United States Israel Defense Pact

In late November, Senator Lindsay Graham expressed his support for the Senate ratification of a narrow United States – Israel mutual defense treaty sometime in 2020.  Before this treaty reaches the floor of the Senate, American voters should be well acquainted with the United States obligations under the terms of the treaty, the purpose of this posting. 

Let's open this posting by looking at what the Jerusalem Post had to say about this new treaty:

Here's what Donald Trump had to say:

Here is what Lindsay Graham had to say about the treaty on the website of the Jewish Institute for National Security of America (JINSA):

"At a time when some question America’s support for its allies, and the Middle East is becoming ever more dangerous, a formal U.S.-Israel mutual defense treaty – more narrowly defined than those America already has with several dozen other countries – could promote regional stability.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu requested such a treaty in September and President Trump committed to discuss it further.

Israel is one of America’s closest, most reliable and capable partners, defending against our common adversaries in one of the world’s most important and volatile regions.

With the United States expecting friends to shoulder their fair share of burdens for collective defense, Israel stands almost alone in the extent of its self-reliance.

Yet Iran’s growing regional aggression and revived nuclear program are driving the region toward a major war that Israel alone might be forced to struggle to deter or win – and that could even threaten Israel’s existence.

Such a conflict could draw in other regional or even global players, leading to even broader conflagration.

This heightens the incentive for American policymakers to stave off such a conflict or mitigate its scope and intensity. A U.S.-Israel mutual defense pact could do just that, as existing U.S. treaty alliances with numerous other countries have done since the 1940s.

Despite security cooperation that resembles actual treaty allies – defense planning, intelligence sharing, prepositioned weapons and regular joint exercises – Israel’s formal status as a U.S. partner is the same as Afghanistan and Tunisia."

Here is what he believes should be the key principle of the mutual defense treaty:

Existing U.S. defense pacts with other countries state an attack on one is an attack on all. But a treaty with Israel should be strictly limited to exceptional circumstances in the Middle East.

The exceptional circumstances should be: the threat or use of weapons of mass destruction; a major attack or invasion by a regional or global power, or coalition of powers; or an attack that severely threatens Israel’s economic viability or qualitative military edge.

These exceptional circumstances would exclude involving the United States in the routine, lower-level attacks that Israel can fully handle itself. The United States already assists Israel with these threats by helping maintain Israel’s “qualitative military edge” over other countries in the region.

The treaty should explicitly provide that both the U.S. and Israel retain the inherent right of self-defense and sovereign decision.

Each country should aspire to alert the other of impending actions that could impact the other, as they generally do already. However, a mutual defense pact would acknowledge that neither nation is required to provide prior notification or seek approval to act in self-defense – just like all existing U.S. treaty alliances."

Fortunately, the draft treaty is available for our perusal on the JINSA website along with JINSA's analysis.  Here is the draft treaty in its entirety:

One of the greatest dangers of this draft treaty is found in section 3.4 as quoted here:

"Neither party will allow a defense treaty to constrain its freedom of action in self-defense. While each country will endeavor to keep the other informed about developing threats and responses, as they do already, neither will be expected to provide prior notification, nor will either be obligated to have prior approval from the other, for actions it considers urgent and necessary for its defense."

In other words, Israel could unilaterally declare war or attack one of its neighbours (or any other nation in the world for that matter) and then expect American military personnel to lay down their lives for Israel whether they want to or not.

The authors of JINSA's analysis note the following:

"The primary purpose of a U.S. – Israel mutual defense pact is to add an extra layer of deterrence to Israel's strategic position, and to America's position in the Middle East, and ultimately a last line of defense. "

The treaty is considered "narrow" since it does not state unequivocally that an attack on Israel is an attack on the United States (as in the case of NATO), rather, it covered a defined set of exceptional circumstances that place either country in "extreme peril".  These include:

1.) the threat or use of weapons of mass destruction.

2.) major armed attack by a powerful regional or global power or coalition of powers.

3.) an assault threatening vital lines of air and sea communication.

4.) an attack undermining Israel's qualitative military edge.

5.) an urgent request from either government.

It certainly appears to me that the list is extremely comprehensive, covering just about every possible scenario and is particularly open-ended when it comes to using the word "threat" against Israel as the reason for a joint military operation.

When we look at the authors' reasoning behind the need for this new pact, we find the following under the strategic landscape portion of the report:

"Since its inception four decades ago the Islamic Republic of Iran has sought to dominate the Middle East, including annihilating Israel. Recently its ambitions accelerated with America’s diminishing regional presence, combined with sanctions relief and new legitimacy for Iran’s nuclear ambitions under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Sanctions relief fueled Iran’s advancing ballistic missile program and regionwide proliferation of sophisticated weaponry. The looming expiration of U.N. weapons embargoes on Iran will worsen these challenges.

Iran is consolidating its predominance over the strategic heart of Middle East, giving it a direct path through Iraq and Syria to Hezbollah-dominated Lebanon and Israel’s borders. Meanwhile the Syrian regime, backed ruthlessly by Tehran and Moscow, reintroduced chemical warfare to the Middle East. Further, despite the JCPOA’s fundamental deficiencies, U.S. withdrawal from the agreement in 2018 raises the near-term prospects of a revitalized Iranian nuclear weapons program. There is no U.S.-Russia understanding on how to limit this combustible situation.

These developments threaten the security and existence of Israel and America’s Sunni Arab allies, as well as other regional U.S. interests, even as America remains reluctant to confront these rising threats. There are real prospects of a significant Iranian-Israeli clash over Syria, Iraq and/or Lebanon, which would likely involve Hezbollah and its more than 120,000 rockets and missiles that alone threaten to overwhelm Israel’s defenses and cause catastrophic damage. Syria could also try to deploy its chemical weapons against Israel. And Israel would face great danger if Turkey moved beyond hostile rhetoric to active military engagement against Israel, alone or as part of a coalition. Further, a renewed Iranian nuclear push could lead it to achieve a robust nuclear weapons capability, or prompt an Israeli preemptive strike and consequently major Iranian retaliation." (my bolds)

Basically, this "narrow" mutual defense treaty is all about Iran and the perceived threat that the Islamic Republic of Iran poses to Israel's military dominance (i.e. its qualitative military edge) in the Middle East.  This treaty would permanently mandate an American military intervention even if Israel were to start a conflict with its neighbours, a prospect that is not entirely unreasonable given Israel's repeated incursions into Syria and Lebanon over the past few years.  As well, if Israel decides that Iran is "threatening" to use weapons of mass destruction against it and requests that the United States intervene militarily, the American military apparatus will likely find itself fighting not only Iran but China and Russia, two nations that have made it very clear that they will take the side of Iran given their proposed joint military drills that you can read about in this posting.

Just in case you wondered how precedent setting this treaty would be, here is a complete list of United States collective defense treaties with other nations:

Tying America's fate to that of Israel is particularly dangerous given that the United States gets absolutely no benefit from signing this agreement.  With a hawkish leader like Benjamin Netanyahu, we can pretty much assure ourselves that an American – Israeli joint military operation in the Middle East is a given.

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