President Clinton and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak agreed to establish the Strategic Policy Planning Group composed of senior representatives of the national-security entities of both countries to bolster Israel's defense and deterrence capabilities. The group will meet at four-month intervals, and the two leaders agreed July 19, 1999, to meet regularly to review its recommendations.
Israel sought the upgrade in strategic relations to send a message to its Arab neighbors that the U.S.-Israeli relationship has recovered from the tensions that marked the tenure of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, according to Israeli officials. The two leaders also concluded that bilateral defense relations would be further consolidated and strengthened under a Defense Policy Advisory Group. This group will coordinate between the U.S. Department of Defense and the Israeli Ministry of Defense.
Clinton also agreed to increase U.S. military aid to Israel by nearly one-third, from $1.9 billion a year currently to $2.4 billion annually over the next decade -- if Congress approves. Part of this aid be spent on Israel's next major arms purchase, 50 advanced F-16 fighter jets. Barak decided during his Washington visit on the F-16s in a deal worth $2.5 billion, making it the largest ever defense contract signed by the state. Israel will also receive U.S. funding for its acquisition of the third Arrow battery to counter ballistic missile threats. The U.S. and Israel also committed to expand their collaborative efforts to develop new technologies and systems designed to deal with ballistic missiles.
The administration is also urging Congress to approve a special $1.2 billion appropriation to Israel for fulfilling the terms of the Wye accord. This assistance is to help the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) fund further redeployments, and toward meeting Israel's broader strategic requirements, including Theater Missile Defense, helicopters, communications and munitions devices, as well as assistance in meeting the increased cost of counter-terrorism
Clinton and Barak also pledged to increase joint participation in the realms of water resource development, tourism and space exploration. The U.S. has pledged to work with Israel and with other regional partners and their private sectors to promote the development of additional sources of water, including desalination. Both leaders have also agreed that tourism presents an opportunity for the entire region to spread economic benefits to the peoples of the Middle East. Lastly, Barak and Clinton agreed to form a joint working group of NASA and the Israel Space Agency to collaborate on scientific research projects, educational activities, and the development of the peaceful use of space for the benefit of people around the world. The President also informed the Prime Minister that an Israeli astronaut would fly on a shuttle mission in the year 2000.