The Seductive Dangers of an Israel-U.S. Defensive Treaty

August 23, 2023 | Jacob Nagel
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Last week, the Israeli minister of strategic affairs, Ron Dermer, visited Washington and met with Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Among the topics they reportedly discussed were normalization between Jerusalem and Riyadh and the possibility of a limited defense treaty between the U.S. and the Jewish state. Jacob Nagel argues that the benefits of such a formal agreement may not be worth the costs. The very existence of such a treaty, he writes, conveys the message that Israel “lacks confidence in its power and capability to defend itself by itself.” And that’s not the only problem:

A hostile president, in the future, could exploit the treaty against Israel, and there are many ways to do so. . . . But the problem is much deeper. NATO’s Article 5 is the highest level of security guarantee that the U.S. can give to its allies. If the U.S., even according to Article 5, will not defend NATO allies if they will launch a preemptive attack, then the U.S. for sure won’t defend anyone else who has a degree of guarantees that falls even below Article 5 levels—like Israel or Saudi Arabia if they will attack Iran, for example.

It is clear that under any defense treaty, Israel will get less than Article 5 guarantees, so presenting such a treaty as giving Israel greater freedom of action against Iran is wrong.

There is also a danger of curtailing Israeli freedom of action in general, especially vis-à-vis Iran, Russia, and China, regardless of what is written in the treaty. A treaty would motivate the U.S. to prevent escalation, in order to prevent a confrontation that would require the U.S. to intervene, which will put a lot of pressure on Israel not to escalate.

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