The U.S. State Department has backed away from a demand that Israel return $75 million in military aid which was allocated to it by the U.S. Congress.
The repayment demand, championed by U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, was described as an underhanded attempt by the State Department to derail a campaign pledge by U.S. President Donald J. Trump to improve relations with the Jewish state.
The dispute is the just the latest example of what appears to be a growing power struggle between the State Department and the White House over the future direction of American foreign policy.
The controversy goes back to the Obama administration's September 2016 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Israel, which pledged $38 billion in military assistance to Jerusalem over the next decade. The MOU expressly prohibits Israel from requesting additional from Congress.
Congressional leaders, who said the MOU violates the constitutional right of lawmakers to allocate U.S. aid, awarded Israel an additional $75 million in assistance in the final appropriations bill for fiscal year 2017.
Tillerson had argued that Israel should return the $75 million in order to stay within the limits established by the . The effort provoked a strong reaction from Congress, which apparently prompted Tillerson to back down.
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) "strongly warned the State Department that such action would be unwise and invite unwanted conflict with Israel," according to the .
Speaking to the , Rep. Peter Roskam (R-IL) added:
"As Iran works to surround Israel on every border, and Hezbollah and Hamas rearm, we must work to strengthen our alliance with Israel, not strain it. Congress has the right to allocate money as it deems necessary, and security assistance to Israel is a top priority. Congress is ready to ensure Israel receives the assistance it needs to defend its citizens."
A veteran congressional advisor told the Free Beacon:
"This is a transparent attempt by career staffers in the State Department to mess with the Israelis and derail the efforts of Congressional Republicans and President Trump to rebuild the US-Israel relationship. There's no reason to push for the Israelis to return the money, unless you're trying to drive a wedge between Israel and Congress, which is exactly what this is. It won't work."
Another foreign policy operative said: "It's not clear to me why the Secretary of State wishes to at once usurp the powers of the Congress and then to derail his boss's rapprochement with the Israeli government."
Since he was sworn in as Secretary of State on February 1, Tillerson and his advisors at the State Department have made a number of statements and policy decisions that contradict Trump's key campaign promises on foreign policy, especially regarding Israel and Iran.
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