The US State Department wants President Trump to demand money back, sparking fight in Congress
The Trump Administration is considering forcing Israel to hand back some $75-M in US military aid awarded by Congress following a contested effort by The Obama Admin to financially limit the US-Israel military alliance, according to senior Congressional sources and others familiar with the situation.
Congress allocated Israel an additional $75-M in US aid last year, bringing the total package to around $38-B, despite attempts by The Obama Admin’s to restrict Israeli efforts to lobby Congress in favor of greater funding for several Key military projects.
Lawmakers objected to The Obama Admin’s last minute Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Israel, which capped US aid dollars to the Jewish state and included a provision barring Israel from requesting greater financial assistance from the US Congress.
Now, The Trump Administration is considering forcing Israel to hand back the extra $75-M in order to stay in line with The Obama Admini’s original MOU, according to multiple sources, who told the Free Beacon that Congress is preparing for a fight with the current administration if it chooses to move forward with the plan.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is said to be spearheading the effort to request Israel give back the additional funding, arguing that Israel must stick to the letter of the former Obama Admin’s MOU, despite objections by Congress, sources told the Free Beacon.
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AK) is said to have “strongly warned the State Department” earlier this week “that such action would be unwise and invite unwanted conflict with Israel,” according to one senior Congressional aide familiar with the situation.
Congressional leaders remain concerned that The Obama Admin’s MOU with Israel limits lawmakers’ constitutional right to allocate US aid dollars in whatever manner they see fit. The MOU has long been a cornerstone of the US-Israel military alliance and Congress has traditionally amplified funding after consulting with Israeli counterparts.
The State Department is said to be engaged in a lobbying effort to convince the White House National Security Council (NSC) to allow it to request that Israel hand back the additional $75-M, so it remains in line with the Obama administration’s MOU, sources said.
Senator Cotton and other Congressional leaders see this as a reckless and unnecessary move that would only increase tensions with Israel at a time when the Jewish state and the US are cooperating on a range of Key issues, including the fight against ISIS, Iran, and other terrorist forces in the Middle East.
If the State Department does choose to demand that Israel hand back the money, Congress may strongly react, sources said.
Insiders who spoke to the Free Beacon about the brewing situation said the State Department-led effort is an attempt to undermine Congress and derail the White House’s strong working relationship with Israel.
Secretary Tillerson’s State Department has emerged as a source of tension inside the administration, according observers that say State is perceived as being in “open war” with the White House on a range of key issues, including the US-Israel relationship, the Iran portfolio, and other matters.
Sources said there is an easy workaround to bring Israel in line with the MOU that would avoid sparking Congressional ire and tensions with The Trump Admin.
This method involves clipping the additional $75-M from future appropriations for US-Israel aid, a move that would quietly bring the countries back in line with the agreement and avoid public tensions.
“It’s not clear to me why the Secretary of State wishes to at once usurp the powers of the Congress and the derail his boss’s rapprochement with the Israeli government,” one longtime foreign policy operative familiar with the matter independently told the Free Beacon.
SenatorLindsay Graham (R-SC) had held up passage of the Y 2016 MOU over disagreements with The Obama Admin’s restriction about Israel personally lobbying Congress for increased funds.
“Congress is not a party to this agreement nor is this agreement binding on future congresses,” Senator Graham said in a statement. “Congress has an independent duty to make a decision about the proper level of support for Israel or our other allies. To suggest this (agreement) will bind future presidents and congresses for the next decade is constitutionally flawed and impractical.”
Graham is said to have viewed it as an effort to trample on Congress’ right to allocate US taxpayer funds and he worked to ensure Israel received the additional $75-M, which was included in the final fiscal year 2017 appropriations bill.
A State Department official, speaking on background, told the Free Beacon that the 2016 MOU “remains in place,” but would not specifically comment on internal deliberations about potentially requesting that Israel had back the millions in additional funding allocated by Congress.
Asked about the matter, an NSC official told the Free Beacon, “We are not going to comment on internal United States government discussions.”
Paul Ebeling, Editor
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