Reprinted from The Jerusalem Post of February 21, 2000
NO SUCH THING AS A FREE LUNCH
By Ariel Sharon
As part of the efforts made by Prime Minister Ehud Barak's advisers to assure a referendum majority for an agreement with Syria, the idea of a defense treaty between Israel and the US was once again raised. If buying advanced military technology and Tomahawk missiles is not sufficient to convince the public that withdrawing from the Golan Heights is a good idea, a signed defense treaty with the US can be waved in its face. With such a treaty, the advisers say, it will be possible to leave the Golan Heights for the shore of Lake Kinneret without fear. This is another example of a deceitful marketing campaign.
As minister of defense, who in 1981 signed a memorandum of strategic understanding with the US, I have always supported the traditional position of all Israeli governments that a defense treaty with the US can be an important addition to defense strategy, but can under no circumstances replace defendable borders or assuring the IDF's ability to protect the country on its own. One must always remember that Israel is the only place in the world where Jews have, and will always have, the right and ability to defend themselves when attacked. We cannot allow ourselves to ask others, especially American soldiers, to do it for us.
This position led to the expansion and strengthening of strategic cooperation with the US without a formal defense treaty. Under the Likud government, this strategic cooperation was expanded in many areas. Defense treaties, like modern weapons technology, have not in themselves prevented wars or guaranteed security; in fact, they have in many cases caused escalation. During the Gulf War (1990-1991), it took the US over five months to establish a coalition and deploy the necessary forces to liberate Kuwait from Iraqi aggression and occupation. If Israel was ever to face a similar nightmare, it would not have even five days of grace: It would face total annihilation long before any US forces could even reach the scene.
A defense treaty will neither deter nor halt limited terrorist activities and minor infringements of the law.The US will not wish to be involved in such incidents, but will instead press Israel to show restraint. What would Israel do, for instance, if, while bound by a treaty with the US, the Syrians one night introduced small antitank forces into the demilitarized zone in the Golan, or if Hizbullah attacked a northern border community, or an IDF outpost? What if there is a Hizbullah attack within Israel, or against Jewish and Israeli targets in the Diaspora (as is already planned)?
Is Israel willing to defy the US if the superpower demands restraint, so that it can avoid direct confrontation with the Arab countries that are becoming its allies? Even more serious, from the moment that Israel fails to retaliate after the first infringement because of US influence, new rules will apply that will permit both the Syrians and the terrorist organizations to erode the Israeli deterrent and apply constant pressure for further concessions. Jerusalem, water, negotiations with the Palestinians, and other issues will all be pressed upon Israel even after signing an agreement.
The critical problem is that the smaller the infringements and attacks, the more difficult it will be for Israel to act on the scale and with the intensity required to restore the situation to its former state; Israel is thus liable to find itself in a process of uncontrolled escalation.
WE have seen this scenario recently following Hizbullah's attacks on IDF soldiers and outposts. The Barak government failed to react to this terrorism in the requisite manner, among other reasons because of US pressure, even before the signing of a formal treaty with the Americans.
A defense treaty would neutralize Israel's major element of deterrence. A treaty would restrict Israel's freedom of action at any time when there is a fear of American involvement in fighting. Any American force deployed here as part of such a defense treaty would become a target and would conflict with American interests. If such a force were to be used and casualties occurred, the American commitment to Israel would dissolve fade under the pressure of US media and public opinion.
Israel would cease to be a strategic asset and would become instead a burden, with Congress and public opinion pointing an accusing finger at us. A defense treaty in which Israel gives up strategic assets such as the Golan Heights and security areas in Judea and Samaria, which provide strategic depth and room to maneuver, would force a shrunken Israel to re-adopt (as in 1967) the doctrine of a preemptive strike - a doctrine the US has always opposed. So our position must be "yes" to increased strategic cooperation with the US, but "no" to a defense treaty that would relinquish Israel's power to defend itself.
It is important for the public to know this now, even if Barak's public relations people don't want to say it: There is no such thing as a free lunch. (c) Jerusalem Post 2000
Ariel Sharon is leader of the Likud and a former Defense Minister.