'The final pre-election promise of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s diplomatic blitz, which included vows to annex the Jordan Valley area and all West Bank settlements and wage a decisive war against Hamas, was to start negotiating a US-Israel defense treaty.
Many observers viewed this Netanyahu pledge as just another way for him to flaunt his close personal ties with US President Donald Trump, and dismissed the idea of a mutual defense pact as old, unrealistic, and — worst of all — detrimental to Israeli security interests.
Given the already robust US-Israel defense cooperation, formalizing it in a mutual defense treaty would bring little to no additional benefit, say many experts, including former top diplomats and defense officials. Instead, these critics warn, it may hamper Israel’s freedom to act militarily and would likely include an obligation to send troops on overseas missions to fight America’s wars.
“This is a serious issue deserving deep discussion, and not a quick shot from the hip on the eve of an election, with the Israeli public unaware of its profound implications,” said Amos Yadlin, a former head of Israeli military intelligence.
As with Netanyahu’s other major policy announcements, which were made hastily and deliberately kept vague, the devil is in the details. Whether a “Mutual Defense Treaty,” as Trump termed the ostensible future deal in a tweet Saturday, would be good for the Jewish state depends, of course, on the fine print.
In the days before the elections, Netanyahu appeared more interested in stressing the “historic” achievement to get the US president to publicly commit to discussing such a move than in detailing its implications in any depth.
“This is historic because it adds a powerful component of deterrence against our enemies, alongside maintaining the ability to act, and freedom of action, of our forces,” he declared on Sunday. “On this we will always insist, and it will always be in this defensive agreement just as it has entered into the other defensive agreements. This is a main component for coming generations to ensure our future.”
Netanyahu was trying to defang the main point critics make when denouncing the idea of a defense alliance — that it potentially ties the hands of Israel’s military.
In the absence of the specifics, it is not clear that such a pact would give the US the ability to veto Israeli operations, but if it did, this would have potentially dramatic implications.
If Washington and Jerusalem had agreed to such a pact prior to June 1981, for instance, Israel would not have destroyed Iraq’s nuclear reactor, Netanyahu’s former defense minister (and current political rival) Moshe Ya’alon argued Sunday in a radio interview. “Because the Americans were against it. President [George] Bush was against it. And therefore it wouldn’t have happened.”
Read more: IDF troops in Afghanistan? What a US-Israel mutual defense treaty could mean
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