U.S.-Israel Mutual Defense Pact?

President Donald Trump and Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.)  are advocating a “Mutual Defense” pact with Israel. Senator Graham has stated that “This would be a game-changer for Israel’s security and would be sending the right message to Iran and other bad actors.”

President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands during their joint press conference, Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2017, in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C. (Official White House Photo by Benjamin D. Applebaum)

The idea has been broached in the past.  Following the 1967 Six Day War, numerous U.S. officials and academicians called for the treaty as a way of bolstering the Jewish State and allowing its government to move more confidently in peace negotiations. The concept again came into vogue in discussions during both the 1970’s and 80’s, eventually producing Washington’s recognition of Israel as a key “Non-NATO Ally.” Israel brought up the formal treaty idea again in 1996, without results. 

While confidence in American support for Israel is currently high during the Trump Administration, which has been more pro-Israel than any of its predecessors, memories of President Obama’s sharp tilt away from the Jewish State and, still inexplicably, towards Iran remain sharp. A treaty would cement the good relations between the two countries.

Ironically, one of the key side-effects of a mutual defense treaty would be improved relations between Israel and some of its Arab neighbors.  Despite lingering animosity, the reality of Middle Eastern politics is that Iran presents a real national security threat to the interests of nations such as Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt.  Israel’s existence had, in the past, presented internal political problems for Islamic states, but no real military challenge unless those states attacked Israel. 

Yossi Beilin, writing in Al-Monitor, notes that “From the US side, this would not be a commitment to protect a small, weak state with whom relations are essentially one-sided. Israel is a Western, democratic bastion in the Middle East with a rare level of technological innovation that it puts at the disposal of the United States. It could further boost the technological intimacy with the United States within the framework of a defense treaty. Potential opposition by Arab states is very different now from what it was decades ago, not only because oil no longer offers the leverage it once did but also because the anti-Iranian coalition has been a game-changer in the Middle East. The United States can also promise pro-Western Arab states that once regional peace is achieved, they too would be candidates for such a treaty.”

The United States would gain a technologically sophisticated and militarily capable ally in a portion of the world that continues, and indeed increases, to be threatening.

While the Jewish State is diminutive both in population and geography compared to its neighbors, its military is considered one of the world’s most effective.  Additionally, the Israeli Defense Forces are said to possess approximately a hundred nuclear weapons, which could prove a vital counterweight to Iran, which seeks to possess atomic bombs.  Turkey, which was once pro-Israel, has become increasingly distant both to the United States and Israel as President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan moves his state away from democracy and non-sectarianism and closer to both Islamic fundamentalism and Russia.

Russia has a major naval base in the Syrian city of Tartus, and has propped up the genocidal regime of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.  Writing in Foreign Policy, Laura Seligman reports that “ Kathryn Wheelbarger, the acting assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, warned of Russia and Iran’s creeping influence in the Middle East, saying both have ‘revisionist ambitions’ in the region.

The Council on Foreign Relations notes that “Since 1992, Russia has sold Iran hundreds of major weapons systems” to Iran.”  In June, Moscow offered its sophisticated S-400 air defense system to Iran.  It has already sold that system to Turkey.

As Turkey drifts further away from the United States and NATO, Israel could provide some measure of strategic replacement, at least until (and if) Erdoğan’s government is replaced with a more pro-Western version.

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