Outgoing Senior FM Official Calls for Military Pact With Washington

Aim of joint pact would be to bolster Israel's deterrence in the face of any future threat from Iran.

An outgoing senior Foreign Ministry official has urged Israel to press for strengthened American defense guarantees, and to sign a military pact with Washington before the end of the Bush administration.

Yoram Ben-Zeev, the ministry's former deputy director-general for North America, said in a report written two months ago and presented to Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni that the aim of the joint pact would be to bolster Israel's deterrence in the face of any threat from Iran.

Ben-Zeev has recently been appointed Israel's ambassador to Berlin.

Recommending several moves to upgrade Israel's defense relations with Washington, his report describes President George W. Bush as the most sympathetic president to Israel and says both Congress and Senate support Israel "wall-to-wall."

Signing a defense pact with the U.S. would mean that Washington would treat any attack on Israel as an attack on the U.S. and would act to protect Israel or retaliate against the assailant. However, such a pact could also limit Israel because it would require the Americans' approval for any military act Israel would consider.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and other officials have held several debates on Bush's scheduled visit to Israel next month, but it is not clear if they discussed raising a request for defense guarantees or a defense pact.

Foreign Ministry officials who discussed upgrading Israel's defense relations with the U.S. disagreed over the method and final result.

"With a formal treaty the Americans could demand much more of Israel and it would increase our dependence on them dramatically," a senior official said.

"It is also not clear whether it would enhance Israel's deterrence vis-a-vis Iran and other countries or damage it," he said.

In the first years of Bush's term, Israel made overtures to upgrade its defense relations with the U.S., Israel's ambassador in Washington at the time, Danny Ayalon, said. "But the war in Iraq and then the drone crisis removed it from the agenda," he added.