JERUSALEM (AFP) — The United States signed a deal on Thursday to boost its military aid to Israel to 30 billion dollars over the next decade aimed at countering a "resurgent" Iran and its allies.
"The United States has an abiding interest in the state of Israel," US Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns said before signing the memorandum of understanding for the aid package with the director general of the Israeli foreign ministry in Jerusalem.
"The United States understands that Israel lives in an increasingly dangerous region ... where Iran is resurgent, where Iran is seeking a nuclear capability, where it is seeking to expand its conventional power," he said.
"There is now a nexus of cooperation between Iran, Syria, Hezbollah ... and other groups that are responsible for conflict in this region," including the Palestinian Hamas, he said.
A statement from the office of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who met the US envoy late Wednesday, said the deal "illustrates the depth of the relationship between the two countries and the commitment of the United States to the defence of Israel and preserving its qualitative superiority."
The package, unveiled by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on July 30, is part of a new military pact with US allies in the region aimed at countering the "negative influences" of the Al-Qaeda terror network, Lebanon's Hezbollah militant group and arch-enemies Iran and Syria.
The bonanza includes a 20-billion-dollar weapons package for Saudi Arabia, one of 13 billion dollars for Egypt, and reportedly arms deals worth at least 20 billion dollars for other Gulf allies.
The aid to Israel reflects an increase in value of more than 25 percent, with Olmert describing it as a considerable improvement and an important element for national security.
With current US defence aid to Israel standing at 2.4 billion dollars a year, the new package will raise the value of assistance by 600 million dollars a year on average, officials said.
The total 30 billion dollar figure represents almost 4,286 dollars for each Israeli citizen.
The deal includes what Burns described as a "unique" clause to US military foreign aid, which allows Israel to use 26.3 percent of the annual aid to buy equipment from its own defence industry.
Burns, who will stay in the region until Friday, will meet other senior Israeli officials later on Thursday for "discussions on regional security, including the challenge posed by Iran," the US State Department said.
Washington and Israel, which is widely considered to be the Middle East's sole if undeclared nuclear power, are increasingly alarmed by Iran's nuclear programme, which they suspect is a cover for developing atomic weapons.
Tehran insists the programme is for peaceful, civilian energy purposes.
Israel views the Islamic republic as its arch-enemy after repeated calls by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for it to be wiped off the map.
Burns will not travel from Israel to the other Middle East allies to discuss the announced arms deals as part of his trip.
On Friday he will meet Palestinian Authority leaders regarding "the development of a political horizon" and US humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian people.
Bogged down in Iraq, Washington has sought to increase efforts to jumpstart the dormant Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, including the planned hosting of an international peace conference called for by President George W. Bush for the autumn.
Current American aid represents 20 percent of Israel's military budget and four percent of the nation's overall budget.
Israel has for years been a major recipient of American aid, receiving some 84 billion dollars in military and other assistance over the past 55 years, according to the Institute for National Security Studies.
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