Not a gimmick

A treaty between Israel and its greatest ally, the US, was reduced to an election campaign gimmick.

Soldiers from the C4i Cyber Defense Directorate. (photo credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)
Soldiers from the C4i Cyber Defense Directorate.
‘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,” US President Donald Trump tweeted on Saturday. “I look forward to continuing those discussions after the Israeli Elections when we meet at the United Nations later this month!”
Netanyahu thanked Trump in a subsequent tweet: “The Jewish State has never had a greater friend in the White House... We will continue full steam ahead with our common battle against terrorism.”
In Hebrew, Netanyahu tweeted: “On Friday, I received support from President Trump, and [Blue and White chairman] Benny Gantz received support from [talk show hosts] Ophira and Berko.”
Thus a treaty between Israel and its greatest ally, the US, was reduced to an election campaign gimmick.
A mutual defense treaty between Israel and US would be a major development – whether good or bad remains to be seen.
The benefits of such a treaty seem obvious. It codifies American support for Israeli defense. The US has generally had our backs in times of trouble, but this would mean an official commitment on paper, that if Israel were under attack, the US would be there to help us, perhaps even with troops on the ground, something that has never happened before.
However, there are quite a few downsides to the treaty. Netanyahu himself opposed it in the 1990s, when then-prime minister Shimon Peres pursued it. On his first visit to Washington as prime minister in July 1996, Netanyahu argued that he would not even consider a treaty that could limit Israel’s military independence. His defense minister, Itzik Mordechai, similarly said that the cost of a defense treaty could be greater than its usefulness to Israel. Former US president Bill Clinton also offered such a treaty to Netanyahu in exchange for concessions of Israeli sovereignty to the Palestinians, according to negotiator Dennis Ross’ memoirs, and Netanyahu turned it down.
The former IDF chiefs of staff in Blue and White’s leadership echoed Netanyahu’s concerns from the 1990s, wondering if it would mean that Israel must ask the US for permission before embarking on any military operation.
When confronted with Netanyahu’s past opposition to a defense treaty, his spokesman Yonatan Urich argued on Twitter that it would not harm Israel’s independence because “the conditions currently reached through the hard work of Ambassador [to the US] Ron Dermer with the Trump Administration cannot be compared” to those two decades ago, meaning that they are much better.
This is hype that can’t really be confirmed since Trump and Netanyahu both said they’ll hammer out the details after the election, both presuming that Netanyahu will remain prime minister – an interesting contrast from the air of panic that the Right will lose that Netanyahu has been trying to relay locally.
Regardless of one’s opinion on a mutual defense treaty, it is a serious matter. It is something that should be weighed seriously, over some time, with the input of Israel’s various security arms.
What a defense treaty should not be is a gift package thrown together in haste to try to boost the Likud’s votes. Unlike US acceptance of Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights earlier this year, which also would have been better had it not looked like it was tied to April’s election, this campaign contribution is more controversial among Israelis and requires a serious commitment from both Israel and the US of money and manpower.
It’s clear that Trump was trying to help his “good friend Benjamin,” as he has called Netanyahu – even if he also genuinely wants to help Israel’s security. But if he really want to do a good thing for Israel, he should give the gestures a little more time so Israelis can vote in peace, without outside intervention in our democratic process.