U.s., Israel Edge Closer to Forging Defense Pact

Israel and the United States are moving closer toward forging a strategic defense pact.

Prime Minister Shimon Peres has instructed officials from the Foreign and Defense ministries to bring up the topic during their discussions with Clinton administration officials.

President Clinton was expected to visit Jerusalem after attending Wednesday’s anti-terror summit in the Sinai resort of Sharm el-Sheik.

Senior political sources were quoted by the Israeli daily Ha’aretz as saying that Peres hoped to sign a defense pact with the United States before Israel’s May 29 national elections.

The pact could be signed when Peres makes a scheduled visit in April to the United States, the sources said.

If completed before Israel’s elections, the pact could bolster Peres’ election chances against Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been in a see-saw race with Peres in the polls after a series of recent terror attacks killed scores of Israelis.

The defense pact would include provisions specifying a U.S. commitment to Israel’s security needs and to maintaining the Israel Defense Force’s technological advantage in the region.

Previous U.S. administrations have made verbal commitments on these issues, but never in the form of a written agreement.

The idea of a bilateral defense pact was raised last year, when Peres visited Washington after assuming the premiership in the wake of the Nov. 4 assassination of Yitzhak Rabin.

Israeli defense establishment officials were against the pact at the time, fearing that it could limit freedom of Israeli military activity.

The officials suggested that Israel make do with a strategic memorandum of understanding that would deal with such matters as the research and development of defense systems and a U.S. commitment to provide military supplies in times of emergency, Ha’aretz reported.

At the time of Peres’ trip to Washington, U.S. officials were inclined to link raising the level of strategic relations with Israel to progress in the negotiations with Syria.

But Israeli officials now believe that stance may have changed, given Israel’s recent suspension of talks with Syria, which has not officially condemned the terror attacks against Israelis.

NEXT STORY