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Proceed With Caution on a Defense Pact With Israel
A picture taken on February 3, 2019 in the Israeli coastal city of Tel Aviv shows a giant election billboard of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump shaking hands. (JACK GUEZ/Getty Images)
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Proceed With Caution on a Defense Pact With Israel

Douglas J. Feith

For all their longstanding defense ties, Israel and the U.S. have no mutual defense treaty. In the weeks before Israel’s Sept. 17 elections President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu both spoke favorably of negotiating one. Whether they were serious or simply wanted to bolster Mr. Netanyahu’s political support is unclear. In any case, a few observations are in order.

The U.S. is party to various kinds of defense treaties. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is the most far-reaching. The treaty states that “an armed attack against one [ally] . . . shall be considered an attack against them all.” Other bilateral U.S. defense treaties create lesser obligations—to consult about threats, to recognize that an attack on one would endanger peace and safety of the other, to meet common dangers in accordance with one’s own constitutional processes.

American and Israeli officials have long refrained from negotiating a mutual defense treaty because it was judged unnecessary and potentially harmful to both countries. Israelis worried mainly about their own freedom of action; they didn’t want to have to ask U.S. permission before taking steps to defend their state. U.S. officials didn’t want to have to grant or deny such permission—or to “own” Israeli military operations.

Read this full article in the Wall Street Journal

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