Just say no to a mutual defense treaty with the US

Israel and the US are the best friends. This imposes special responsibilities on both.

US Army General and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley meeting with his Israeli counterparts (photo credit: IDF)
US Army General and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley meeting with his Israeli counterparts
(photo credit: IDF)
Despite the wonderful support and friendship from President Donald Trump and the US Congress, the very worst thing that Israel can do is to sign a mutual defense treaty with the United States, if offered.
 
Yes, you read that right!
 
Israel should never sign a mutual defense treaty with the US. If we examine all such agreements and how they were invoked in time of need, we will find that there has never been (and will not be) immediate military action by the US against any aggressor state. The maximum we can hope for is America urging Israel not to react on its own and to give the US time to investigate and consult other friendly states. The White House might threaten to destroy the aggressor’s economy – which even if attempted, will take a long time.
The US will negotiate with its other allies or friendly states, or apply to the UN Security Council for an urgent session. It will not undertake any immediate military action. Israel will have to destroy the aggressor on its own.
 
We can see what happened in a case not involving Israel. Then-president Barack Obama “drew a line in the sand” and warned Syria not to drop poison gas on its own citizens. The Syrians ignored this and the US bombers were lined up ready to take off when Obama stopped them. He did this because he had other US obligations and policies to take into consideration.
It will always be so.
 
In 1969-1970, a war of attrition raged between Israel and Egypt across the Suez Canal. Israel had complete air superiority. The US tried to broker a ceasefire. One of the main stumbling blocks was that Egypt had received Russian SAM 3 missiles, which were placed around Cairo. The Israel Air Force constantly prevented the Egyptians from advancing the missiles to the canal, which would endanger all Israeli aircraft flying over Sinai, not only those overflying Egypt.
 
Right after Israel Independence Day in 1967, Egyptian president Gamal Nasser ordered the UN Truce Supervision Organization out of Sinai, and they left immediately. Then he closed the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping, and threatened war. Israel feared a new Holocaust and prepared 10,000 graves. The Israeli armed forces were 100% mobilized for almost three weeks. The government took in opposition MKs to form the first national unity government in Israel’s history.
 
The situation had been foreseen at the close of the 1956 war. The US gave a letter to Israel providing that the straits would always be open to world shipping, and if anyone closed them, the US would make sure that they were opened. Israel’s foreign minister Abba Eban rushed to Washington and implored the Americans to open the straits as provided in the “letter.” 
 
A funny thing happened. The Americans searched high and low in the State Department and couldn’t find a copy of the letter.
Nevertheless, they felt they must do something to open the straits. They tried to set up an international naval force to open them, but almost no countries wanted to join. It never occurred to them that they could send one battleship or one aircraft carrier and solve the problem.
 
Israel and the US are the best friends. This imposes special responsibilities on both. The Americans must seriously consider whether in fact they will be able to carry out any promises they make to share the risks they want Israel to undertake in real time and on the ground. Israel must seriously consider whether it can bear the risks alone if the Americans cannot or will not bear their share in time.
 
The writer is a retired Tel Aviv lawyer. He can be reached at [email protected]