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Israel, United States sign military aid deal to counter Iranian influence

Friday, August 17, 2007

JERUSALEM -- The United States offered Israel an unprecedented $30 billion of military aid over 10 years on Thursday, bolstering its closest Mideast ally and ensuring the state's military edge over its neighbors long into the future.

The package was meant in part to offset U.S. plans to offer Saudi Arabia advanced weapons and air systems that would greatly improve the Arab country's air force. Israel has said it has no opposition to the Saudi aid.

The deal represents a 25 percent rise in U.S. military aid to Israel, from a current $2.4 billion a year to $3 billion a year over the next 10 years.

Undersecretary of state for political affairs Nicholas Burns said the package was meant to back peace-seeking countries like Israel and moderate Arab states in the region to counter U.S. adversaries such as Iran.

"The only way to peace is to show countries like Iran and Syria that the U.S. will remain the primary factor of stability in this region," Burns said at Israel's Foreign Ministry. "We are going to stand up for our friends."

The United States has expressed grave concern over Iran and Syria's backing of the Hezbollah militia in Lebanon. In addition, the United States charges Iran is backing Shiite insurgents in its war in Iraq and trying to develop nuclear weapons.

The United States and Israel also accuse Iran of developing nuclear bombs, a charge Tehran denies. Iran's president has said Israel should be wiped off the map. Israel considers Iran its main enemy.

Burns said the deal would ensure Israel's qualitative edge over its neighbors. The United States is also proposing a large weapons package to Saudi Arabia, which has historically been an Israeli enemy but has indicated a willingness to attend a U.S.-backed peace conference with Israel in the fall.

Saudi Arabia and other Sunni-led Arab allies of the United States are also wary of Iran's increasing influence in the region.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has said he understands the U.S. need to bolster Saudi Arabia in the face of Iran. The increase in military aid to Israel would guarantee its strategic superiority despite upgrades to other Arab countries' defense systems, Olmert has said.

Burns and Israeli Foreign Minister Director-General Aharon Abramovitch signed the memorandum of understanding that stated the "unshakable commitment of the United States to Israel's security."

The aid package to Israel was finalized in June in Washington by President Bush and Olmert.

The U.S. has long-standing commitments to Israel and to Egypt, which in 1979 became the first Arab state to make peace with Israel. Egypt currently receives $1.3 billion a year in military assistance.

Israel's central bank chief, Stanley Fischer, said the U.S. aid is of "critical importance" to Israel, whose defense budget constitutes about 10 percent of its Gross Domestic Product.

The Bush administration must still receive congressional approval for the aid deal, but Burns said he believed there would be little opposition.


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