the absence of negotiations between the parties to help stabilize the situation on the ground” and to signal that Palestinians and Israelis “are still committed to and moving towards a two-state solution even if they’re not in a position today to talk to one another about it.”

Mr. Obama criticized Mr. Netanyahu publicly earlier this year when the Israeli leader vowed during his re-election campaign that there would be no Palestinian state on his watch.

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