Trump says he talked Mutual Defense Pact with Netanyahu, will pick up after vote
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PM says Israel 'never had greater friend in the White House'

Trump says he talked Mutual Defense Pact with Netanyahu, will pick up after vote

In tweet seen as aiming to boost PM’s reelection bid, US president says he looks forward ‘to continuing those discussions after the Israeli Elections when we meet at the UN’

US President Donald Trump, left, welcomes visiting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the White House in Washington, March 25, 2019. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)
US President Donald Trump, left, welcomes visiting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the White House in Washington, March 25, 2019. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)

US President Donald Trump on Saturday said he had spoken with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the phone of a potential Mutual Defense Pact, or MDP, between the two countries, and that he hoped to continue such talks after Tuesday’s election.

“I had a call today with Prime Minister Netanyahu to discuss the possibility of moving forward with a Mutual Defense Treaty, between the United States and Israel, that would further anchor the tremendous alliance between our two countries,” he tweeted.

“I look forward to continuing those discussions after the Israeli Elections when we meet at the United Nations later this month,” he added, in a comment that was interpreted in Israel as indicting his hope that Netanyahu will win the elections on Tuesday.

In a statement Netanyahu thanked Trump, who he called his “dear friend,” and said he too looked forward to continuing the conversation to advance “a historic defense treaty.”

“The Jewish State has never had a greater friend in the White House,” the premier tweeted.

Haaretz reported earlier this month that Netanyahu and Trump were discussing such a gesture ahead of the election in Israel, in a bid to boost the Israeli premier’s electoral prospects.

The newspaper had reported that among options being considered were a vow by Trump — with few practical implications — that the US would defend the Jewish state from any potential existential threat; or a joint declaration by both leaders that they would seek an MDP between the two countries, the main upshot of which is that each side is obligated to come to the aid of the other in the event of military conflict.

Saturday’s tweet appeared to be less substantial than rather alternative, with only a general expression of the two leader’s intent to continue discussing the issue.

Recent months have seen talk of such an accord, with some Republican lawmakers seen to support it. Negotiations on a pact would likely take months.

The two militaries already cooperate closely, sharing intelligence, holding joint drills and collaborating on defense on a regular basis. But a pact would deepen each side’s commitment to the other and potentially add new obligations.

Any potential defense pact is seen as highly controversial with the Israeli defense establishment, with officials concerned an accord on tighter defense cooperation could tie the hands of the Israeli military in certain undertakings, or at the very least limit its freedom to act independently.

Foreign Minister Israel Katz said Saturday night he supported such an accord as long as it was limited in scope and said a pact “with the strongest superpower in the world would be an unprecedented, historic achievement” that would strengthen Israel.

Israel Katz attends the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on February 17, 2019. (Sebastian Scheiner/Pool/AFP)

Meanwhile former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon, a top candidate in the Blue and White party, called the announcement election “spin” and warned on Twitter that such a pact could limit Israel’s freedom of action in military operations.

The Trump-Netanyahu relationship has seen both leaders largely drop any pretense of not involving themselves in the internal politics of each other’s countries.

Just two weeks before the April election, Trump recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, in a seismic shift in US Mideast policy. And a day before the vote, the administration designated Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist organization — another win for Netanyahu.

Netanyahu has made several whirlwind trips this month largely seen as an effort to reinforce his image a a diplomatic heavyweight with close ties to world leaders.

On Thursday he met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi. The two discussed military coordination between Moscow and Jerusalem and Israel’s efforts to prevent Tehran from entrenching itself in Syria. Earlier in the month he traveled to London for a 30-minute meeting with Prime Minister Boris Johnson. The two discussed Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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