September 28, 2023 | Yediot Aharonot

Strategic cooperation between Israel and the United States, on the 50th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War. 

The Israeli government is pursuing a defense alliance with the US that will do more harm than good.
September 28, 2023 | Yediot Aharonot

Strategic cooperation between Israel and the United States, on the 50th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War. 

The Israeli government is pursuing a defense alliance with the US that will do more harm than good.

*This article was originally published in Hebrew

Israel will soon mark the 50th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War, a war which is a national trauma for the young State of Israel and a personal trauma for many families.  It was a war that forged the national identity of the generation that participated in it, and the two generations that followed.  It was also the last large-scale war that Israel has fought against large and powerful enemy armies. 

The war, which started with a strategic surprise and cost many casualties, severely damaged public morale and stunted the growth of the Israeli economy. However, it also led to peace negotiations with Egypt and shaped the strategic relationship with the United States. 

Henry Kissinger, who was then Secretary of State and who celebrated his 100th birthday several months ago, played a decisive role in the decision to approve an airlift of materiel to the IDF.  At the same time, he forced the Israeli government to negotiate a cease-fire before the IDF could destroy the Egyptian third army or march on Cairo. 

Even after the war, the US provided extensive support to Israel, which contributed greatly to the rapid rebuilding of the IDF and the Israeli economy.  This aid expanded and ultimately evolved into memoranda-of-understanding which yield significant military aid for a period of 10 years.    

The first MOU was signed in 2007 and lasted from 2008 until 2018. The second MOU, signed in 2016, started in 2018 and lasts until 2028.  No country in the world receives such generous military aid from the United States, at an annual rate of just under $4 billion.  These funds are essential for Israel’s national security, and it is because of these funds that Israel is armed with advanced weapons systems that it cannot produce on its own, and which sustain Israel’s qualitative military edge over its enemies.  

This foreign aid is becoming increasingly controversial in Congress. This includes Republicans, especially those seeking to reduce US foreign aid overall, and Democrats, especially those who vilify Israel and make it increasingly difficult to approve arms purchases. 

Despite this trend, Israel was given a written presidential commitment of continued assistance from President Biden in the Jerusalem Declaration, which was signed during his visit to Israel in July 2022. Discussions about the next MOU will begin before the end of Biden’s term in 2025. 

Recently, publications have suggested the possibility of a defense alliance between Israel and the United States. This could be an alliance similar to that which the US signed with European countries in the framework of the NATO alliance, or perhaps like the one signed years ago between South Korea and Japan, which stipulates, among other things, that a military attack upon a member country of the alliance obligates the others to respond as if they had been attacked themselves. 

Those in favor of a defense alliance between Israel and the United States wish to anchor the commitment of the US to defend Israel against a serious attack by Iran.  But this is a fundamental shift in Israel’s national security principles. Since the days of Israel’s first prime minister David Ben-Gurion, Israel has considered it an obligation to “defend itself by itself.” As a result, Israel has insisted that foreign soldiers should not fight to defend it, even our American friends. Why, then, is the Israeli government mulling this change to a long-held security principle?  

There is a paradox here. Advocates for such an agreement seek a greater commitment on behalf of the US to Israel’s security. But at the same time, they want to cement it as a treaty so that a future administration would be bound to exercise that commitment, even if the President is reluctant to do so  — politically or ideologically.   

This hardly seems wise. 

It also is important to understand that the political voices in Washington that criticize the existing MOU are even more likely, if the time comes, to oppose American military involvement.  Those who oppose foreign aid today are likely to more strongly oppose sending soldiers to fight on Israel’s behalf. Certainly, those opposed to Israel’s policies will oppose fighting to defend it.  Such an agreement may also limit Israel’s freedom of action. Indeed, if Israel uses its force in a manner not in line with American interests, the U.S. will not stand by Israel when assistance is needed.  

Israel ought to continue insisting upon its right and duty to defend itself by itself, and work to continue to benefit from the generosity of its American strategic partner as much as possible. And if, God forbid, Israel should face a serious and significant threat, the likes of which we have not encountered since the Yom Kippur War, Israel must convey a sense of shared values, and a coordination of interests with the American administration, such there was 50 years ago, during the Yom Kippur War. 

Dr. Eyal Hulata is Israel’s former National Security Advisor and head of the National Security Council.  He is currently a senior international fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington. 


Israel Military and Political Power