May 15, 2024 | The Jerusalem Post

America’s dangerous game with Israeli security

It is crucial that Israel clearly and loudly communicates to Sullivan the drawbacks of the proposed normalization and the defense pact and does not rush into signing.
May 15, 2024 | The Jerusalem Post

America’s dangerous game with Israeli security

It is crucial that Israel clearly and loudly communicates to Sullivan the drawbacks of the proposed normalization and the defense pact and does not rush into signing.

As US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan prepares to visit Israel this weekend, the primary topic he aims to address is the prevention of further warfare in Gaza, with a focus on Rafah and the Philadelphia Corridor, essentially how the US will prevent Israel from achieving its full war objectives as defined by the cabinet, following the massacre on October 7.

Sullivan arrives as President Biden’s envoy, driven not by Israeli interests but by American interests ahead of the November elections. Much of the recent government actions aim to prevent Israel from achieving a victorious end in Gaza and securing the return of all hostages while dangling the “carrot” of normalization with Saudi Arabia and an American-Israeli “defense pact.” This approach does not align with Israel’s National Security Strategy perception, especially when some agreements come at the cost of preventing Iran’s nuclear advancement.

A fundamental principle of Israel’s National Security Strategy is self-reliance in defense without external assistance, including from the US.

While the prospect of normalization with Saudi Arabia is of utmost importance and justifies taking risks to seize the opportunity, it should not come at any cost. The discussions Sullivan is advancing towards a potential agreement, after his and Secretary of State Blinken’s diplomatic shuttles to Saudi Arabia, raise significant concerns about the foundations of Israel’s National Security Strategy and the price the Americans are demanding Israel to pay.

This was my stance before the war, and it has been reinforced by the American desire to link normalization and the problematic defense pact with Israeli “submission” in Gaza. 

Additionally, the Palestinian issue, previously of lesser concern to the Saudis, but on the normalization, partly due to American pressure list, has now become central for the Saudis. Concessions on this critical issue, including ideas to integrate the Palestinian Authority as part of a “day after” solution in Gaza, would compound the error.

At least there is an improvement (from the Israeli point of view) in the Saudi demands on some nuclear issues, particularly their demand for independent uranium enrichment on Saudi soil. The original demand stemmed from the terrible agreement that allowed the Iranians independent enrichment and advanced centrifuge development.

While the Saudis’ position is understandable, it should not be agreed with. The issue has been temporarily resolved, given the reported Saudi agreement to first enrich their uranium on US soil, mainly because the Palestinian issue has been elevated in priority, and the understanding there is lack of Israeli support in Congress for a Saudi-American agreement without Israel.

Meanwhile, the Iranians challenges remain unchanged. Its aggressive behavior and desire to acquire nuclear capabilities continue to be Israel’s main problem. The focus must now be on slowing/stopping the weapons system development and weakening the regime, but vigilance must not be lost.

The US is advancing an agreement with Iran while the IAEA Director General effectively “represents” them against the Iranians. Grossi remains a “diplomat” and his final goal is to be elected as the UN Secretary-General, and he clearly understands who “butter the bread.” His actions and statements should be regarded with suspicion, as behind the scenes, he likely assists the US in reaching an agreement with Iran.

Sullivan’s demands are example of a double standard

Sullivan’s demand during his visit to Israel to cease operations in Rafah and the Philadelphia Corridor, citing potential dangers to civilians crowded in the area, is an example of a double standard. Hamas initiated the massacre, kidnapping, and rape on October 7 and has been using Gaza civilians as human shields, explicitly against US laws. Still, the American pressure is applied only to Israel.

The pressure includes absurd threats of halting weapon shipments to its only ally in the Middle East, currently amidst a multi-front war that will define Israel’s future in the region (although, so far, these have been mostly threats and possibly a single shipment delay, but the rhetoric is very problematic).

The re-emphasis of the misguided idea of a US-Israel defense pact, especially in conjunction with the normalization “carrot,” could send a misleading message to Israel nearby and distant enemies, that Israel does not believe in its ability to defend itself independently. Even when the treaty is limited to use against existential threats only, merely bringing it up for discussion causes significant damage.

The defense pact will not prevent Iran from continuing its aggressive behavior, and it could become a double-edged sword, including a potentially severe impact on Israeli deterrence and freedom of action.

The US is currently wrapping up the normalization agreement with Saudi Arabia and the signing of the defense pact with US, with the cessation of fighting in Gaza, Palestinian concessions, and nuclear concessions to Saudi Arabia. It is important to emphasize that the US needs Israel to pass their standalone agreement with Saudi Arabia in Congress (it’s illogical for Saudi Arabia to settle for only a presidential decision, but that might be the chosen path eventually).

Normalization and signing a defense pact could undermine support for issues in which the US has assisted Israel for years, under the claim that the pact renders them redundant or that they can be minimized/weaken. Issues such as a comprehensive and longer Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), an expanded Qualitative Military Edge (QME) agreement, an advance repositioning of American weapons systems and ammunition in a broad scope, expanded cooperation in research and development and technology, and more.

The normalization currently proposed is weaker than it was before the war, and the concessions demanded from Israel (except perhaps in one Saudi important nuclear matters) are much greater. It is crucial that Israel clearly and loudly communicates to Sullivan the drawbacks of the proposed normalization and the defense pact and does not rush into signing, especially not when it is tied to concessions in Gaza war and on the Palestinian issue.

In the future, a trilateral deal involving the USA, Saudi Arabia, and Israel could be reached, taking calculated risks that could open doors to joint action against the Iranian nuclear program, but only after a successful and complete end to the war in Gaza, the return of all the hostages, and the secure return of Israeli residents to the north.

Brig. Gen. (Res.) Prof. Jacob Nagel is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) and a professor at the Technion. He served as the national security advisor to Prime Minister Netanyahu and as the acting head of the National Security Council.

Issues:

Arab Politics Israel Israel at War Military and Political Power