Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Ambassador ret. Yoram Ettinger: Potential flaws of the US-Israel Defense Package




Israel’s apparent desire to conclude, as soon as possible, a generous, ten-year defense package MOU (memorandum of understanding) with the USA - in order to enhance short and medium-term economic and national security certainty - could result in severe long and short-term injuries to Israel’s ties with the USA and Israel’s national security.  

Should Israel accept President Obama’s terms (as reported by the media), then the new 10-year-defense package could be dramatically different from the previous one, which was concluded in 2007. 

The 2007 package was lower in scope - $3.1bn annually - but did not prohibit independent initiatives by the US Congress, which has demonstrated awesome muscle in determining domestic, as well as international relatons and national security policies. Also, the 2007 package included annual funding of Israel’s groundbreaking missile defense research, development (shared with the US government and defense industries) and US-Israel co-production. It expected Congress to increase the funding of US-Israel’s cost-effective missile defense projects, and allocated 25% of the package to Israeli game-changing defense research and development initiatives, which have been shared with the US. 

Since 2007, there has been a dramatic surge in Israel’s contributions to the US in the areas of intelligence, research and development, training, operations, supporting pro-US Arab regimes, and extending the strategic hand of the US, while the US military-footprint and defense budget have been reduced drastically, and the US’ European allies are consumed with Islam-driven terrorism and potential anarchy on the home front.

On April 25, 2016, Congress demonstrated its inherent appreciation of Israel when 83 Senators signed a letter to President Obama, demanding a larger US-Israel defense package. An Israeli acquiescence to the exclusion of Congress as a key initiator of future US-Israel cooperation, would amount to a self-defeating downgrading of the co-equal, co-determining Congress, which has the power-of-the-purse, and is the most authentic representative of the American people, and therefore has been a systematic ally of Israel, while all US presidents since 1948 (with the exception of President George W. Bush) have pressured Israel economically, militarily and diplomatically. 

Representing the pro-Israel sentiments of most Americans (71% according to the latest Gallup poll), Congress has, traditionally, counter-balanced the multilateral, Third World and UN-oriented, pro-Arab worldview of the Department of State bureaucracy, which opposed the establishment of Israel in 1948 and has been critical of Israel since then.

From a co-driver of the US-Israel high-speed train, Congress would be demoted to a backseat-driver, as if it were an Israeli Knesset or a European Parliament, which are overshadowed by the Executive. It would be a slap in the face of the Federal System, the US Constitution, the US constituency and its representatives in the US House and Senate. 

Moreover, Congress played a central role in upgrading US-Israel strategic cooperation, jointly with – and in defiance of – US presidents, especially during global uncertainties, violence and intensified threats.  For example, in defiance of President Bush’s and Secretary of State Baker’s misreading of regional and global trends, coupled with their adversarial position on Israel, Congress was the key player/initiator of the unprecedented expansion of US-Israel defense cooperation following the collapse of the USSR (when Bush/Baker were oblivious to the rising threat of rogue regimes), before Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait (when Bush/Baker embraced Saddam Hussein and viciously criticized Israel), and before/following the First Gulf War (when the White House ignored Israel’s role as America’s most reliable, effective and unconditional strategic ally). 

The assumption that the new defense package will prevent Israel from collaborating with Congress and submitting new initiatives and requests – as required by the increasingly stormy, unpredictable globe - for the next ten years, should be assessed against the realistic, worst case global and Middle East scenarios. Thus, as tectonic as has been the Arab Tsunami since 2010/11, it will probably be dwarfed by the intolerant violence around the corner, especially in (and from) the Middle East, which has been – since the seventh century – the most fragmented, unstable, unpredictable, volcanic, intolerant, violent, anti-Western region in the world, religiously, ideologically, politically and militarily. 

The US and Israel cannot afford to base their strategic cooperation on a fixed, or linear, framework, ignoring global herky-jerky trends.  The US and Israel should not demote and exclude the co-equal Congress from the process of strategic cooperation, at a time of a potential European collapse, swift proliferation of Islam-driven terrorism, an emboldened regime of the Ayatollahs, and a possible toppling of pro-US regimes in the Middle East, which will further exacerbate threat-assessment and security requirements. 

A rush to conclude an MOU before January 20, 2017, in order to spare the uncertainties surrounding the next president, and the expected delay of a few months or a year, in finalizing the defense package by the incoming president, would sacrifice long-term strategic interests on the altar of short-term strategic convenience. It would write off effective congressional muscle, and therefore the full potential of the American goodwill. 

In addition, both presidential candidates are at least as pro-Israel as is President Obama, and would therefore support a defense package at least as generous as is currently proposed, receiving a thunderous support on Capitol Hill. 

The supposed demand, by President Obama, to deny Congress the capability to upgrade/initiate future US-Israel strategic cooperation undermines the US Constitution, and may reflect an intention to constrain future enhancement of such cooperation, which has contributed, uniquely, to the US economy, national security and homeland security.

Finally, when it comes to US MOUs, guarantees and treaties, one should note their three critical and legitimate attributes: non-specificity and ambiguity, intended to facilitate partial-implementation; non-automaticity, enabling delay, suspension and non-implementation; and avoiding implementation if it harms US interests. For example, in 1957, President Eisenhower issued an Executive Agreement – in exchange for Israel’s full withdrawal from the Sinai Peninsula – supposedly committing US troops on behalf of Israel should Egypt violate the ceasefire. However, in 1967, Egypt violated the ceasefire and established an anti-Israel Arab military front, but President Johnson contended that the agreement was non-binding.

US and Israeli policy-makers may benefit from Benjamin Franklin’s advice: “He that can have patience can have what he will.” 


Israel’s apparent desire to conclude, as soon as possible, a generous, ten-year defense package MOU (memorandum of understanding) with the USA - in order to enhance short and medium-term economic and national security certainty - could result in severe long and short-term injuries to Israel’s ties with the USA and Israel’s national security.  

Should Israel accept President Obama’s terms (as reported by the media), then the new 10-year-defense package could be dramatically different from the previous one, which was concluded in 2007. 

The 2007 package was lower in scope - $3.1bn annually - but did not prohibit independent initiatives by the US Congress, which has demonstrated awesome muscle in determining domestic, as well as international relatons and national security policies. Also, the 2007 package included annual funding of Israel’s groundbreaking missile defense research, development (shared with the US government and defense industries) and US-Israel co-production. It expected Congress to increase the funding of US-Israel’s cost-effective missile defense projects, and allocated 25% of the package to Israeli game-changing defense research and development initiatives, which have been shared with the US. 

Since 2007, there has been a dramatic surge in Israel’s contributions to the US in the areas of intelligence, research and development, training, operations, supporting pro-US Arab regimes, and extending the strategic hand of the US, while the US military-footprint and defense budget have been reduced drastically, and the US’ European allies are consumed with Islam-driven terrorism and potential anarchy on the home front.

On April 25, 2016, Congress demonstrated its inherent appreciation of Israel when 83 Senators signed a letter to President Obama, demanding a larger US-Israel defense package. An Israeli acquiescence to the exclusion of Congress as a key initiator of future US-Israel cooperation, would amount to a self-defeating downgrading of the co-equal, co-determining Congress, which has the power-of-the-purse, and is the most authentic representative of the American people, and therefore has been a systematic ally of Israel, while all US presidents since 1948 (with the exception of President George W. Bush) have pressured Israel economically, militarily and diplomatically. 

Representing the pro-Israel sentiments of most Americans (71% according to the latest Gallup poll), Congress has, traditionally, counter-balanced the multilateral, Third World and UN-oriented, pro-Arab worldview of the Department of State bureaucracy, which opposed the establishment of Israel in 1948 and has been critical of Israel since then.

From a co-driver of the US-Israel high-speed train, Congress would be demoted to a backseat-driver, as if it were an Israeli Knesset or a European Parliament, which are overshadowed by the Executive. It would be a slap in the face of the Federal System, the US Constitution, the US constituency and its representatives in the US House and Senate. 

Moreover, Congress played a central role in upgrading US-Israel strategic cooperation, jointly with – and in defiance of – US presidents, especially during global uncertainties, violence and intensified threats.  For example, in defiance of President Bush’s and Secretary of State Baker’s misreading of regional and global trends, coupled with their adversarial position on Israel, Congress was the key player/initiator of the unprecedented expansion of US-Israel defense cooperation following the collapse of the USSR (when Bush/Baker were oblivious to the rising threat of rogue regimes), before Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait (when Bush/Baker embraced Saddam Hussein and viciously criticized Israel), and before/following the First Gulf War (when the White House ignored Israel’s role as America’s most reliable, effective and unconditional strategic ally). 

The assumption that the new defense package will prevent Israel from collaborating with Congress and submitting new initiatives and requests – as required by the increasingly stormy, unpredictable globe - for the next ten years, should be assessed against the realistic, worst case global and Middle East scenarios. Thus, as tectonic as has been the Arab Tsunami since 2010/11, it will probably be dwarfed by the intolerant violence around the corner, especially in (and from) the Middle East, which has been – since the seventh century – the most fragmented, unstable, unpredictable, volcanic, intolerant, violent, anti-Western region in the world, religiously, ideologically, politically and militarily. 

The US and Israel cannot afford to base their strategic cooperation on a fixed, or linear, framework, ignoring global herky-jerky trends.  The US and Israel should not demote and exclude the co-equal Congress from the process of strategic cooperation, at a time of a potential European collapse, swift proliferation of Islam-driven terrorism, an emboldened regime of the Ayatollahs, and a possible toppling of pro-US regimes in the Middle East, which will further exacerbate threat-assessment and security requirements. 

A rush to conclude an MOU before January 20, 2017, in order to spare the uncertainties surrounding the next president, and the expected delay of a few months or a year, in finalizing the defense package by the incoming president, would sacrifice long-term strategic interests on the altar of short-term strategic convenience. It would write off effective congressional muscle, and therefore the full potential of the American goodwill. 

In addition, both presidential candidates are at least as pro-Israel as is President Obama, and would therefore support a defense package at least as generous as is currently proposed, receiving a thunderous support on Capitol Hill. 

The supposed demand, by President Obama, to deny Congress the capability to upgrade/initiate future US-Israel strategic cooperation undermines the US Constitution, and may reflect an intention to constrain future enhancement of such cooperation, which has contributed, uniquely, to the US economy, national security and homeland security.

Finally, when it comes to US MOUs, guarantees and treaties, one should note their three critical and legitimate attributes: non-specificity and ambiguity, intended to facilitate partial-implementation; non-automaticity, enabling delay, suspension and non-implementation; and avoiding implementation if it harms US interests. For example, in 1957, President Eisenhower issued an Executive Agreement – in exchange for Israel’s full withdrawal from the Sinai Peninsula – supposedly committing US troops on behalf of Israel should Egypt violate the ceasefire. However, in 1967, Egypt violated the ceasefire and established an anti-Israel Arab military front, but President Johnson contended that the agreement was non-binding.

US and Israeli policy-makers may benefit from Benjamin Franklin’s advice: “He that can have patience can have what he will.” 


Nota Bene: Ambassador (ret.) Yoram Ettinger will be in the US in September and November, available for speaking engagements.