It wasn’t akin to the US recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, but on Saturday US President Trump extended an election gesture to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when he tweeted that he would meet the prime minister later this month and discuss an Israel-US security pact.
“I had a call today with Prime Minister Netanyahu to discuss the possibility of moving forward with a Mutual Defense Treaty, between the United States and Israel, that would further anchor the tremendous alliance between our two countries,” Trump tweeted. “I look forward to continuing those discussions after the Israeli Elections when we meet at the United Nations later this month!”
Netanyahu responded by tweeting back to Trump: “Thank you my dear friend President @realDonaldTrump. The Jewish State has never had a greater friend in the White House.”
Netanyahu, depending on the outcome of Tuesday election, is expected to attend the UN General Assembly – which Trump will also attend – that begins one week later on September 24.
Last March, some two weeks before the April 9 election, Trump recognized Israel’s control over the Golan Heights in a move that was widely seen as being timed to boost Netanyahu at the polls.
Officials have said that Netanyahu had hoped for a gesture from the president this time as well, and Saturday’s tweet appears to be what Trump is presently willing to give.
While the idea of a US-Israel defense pact has been discussed on and off for several decades, it has re-emerged in recent months. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) broached the proposal in June at a dinner hosted by the Endowment for Middle East Truth, saying he wanted Israel to be added to the list of countries with which the US has treaty obligations.
“I think it is important to send a signal in the 21st century: If you are intending to destroy Israel, you have to go through us, and it will not turn out well for you,” he said.
Graham discussed the idea of a treaty when he was in Israel in July. Politically, this is something that could benefit both Netanyahu and Trump in their upcoming electoral battles: Netanyahu in securing a another diplomatic gift from a friendly administration, and Trump in giving something to Israel that will go down well with his evangelical base.
While some analysts view such a treaty as a significant diplomatic achievement, others say such a pact could limit Israel’s operational freedom.
Former head of Military Intelligence Amos Yadlin, who now leads the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) in Tel Aviv, tweeted that raising the issue now is “clearly election propaganda that has not matured into a coherent policy,” either in Washington or Jerusalem.
Yadlin said that while such a pact would strengthen Israel’s deterrence, “its costs outweigh the benefits.”
Yadlin wrote that in the past, the issue has been raised and then dropped from the agenda for a number of reasons, including:
• Preserving the IDF’s freedom of action without needing to ask for US permission to act.
• Preserving ambiguity about “special [nuclear] capabilities” attributed to Israel.
• Harming Israel’s basic defense principle that it will “defend itself by itself.”
• Keeping the IDF as a force that protects the homeland, and does not engage in expeditionary wars around the world.
“In conclusion,” Yadlin tweeted, “This is a very serious issue that needs deep discussion, and not something pulled out on the eve of elections without the public understanding in detail its significance.”
On the other side of the issue, one of the organizations that has been pushing for such a pact – through a limited one – is the Jewish Institute for National Security of America (JINSA).
The organization issued a report in July saying that the primary purpose of such a mutual defense pact “is to add an extra layer of deterrence to Israel’s strategic position, and to America’s position in the Middle East, and ultimately a last line of defense.”
The paper said that unlike the other defense treaties the US has with some 50 other countries, this one should be narrow and “cover only a defined set of exceptional circumstances that would place either country in extreme peril.”
These circumstances, according to the paper, would include the threat or use of weapons of mass destruction; major armed attack by a powerful regional or global power, or coalition of powers; an assault threatening vital lines of air and sea communication; an attack undermining Israel’s qualitative military edge; or an urgent request from either government.