Biden arrives in Israel to talk billions in military aid — and patch things up – Washington Post

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Less than a mile from where Vice President Biden held talks with a former Israeli president, a Palestinian attacker went on stabbing rampage Tuesday that left at least one person dead and nine wounded before the assailant was fatally shot by police, officials said.

The bloodshed on the Mediterranean coast in Jaffa — a rare flash of violence in the mixed Arab-Jewish quarter that is part of Tel Aviv — followed three similar attacks around Israel earlier in the day and appeared timed for maximum attention during Biden’s visit.

It comes amid six months of near-daily stabbing, shooting and vehicle attacks by Palestinians against Israelis. Many of the attacks are followed by harsh Israeli counter-measures that lead to deadly clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli forces.

In Jaffa, where Biden was meeting with former Israeli President Shimon Peres, the suspected lone assailant carried out stabbings in two areas near the port area before being killed by police. Authorities said the attacker was from the West Bank city of Qalqiliya. Israeli police confirmed that the person who was killed was an American tourist.

It was unclear whether Biden or Peres were notified of the violence as they met at The Peres Center for Peace.

Biden’s trip seeks to patch up, again, relations between the Obama White House and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after a very public and deeply partisan spat over the Iran nuclear deal last year.

The vice president will meet with Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Wednesday when the two will work to advance long-running talks between the White House and the Prime Minister’s Office over a new multibillion-dollar, 10-year military-aid package.

The trip is also something of a last lap for Biden, who Israelis embrace as having been a stalwart friend during his many years in the Senate and the White House. As for President Obama? Israelis have been more “meh,” a sentiment stoked by Netanyahu’s aggressive opposition to Obama’s Iran deal.

Earlier Tuesday, knife-wielding Palestinians carried out separate attacks near Tel Aviv and in Jerusalem, including at the Damascus Gate that has been the scene of repeated violence in recent months.

At least three Israelis were injured, including two policemen at the Damascus Gate. All three suspected Palestinian attackers were killed.

Biden came briefly to Israel for the funeral of former prime minister Ariel Sharon in 2014. This trip is Biden’s first state visit to Israel since a diplomatic disaster in 2010, when Israel announced during his visit construction plans in the Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem — the same settlements that successive U.S. administrations have branded as “illegitimate” and an obstacle to peace with the Palestinians.

An ensuring telephone call between Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Netanyahu in 2010 lasted 45 minutes. For 43 of them, she talked and he listened — a rarity, according to people present during the conversation or briefed afterwards.

Israelis are promising nothing of the sort on this visit, where Biden will talk not only military aid and regional stability with Israel but will also sit down with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, whose young people have unleashed a five-month wave of knife, gun and vehicular attacks against Israeli soldiers and civilians. On Thursday, Biden will meet King Abdullah II in Jordan.

The White House and Israeli defense establishment have been having high-level, closely guarded talks for months over the amount the United States will give Israel for military hardware and under what terms.

Israel is expected to get F-35 and F-16 fighter jets, spare parts, missiles and intelligence-gathering systems. A single F-35 Joint Strike Fighter costs about $110 million.

The United States is committed to guaranteeing that Israel maintains a “qualitative military edge” that allows it to defeat “any conventional threat while sustaining minimal casualties.”

Israel and its supporters say the little Jewish nation serves as a frontline picket for Western democracies in a region beset by chaos, so it deserves outsized assistance.

To the north, Israel faces the Shiite army of Hezbollah, fighting in war-wracked Syria and based in Lebanon, where the government is so dysfunctional it can’t collect the garbage. To the east, Iran. To the south, militants allied with the Islamic State are fighting Egyptian troops in the Sinai, with some assistance from Hamas, the Islamist resistance movement and terror organization in Gaza.

This would be the third 10-year memorandum. The last one, signed in 2007, provided Israel with $30 billion through 2017.

Israeli leaders hope to get more aid going forward. The Israeli media, citing unnamed sources, say Netanyahu and the defense establishment want at least $40 billion over 10 years, plus ongoing spending for the co-development of air-defense systems.

U.S. diplomats warn that the numbers are closely held and that it is not just the total but how the money can be spent — meaning how much goes to U.S. defense contractors and how much Israel can spend on its own companies.

In another sign of continuing tension between the Israeli government and the White House, Netanyahu canceled a visit to the United States this month, though the circumstances were disputed.

According to reports in the Israeli media, Netanyahu’s office told reporters that one of the reasons he scrapped the trip was because scheduling conflicts made it impossible to find a mutually agreeable time to see Obama before he travels to Cuba.

But the White House fired back, saying it had invited Netanyahu to come on one of two days the Israelis requested, and until Monday they were expecting the meeting to occur. Administration officials said they found out Netanyahu would be a no-show from the Israeli media, not from the prime minister.

“We were looking forward to hosting the bilateral meeting, and we were surprised to first learn via media reports that the prime minister, rather than accept our invitation, opted to cancel his visit,” said Ned Price, a spokesman for the National Security Council. “Reports that we were not able to accommodate the prime minister’s schedule are false.”

Netanyahu’s office said the Israeli ambassador, Ron Dermer, gave a bit of a heads-up on Friday, alerting the White House that there was a “good chance” he would have to cancel. His office also criticized the Israeli press reports, which emerged Monday before the White House was officially notified. The Israelis said the reports that Obama was unwilling to meet with Netanyahu were wrong.

Last year, Netanyahu broke off talks on the military-aid package during the U.S.-led nuclear negotiations with Iran because the prime minister didn’t want it to appear that he was willing to bend on Iran to get some additional cash.

Yet in a sign that negotiations were stuck, Netanyahu suggested at a public cabinet meeting in early February that Israel might decide unilaterally to wait for the next administration to get a better deal.

Since the end of World War II, Israel has received more foreign aid than any other nation — $121 billion in non-inflation-adjusted dollars. The United States pays about 20 percent of Israel’s total military budget. No other country gets that kind of foreign military aid; the closest is Egypt, which received $1.3 billion last year.

In addition to the $3 billion a year in direct military aid, the White House points out that U.S. ­spending on Israel’s new cutting-edge air defenses has soared in the past decade, from $133 million in 2006 to $619 million in 2015.

For diplomats, Netanyahu’s threat to wait for the next administration was revealing.

“If there were a high level of confidence things were moving in the right direction, there would be no reason to go public,” said Dennis Ross, a former U.S. diplomat who wrote a book on the sometimes cantankerous U.S.-Israeli relationship called “Doomed to Succeed.”

“This is an indication that what they hoped to achieve does not look promising at this point,” Ross said.

The White House countered by citing spending caps mandated by Congress.

“These talks are taking place in the context of a challenging budgetary environment in the United States that has necessitated difficult trade-offs amongst competing priorities,” said a senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss ongoing closed-door talks.

The official said that the administration was offering Israel the largest-single pledge of military aid in U.S. history, and in effect dared Netanyahu to wait for a better deal.

Sallai Meridor, a former Israeli ambassador to the United States, who helped negotiate the last 10-year military-aid package, said he thought it would have been better for Obama and Netanyahu to come up with a final number and then let their technical staffs decide the details.

Aaron David Miller, a former U.S. diplomat who is now an analyst at the Wilson Center, said the U.S. military aid will help Netanyahu make the case that his opposition to the Iran nuclear didn’t cost Israel anything.

“In the wake of the Iran deal, there is a need on the part of Israelis to justify and validate all the broken crockery Netanyahu caused by inserting himself in the middle of the president’s premier foreign policy initiative,” he said. “By tough bargaining, he acquiesced in the agreement but got all these bells and whistles in return.”

Miller said turmoil in the Middle East and election-year politics in the United States also make it advantageous for Obama to help Israel defend itself.

“It’s very unlikely you’ll have a major blowup on the military-security relationship at a time when the region is melting down, when you have very little stability and predictability, and the president really wants to do everything he possibly can to ensure there is a Democrat that succeeds him,” he said.

Morello reported from Washington.

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Biden arrives in Israel to talk billions in military aid — and patch things up – Washington Post