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September 22, 2019 4:19 am

What a Successful US-Israel Defense Pact Would Look Like

avatar by Yoram Ettinger


A worker on a crane hangs a US flag next to an Israeli flag near the site of the US Embassy in Jerusalem. Photo: Reuters / Ronen Zvulun.

A constructive US-Israel defense pact should be based on shared values and shared strategic interests, expanding the two-way-street, win-win US-Israel strategic cooperation.

An effective US-Israel defense pact should enhance Israel’s self-reliance and independence, rather than Israel’s dependence upon the US.

A useful US-Israel defense pact should bolster and leverage Israel’s posture of deterrence at the geographic junction of the Mediterranean-Europe-Africa-Asia, which is a focal point of global terrorism, the proliferation of ballistic and nuclear technologies, and unpredictable tectonic military eruptions. Israel’s role is doubly critical at a time when Europe’s posture of deterrence is rapidly collapsing.

A beneficial US-Israel defense pact should further extend the strategic hand of the US — through Israel’s proven capabilities — without additional US aircraft carriers and troops in the Middle East.

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A worthwhile US-Israel defense pact should underscore the role of Israel as the most cost-effective, battle-tested laboratory of US defense industries, upgrading US military performance, research and development, production, export, and employment. The unique Israeli battle experience has benefited US military operations by enhancing the formulation of US battle tactics and maneuverability.

The primary aim of a constructive US-Israel defense pact is not to defend Israel, but to face mutual threats and challenges such as the conventional and non-conventional threats of Iran’s ayatollahs, global Islamic Sunni terrorism, the emergence of additional rogue regimes in the Middle East, lethal threats to every pro-US Arab regime, the violent unpredictability and unreliability of the Middle East, and the need to maintain a military and commercial technological edge, etc.

An effective US-Israel defense pact must not constrain Israel’s freedom of unilateral, self-defense military action against clear and present threats, which has bolstered Israel’s posture of deterrence, and therefore transformed the Jewish state into a most reliable beachhead of the US. Tying Israel’s military hands would erode Israel’s posture of deterrence, thus shrinking its contribution to US interests.

For instance, the 1981 and the 2007 Israeli bombings of Iraq’s and Syria’s nuclear reactors saved the globe from the wrath of a nuclearized Saddam Hussein and Bashar al-Assad. Israel’s 1967 preemptive war against a unified Arab offensive was opposed by the US, but devastated the pro-Soviet Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser, who strove to topple the pro-US Arab Gulf regimes.

Defense pacts do not stifle unilateral military actions, as documented by the NATO Treaty, which stipulates (Article 4): “The Parties will consult together whenever, in the opinion of any of them, the territorial integrity, political independence, or security of any of the Parties is threatened.”

The aim of a valuable US-Israel defense pact is to confront threats and challenges in the larger regional and global context, not the Arab-Israeli conflict and the Palestinian issue, which have never been core causes of regional turbulence, and — irrespective of Arab talk — have never been a top priority of the Arab world.

The aim of a compelling US-Israel defense pact must never involve US troops on Israel’s borders, nor determination of Israel’s future borders, nor any reference to Israeli withdrawals from the strategic high-ground of the Judea and Samaria mountain ridges (the cradle of Jewish history). Such a retreat would downgrade Israel from a strategic asset to a strategic liability.

A mutually-beneficial US-Israel defense pact should focus on:

  • A substantial enhancement — qualitatively and quantitatively — of the pre-positioned US military stockpiles in Israel;
  • Upgrading intelligence-sharing, benefiting from Israel’s unique network of intelligence;
  • Boosting counter-terrorism and special operations cooperation;
  • Expanding joint military exercises;
  • Providing Israel with access to more sophisticated military systems in order to test them under battle conditions, while sustaining Israel’s qualitative military edge;
  • Improving the Haifa and Ashdod port facilities in order to accommodate the US 6th Fleet and its aircraft carrier. These locations are closer than European ports to conflict areas, providing the US Navy with a more effective platform of maneuvers, maintenance, and repair; and
  • The establishment of a series of bilateral funds in the mode of the successful bilateral BIRD Foundation, which is limited to non-defense industries. This will stimulate the joint development and manufacturing of advanced military systems by compatible US and Israeli defense contractors and startups in the areas of space and space satellites, aerospace, missile defense, cyber defense, artificial intelligence, command-control-communications-computers, unmanned systems and robotics, and electro-optics.

Productive US-Israel relations — and Israel’s own national security — behoove Israel to reject the deployment of US troops on its borders. Moreover, no treaty should be perceived as an automatic obligation of US military involvement on behalf of Israel. All US treaties are open-ended, subject to the US Constitution, which endows US presidents with the authority to avoid full implementation of treaties/guarantees.

For example, a November 15, 2001 Department of Justice memo to the White House determined that the US president has the Constitutional discretionary authority to terminate, or suspend, unilaterally, fully or partly, the 1972 USA-USSR ABM Treaty without seeking coordination with Congress, whenever the president determines that it is in the national interest to do so.

In 1985 and 1986, President Ronald Reagan unilaterally suspended security commitments to New Zealand, and terminated the Treaty of Friendship with Nicaragua. In 1979, President Jimmy Carter unilaterally terminated the mutual defense treaty with Taiwan upon the establishment of diplomatic relations with China.

Escape routes are also provided by Article 5 of NATO Treaty: “The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them shall be considered an attack against them all. … Each of them … shall assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith … such action as it deems necessary [my emphasis], including the use of armed forces [an option, but not mandatory].”

According to Hebrew University professor Michla Pomerance; “A treaty can never entail more than a contingent and tentative promise to use force in the future. … American defense commitments … are generally characterized by vagueness, non-specificity, and the explicit denial of any automatic obligation to use force … to keep the US options open and its absolute discretion intact in deciding whether, and how, to redeem its promise.”

In conclusion, a constructive US-Israel defense pact should be dedicated to the enhancement of mutually-beneficial, win-win, two-way-street cooperation in the face of regional and global mutual threats, not by the reintroduction of one-way-relations. Moreover, it should not include any reference to Israel’s withdrawal from critical high ground — which is irreversible — in return for a US military commitment, which is reversible.

Yoram Ettinger is a former ambassador and head of Second Thought: A US-Israel Initiative.

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