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Prospects for a US-Israel mutual defense pact - Sen. Lindsey Graham and JINSA chief Michael Makovsky

In July, 2019 a working group run by the Jewish Institute for National Security of America (JINSA), under the leadership of former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Adm. (ret.) James Stavridis, issued a report making the strategic case for a U.S.-Israel mutual defense pact. JINSA drafted the text of a treaty that is similar to, but more narrowly defined than, existing U.S. arrangements with 50 countries, becoming the only organization to put out such a draft to date.

Since then, the organization said in recent a statement that various objections to a pact have been raised, “and we believe it now constructive to advance the policy conversation by elaborating the most salient counterarguments.” To that end, JINSA released a follow-up report addressing the main points of concern.

Michael Makovsky of JINSA at AIPAC 2020

In its new report, JINSA addressed six areas of criticism, beginning with freedom of action. It stated that “mutual defense pacts do not give allies a direct say in each other’s strategic decisions, nor do they obligate the parties to support or become involved in the others’ military activities.” The section on freedom of action added that the U.S.-Israel relationship “already features greater responsibilities than those officially contained in or required by a treaty alliance, without the extra deterrence provided by an explicit security guarantee.”

“We released that report because there’s been skepticism of the idea, even among many in Israel and some here in the United States who are pro-Israel. So we thought it was valuable to at least address some of the skepticism and objections head on,” Michael Makovsky, president and CEO of JINSA, told JNS.

“This is an issue we’ve been pushing—first quietly, then publicly—starting in the summer, when we released our own paper and draft treaty,” he added. “I would encourage anybody, if they have concerns, to at least read our draft first. If they have other suggestions of what a draft should look like, they should put forward those edits. But right now, that’s the draft that Senator Lindsey Graham [R-S.C.] is championing. The Israeli prime minister seems very supportive.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham discussed the plan with the Republican Jewish Coalition meeting in Las Vegas.

Mr. Makovsky acknowledged concerns among some in Israel over potential restrictions to Israeli freedom of action, saying, “Obviously, we wouldn’t support any such treaty either that constrained Israeli freedom of action. But we don’t think it should. The U.S. has mutual defense treaties with 50 other countries, and it hasn’t stopped the U.S. or these other countries from various military action.”

Any significant Israeli military action in the Middle East would likely be preceded by Israeli consultations with the United States in any case, and a mutual defense pact could add a level of deterrence for Israel, he argued.

“If a war breaks out, it could also mitigate the intensity and scope of the conflict,” said Makovsky. “I would say that since we put out our report in July, the Iranian threat has become more serious. What’s going on internally in Iran is encouraging, but one never knows how that’s going to play out, and it could even lead the regime to conduct more provocative action. The situation is more serious regarding Iran.”

Referring to the Sept. 14 Iranian drone and cruise-missile strike on Saudi energy sites, Makovsky noted that “provocations in the region have only intensified.”

“I think Israel is more exposed, and therefore, the importance of having a mutual defense pact has grown,” he said. “But I would add that it’s not the only thing that needs to be done. We put out another report recently, detailing the the need and options for accelerating the delivery of weapons to Israel under the 10-year Memorandum of Understanding [MOU]. It’s in Israel’s DNA to rely only on itself. So it’s incumbent on U.S. also give Israel the tools it needs to continue its countering of Iranian aggression, and ultimately, also to prepare for major war against Iran Hezbollah, if it comes about.”

Makovsky said that in terms of timing, “on the Israeli side, I think it’s unfortunate that it’s gotten caught up in the elections. Certainly, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s interest has nothing to do with elections. The Israelis were interested before this long before the elections. We raised this idea first a year-and-a-half ago.”

He continued: “On the U.S. side, I think it’s a good time to engage the issue. No one knows how the presidential elections are going to turn out in a year, but at least for now, it looks like President Trump has shown interest. It’s important to seize that opportunity as much as possible. For us, the impetus is purely to contribute to regional stability.” In its follow-up report, JINSA said that Iran’s growing regional aggression, including providing more than 130,000 rockets and missiles to Hezbollah in Lebanon, and its now-revived nuclear program create the potential for higher-level conflict that Israel alone “might struggle to deter or defeat.”

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