US extends $4bn Israel loan program
The United States agreed on Wednesday to extend its $4 billion loan guarantee program to Israel until 2016, a gesture that shows continued commitment to the Jewish state less than two weeks before the American presidential elections.
The move allows the United States to provide up to $3.8 billion in future loan guarantees, as part of a $9 billion commitment made by the US in 2003.
The program was meant to expire this year.
The American Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner and Doron Cohen, the director general of the Israeli finance ministry, signed the agreement during a US-Israel Joint Economic Development Group meeting in Washington, according to Israeli newspaper Haaretz.
“The loan guarantees agreement attests to the special economic relationship between Israel and US,” said Yuval Steinitz, Israel’s finance minister.
“I welcome the growing cooperation between the two countries, especially their treasuries,” Steinitz added while thanking Geithner.
The loan guarantees are independent of $10 billion in annual US military assistance to Israel and joint US-Israel missile defense projects. In 2007, US President George W. Bush agreed to a 10-year military aid package costing $30 billion.
According to a March 2012 report by the Congressional Research Service, Israel is “the largest cumulative recipient of US foreign assistance since World War II.” The report alleges that Israel had received $115 billion from the United States to date, most of it in the form of military assistance.
The report also stated that US financial assistance to Israel is typically delivered within the first 30 days of the fiscal year, whereas most other recipients receive aid in installments.
Scandal surfaced in Washington earlier this month after 15 church leaders sent a letter to Congress asking for an investigation to ensure American military aid to Israel was not used to commit human rights violations against Palestinians.
The Jewish Council for Public Affairs responded by canceling a long-planned interfaith meeting and by issuing an outraged public statement, in which JCPA President Rabbi Steve Gutow accused the enquiry of being part of “relentless attacks on the Jewish state” and a sign of “vicious anti-Zionism that has gone virtually unchecked in several of these denominations.”
Presidential incumbent Obama and his contender Mitt Romney have competed in displays of loyalty to the Jewish state over the course of the election campaigns, mentioning Israel dozens of times during the last presidential debate on Monday, which centered on foreign policy. The debate was devoid of criticism of Israel’s repeated human rights abuses against Palestinians.
Obama has hailed Israel as “a true friend and our greatest ally in the region,” later adding that he “will stand with Israel if they are attacked.” Meanwhile, Romney has expressed similar sentiments, his website going so far as to call Israel “a beacon of democracy and freedom in the [Middle East].”