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Outgoing Pentagon chief Mattis rejects Netanyahu's appeal: Report

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
The file photo shows outgoing US Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis attending a ceremony in the White House in Washington, DC. on July 30, 2018. (AFP)

Outgoing United States Secretary of Defense James Mattis has rejected an appeal made by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to approve an Israeli sale of US-manufactured F-16 fighter jets, a report says.

Washington criticized the sale as a move to weaken and compete with the American arms market, according to an unnamed Israeli official speaking to Israel’s Channel 10 television network on Thursday.

The $500-million sale of 12 F-16 aircraft to Croatia, equipped with Israeli electronic systems, required American approval.

Washington, however, demanded that Israel only sell the planes in their original condition, removing the Israeli upgrades.

Furthermore, Mattis reportedly rejected a personal appeal by Netanyahu two weeks ago, reminding the Israeli prime minister that the United States “goes to great lengths to help its closest ally in the Middle East.”

The Israeli official added that "for reasons we don't fully understand, the Americans hardened their conditions and, apparently, we misread their position on the deal.”

“Practically, the F-16 deal with Croatia is dead and we don't think it is possible to get an agreement that will reconcile the US conditions and the Croatian demands in the tender.”

Last week, Mattis cancelled a planned trip to Israel that had been reportedly set to be focused on talks regarding Iran and Syria. The move came after the defense secretary resigned, citing disagreements with President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw US forces from Syria.

As the US government is in shutdown due to a dispute with Congress over the allocation of $5 billion in funds needed for Trump’s proposed southern border wall, the US enforced a whooping 10-year $38-billion aid package to Tel Aviv last October.

The aid package, which includes an annual $3.3-billion contribution, was signed during the tenure of former US President Barack Obama in 2016. The package will provide Israel with free military material until 2028.

Earlier in October, Congress further proposed a motion to legally enforce the aid package, ensuring that future presidents could not suspend the package or use it to pressure Israel.

The motion, which has yet to be approved by the Senate, seeks to set up a special mechanism to fund the aid independently from the annual budget as to protect it from probable budgetary disputes between Congress and the White House.

Last March, Congress also approved a record-setting $705-million budget for Tel Aviv’s missile programs in 2018.

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