More talk on a U.S.-Israeli defense treaty. But where's IDF Chief Kochavi?

The US is Israel’s strongest ally, giving the Jewish State over $3 billion a year in military aid and considers Israel a “major non-NATO ally.”

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September 15, 2019 23:40
4 minute read.
A general view shows the dock of the U.S. aircraft carrier USS George H. W. Bush, as it docks at Hai

A general view shows the dock of the U.S. aircraft carrier USS George H. W. Bush, as it docks at Haifa port, Israel July 3, 2017. (photo credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)

We know what the politicians and talking heads think, but one central voice is missing: What does IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi think of a US-Israel defense treaty?

Speaking on Israeli television on Saturday three days before the election, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described the pact as “historic” and “great,” but did not delve into the details of what such a treaty would add to Jerusalem’s already close defense ties with Washington.

The US is Israel’s strongest ally, giving the Jewish state over $3 billion a year in military aid and viewing Israel as a “major non-NATO ally.”

The idea of a formal treaty has been repeatedly discussed, but each time it was determined to be unnecessary by both parties.

So why now?

Amos Yadlin, former head of IDF Military Intelligence, took to Twitter on Sunday to criticize the idea, saying it was “a quick-draw shot from the hip” on the eve of Israel’s election.

“Ostensibly at this timing, this is clearly about election propaganda, and not a ripe policy step in Israel, nor in Washington,” he wrote. “A defense treaty with the US would strengthen Israel’s deterrence, but its costs will outweigh its benefits. The subject has been discussed and turned down due to five main reasons: preservation of our independence and freedom of action, free of US approval; keeping opacity about Israel strategic capabilities attributed to Israel by international media; upholding the fundamental principle of Israel’s defense that “We protect ourselves by ourselves”,” wrote Yadlin, who now serves as the head of the Tel Aviv University-affiliated Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) think tank.

“We should not risk American soldiers in our defense!” he continued. “IDF fight on our borders, not expeditionary wars around the world. The Golani brigade in Afghanistan? No thanks… Defense treaties entail the borders to be defended. Does the Prime Minister intend to discuss our borders with the US Senate now,” asked Yadlin on Twitter. “In short: all POLITICS, not POLICY.”

Former defense minister and Blue and White party leader Moshe Ya’alon also slammed the idea, telling Army Radio on Sunday that had the treaty been in effect several years ago, “we would not have been able to bomb the Syrian nuclear reactor, as president Bush was against the action.”

Former US ambassador Dan Shapiro told The Jerusalem Post that US President Donald Trump’s “11th hour preelection tweet” is not a very serious discussion about an idea that both countries have repeatedly walked away from.

“The fact is that every time this issue has been examined seriously by both countries, both countries have backed off repeatedly,” said Shapiro, who served as US ambassador to Israel between 2011 and 2017.

“Would a defense pact change anything? If anything, it could limit Israel’s freedom of action instead of expanding US participation,” said Shapiro, a senior fellow at the INSS think tank.

“The Israelis think their hands can be tied if the US had to be consulted before taking action meaning that their freedom of action could be constrained by such a treaty. The American side has also determined that it should not feel implicated should Israel take action in self defense,” he continued.

According to Shapiro, a defense treaty has been a “periodic topic of discussion” over the past 25 years and various American administrations.

“But it has never advanced very far because the thinking has been quite consistent by decision-makers in both countries. No one has made a compelling case as to why it could be different or helpful now when the US and Israel are very close.”

It’s true. The security partnership between the two allies has only become stronger over the decades. The intelligence sharing, the joint military drills, the joint missile defense programs and other technological advancements have only increased ties between Washington and Israel.

“Israel knows it has strong US backing should it need it in times of emergency,” Shapiro said.

But, he stressed, while Israel appreciates the strong relationship and military benefits they get from the Americans, “Israel is seen as a partner who can take care of its own needs” without help from US troops unless it was under great duress.

“Israel fights its own battles,” Shapiro said. “They don’t ask the Americans to fight their battles.”

While a Saturday night tweet may have the policy-makers in the defense establishment in both Washington and Jerusalem shaking their heads, is this a subject that military chiefs like Kochavi just sweep under the rug hoping that it gathers dust?

It might be.

It could be just another attempt at grabbing more votes for Mr. Security, an attempt that Shapiro said he doubted would have any serious effect on Israelis when they go to the polls on Tuesday.

“Trump clearly went out of his way to help Netanyahu in April with the Golan recognition and many other steps widely understood to help him win the election,” Shapiro said. “This time he’s been much more muted, perhaps because he’s concerned Netanyahu might lose the election.”

Trump, he said, has “a problem of being associated with losers.”


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