Begin Calls for Defense Treaty with U.S. and for Normalization of Relations with the Soviets
Menu JTA Search

Begin Calls for Defense Treaty with U.S. and for Normalization of Relations with the Soviets

Download PDF for this date

Premier Menachem Begin, in what observers regarded as a major policy development, called today for a defense treaty with the United States and for “normalization of relations” with the Soviet Union. He stressed that, in both situations, the initiative must come from the superpowers.

The Premier made his proposals during the address to the Knesset in which he presented his new Cabinet. Begin devoted most of his speech to party polemics, setting the tone for a rancorous debate.

Labor opposition leader Shimon Peres, who followed Begin to the rostrum, accused the Premier of engaging in “incitement” and charged this was the first time a Premier had used a Cabinet presentation address for such a partisan purpose.

Recalling that President Reagan and Secretary of State Alexander Haig had described Israel as “a friend and ally” and as an “important bulwark against Soviet expansionism,” Begin said he had told United States leaders in the past and was now reiterating publicly that if the United States proposed a formal defense agreement with Israel, he would recommend that the Cabinet accept it.

Begin added that often unwritten alliances are as effective — and often more effective — than formal pacts, citing the British-French “entente cordiale” at the beginning of this century as one salient example.


He expressed the hope, concerning the Reagan Administration’s suspension of deliveries of F-16 fighter planes, that the planes would be sent “very soon.” He held out the prospect of a “tough” public campaign by Israel against Reagan Administration plans to sell AWACS reconnaissance planes and enhancement equipment for F-15 planes purchased by Saudi Arabia.

Begin said there was “hope” that relations with France would improve under President Francois Mitterrand, whom he described as a man of “goodwill towards our country and our people.” He said Israel had “always admired France, ever since the days of the French Revolution.”


Reading the list of his Cabinet Ministers, Begin revealed that, in contrast to earlier reports, David Levy had refused to continue as Housing Minister because Begin, without asking him, stripped Levy of his other portfolio, Absorption, which was given to Aharon Abu Hatzeira, head of Tami.

Begin said he would hold the Housing portfolio temporarily in the hope that Levy would change his mind and agree to serve. Begin said he had “joined with the pleas” of other Likud party members to Levy to reconsider.

Levy spoke with deep emotion about his rise from a building laborer to Housing Minister. He said he was sorry to be leaving “because of circumstances” over

which “there is no control.” Begin arose and hugged him.

Begin plans to take an immediate week-long holiday. His deputy, Simcha Ehrlich, will be chair-man of the first full session of the new Cabinet next week.


The Premier, in his Knesset address, said Israel wants the current quiet in the north to continue and would not do anything to disturb it. But, he said, Israel had explicitly agreed with the United States that Israel would continue surveillance flights over Lebanon and that any attempt to interfere with those flights would be repelled by force.

He said the Reagan Administration had signalled “a number of favorable changes” vis-a-vis Israel. He said President Reagan himself had repeatedly said Israel’s settlements in the administered areas were “not illegal, and two negatives, by any laws of language, make a positive. Therefore, the highest authority in the United States is saying that our settlements are legal — as we ourselves have always said.”

It was at this point that Begin raised the suggestion for an alliance with the United States.


In calling for normalization with the Soviet Union in spite of “deep political differences,” he said the initiative must come from the USSR which severed relations with Israel in 1967. He said that if the Soviets did raise the issue, Israel’s response would be to demand the release of all prisoners of Zion — Russian Jews jailed for seeking to emigrate to Israel — and the free emigration of all Russian Jews who wished it. Then, he said, there could be “relations of dialogue” between the USSR and Israel.


Peres launched a sharp attack on the coalition agreement with the religious parties, citing specifically the increased budgets for yeshivas and other religious institutions. He declared that the coalition partners “talked about religious budgets but not about the nation’s defense, not about the dearth of aliya, not about yerida, not about neshira.”

He predicted that the “broadening” of military service exemptions, made as a concession to Aguda Israel, would be “a blow to national morale,” This was a reference to an agreement under which yeshiva teachers, not just students, are exempt from duty in the military reserves, and the “baalei teshuva” (young men who become religious), who are exempt from military duty from 12 to 18 months to give them the opportunity to learn about traditional Judaism.

Founding Funders

The digitization of the JTA Archive would not have been possible without the generous support of the following donors:
  • The Gottesman Fund
  • Righteous Persons Foundation
  • Charles H. Revson Foundation
  • Elisa Spungen Bildner and Robert Bildner, in honor of Norma Spungen
  • George S. Blumenthal
  • Grace and Scott Offen Charitable Fund