By Munir K. Nasser
A House of Representatives subcommittee this week approved nearly a $3 billion aid package to Israel amid threats from some members to cut future assistance if Israel goes ahead with its planned sale of the PHALCON airborne radar system to China.
The House Appropriations Foreign Operations Subcommittee on June 20 voted down 9-6 a proposal by Republican congressman Sonny Callahan of Alabama to cut military aid to Israel by $250 million as a penalty for its impending radar sale to China.
A State Department official expressed satisfaction with the subcommittee vote. He told
Albawaba.com that the Administration’s position has not changed and “we did not feel that any assistance package to Israel should be linked to the dispute we are having at the moment on the PHALCONS.”
A wave of unprecedented criticism against Israel was aired during the meeting from both Democrats and Republicans, including friends of Israel, who threatened to punish the US ally with future aid cuts if it goes ahead with its planned sale of the radar system to China. The majority of subcommittee members agreed that Israel should only be penalized once the deal is completed.
Chairman of the subcommittee Sonny Callahan also failed to stop Israel's early receipt of the aid package, which allows Israel to earn nearly $80 million in interest on the $3 billion if received at the start of each fiscal year. During the debate in the meeting, Callahan said: "Israel should be ashamed."
The same sentiment was expressed by David Obey, a ranking Democratic member of the House appropriations committee and a close friend of Israel. He threatened that “if Israel did not resolve the issue by September, he would join forces with Callahan and move to cut aid.”
Jo Bonner, Chief of Staff for congressman Sonny Callahan said the subcommittee vote to reject the amendment is not the final outcome. He told Albawaba.com in an interview that Callahan has the option, if he chooses, to bring this issue up again either at full committee or on the floor, or sometime in conference with the Senate. He said between now and the time the bill goes to conference, hopefully this matter would have been resolved.
“That was our intent all along, to give the Secretary of Defense enough time to get it resolved to the satisfaction and the best interest of the United States and Israel,” he stressed.
Bonner said Callahan “questions Israel’s wisdom of putting in the hands of a country that we don’t have much confidence in, technology that potentially can be used against us in an adverse situation.”
He emphasized that Callahan considers himself a strong and true friend of Israel. But he said with the limited amount of money that can be distributed for all the worthy recipient countries, “you can draw a natural conclusion that no other country receive their check 30 days after this matter is resolved and the budget is enacted,” he explained. “Israel would be the only country in the world to receive advance disbursement. If we have the ability to draw the interest ourselves, and spend that money, depending on the interest rate, possibly $50 million more, that would be available to help others who have real need,” he argued.
Bonner said Callahan’s position is solely based on the unknown, which was raised by Secretary Cohen when he went to Israel and met with Prime Minister Ehud Barak back in April.
“Mr. Cohen was the first official from this government to stand up and to question the wisdom of this sale,” he noted. “But Callahan’s concern is limited to whether or not it is going to jeopardize the US national security interest. He is questioning whether selling that particular technology to China, from a country that is militarily advanced and intelligent as Israel, is a wise move,” he pointed out.
Last week the State Department made it clear that the Clinton Administration was trying to block the linkage of Israel’s aid package to the sale to China, despite its own public opposition to the proposed deal, which it says could endanger US interests in the region. US administration officials have urged Israel to cancel the deal, and future orders, to avoid confrontations with Congress over the issue.
The $3 billion aid package to Israel includes $1.98 billion in military assistance and $840 million in economic assistance for the fiscal year 2001. The bill also includes all the traditional pro-Israel provisions, including early disbursal of Israel's aid, so Israel can accrue interest on the money – Albawaba.com
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