Time to revise the US-Israel security understanding - opinion

The new and revised MOU will go a long way to translate the “Enduring, unshakable, steadfast, bipartisan and sacrosanct US commitment” to Israel’s security into a plan of action.

 PRIME MINISTER Yair Lapid and US President Joe Biden sign a security pledge in Jerusalem, in July. (photo credit: ATEF SAFADI/REUTERS)
PRIME MINISTER Yair Lapid and US President Joe Biden sign a security pledge in Jerusalem, in July.
(photo credit: ATEF SAFADI/REUTERS)

The new National Security Strategy issued by the US administration several days ago underlines the long term, global priorities of the US, which clearly are headed by the rivalry with China.

It shapes the global scene for the next decade in terms of a conflict between the free, democratic and current global order camp and an authoritarian, ruthless and challenging camp to this order.

This rivalry is at present focused on the race for technological supremacy, energy resources, markets and strategic deployment in key geopolitical areas but could expand to local and regional military confrontations. 

For Israel the new global reality of a duel between two ideological camps, one headed by the US, Europe and most of the Indo-Pacific big economies, the other being the renewed China-Russia collaboration, is a clear invitation to review whether its comfort zone where it could work its way between maintaining strong political, economic and security relations with the US while enjoying the economic benefits of collaborating with the Chinese economy, still exists. 

Tech is the future 

 Israel's Security Council meets to discuss Lebanon maritime border deal, October 12, 2022 (credit: AMOS BEN-GERSHOM/GPO) Israel's Security Council meets to discuss Lebanon maritime border deal, October 12, 2022 (credit: AMOS BEN-GERSHOM/GPO)

Technology being at the heart of the current and future phases of the global race is best exemplified by the injection of tens of billions of dollars in the US into the rebirth of the American semiconductor industry and turning the White House Office of Science and Technology to a cabinet-level agency and member of the National Security Council. These developments serve best to illustrate the challenges and potential opportunities Israel faces.

Key areas in the great power science and technology confrontation often cited are artificial intelligence, sixth and seventh communication generations, quantum computation and semiconductors. The latter is already in a state of war between the US and China, which can best exemplify the challenges and opportunities for Israel in the new international world being shaped.

While Israel is a globally small producer of semiconductors, Intel Israel is the largest Israeli producer of semiconductors and one of the biggest private-sector employers in Israel, and most of its exports end up in China. This is clearly a very sensitive issue that has to be dealt with by the highest political and security echelons in the US and Israel. 

During President Joe Biden’s visit to Israel in July this year, he and Prime Minister Yair Lapid signed the “Jerusalem Declaration” in which they laid the foundation for much wider cooperation on what they labeled as cutting-edge defense technologies such as high-energy laser weapons systems as well as cyber and climate change. 

That, as well as the recent US CHIPS and Science Act, the new NSS and the Memorandum of Understanding (military aid between Israel and the United States) are the framework for our proposal. 

The current MOU between the US and Israel will expire in 2028, and we propose to replace it by a newly structured one. Given that a large part of the military assistance is earmarked for expansive platforms such as the F-35, that part will remain in the revised MOU. A new part would be added upon agreement on financing bilateral science and technology cooperation by both governments upon an agreed formula.

In proposing that, we draw attention to Israel’s full participation in the European Union Research and Development seven-year cyclical programs. Since Israel is not an EU member, it pays an annual membership “fee” based on a formula agreed by the Government of Israel and the EU authorities and which Israel’s R&D institutions retrieve in grants they win for joint projects they submit with European partners. This method can be applied to the R&D stage in developing the systems associated with the technologies enumerated in the Jerusalem Declarations. 

This model can be adjusted allowing, for example, Israel-based American companies, Israeli companies with US investments or commercial relations with the US market to benefit from funds appropriated in the CHIPS and Science Act by setting aside an America-Israeli cooperation fund, whose funding would partially come from Israel. 

The new and revised MOU will go a long way to translate the “Enduring, unshakable, steadfast, bipartisan and sacrosanct US commitment” to Israel’s security into a plan of action. Iran is the major threat to Israel’s long term security but there are other emerging new realities, including the bipolar rivalry. Israel has not viewed its interests and security being threatened by China and Russia but it may nevertheless be affected by the fallout of the developing “war of the semiconductors” as well as Russia’s aggression in Ukraine. 

The revised MOU could provide the answer for the US concerns of maintaining cooperation with allies and partners and will reflect not just the US commitment to Israel’s security but the sharing of political values, global and regional interests and their readiness to cooperate in their pursuit. 

Oded Eran is a veteran Israeli diplomat and a senior researcher at the Glazer Israel-China Center, the Institute for National Security Studies,Tel Aviv.Mel Levine is counsel at the international law firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher and served as a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee during his tenure as a US congressman.