Israel is not a NATO member and does not have a formal defense treaty with the United States. But the United States has for decades designated Israel a “major non-NATO ally,” signed multiple defense cooperation agreements with it, and provided sophisticated weapons and billions of dollars in military aid.
As Ukraine awaits a firm timetable for NATO membership, President Volodymyr Zelensky said in an interview over the weekend that he believes the United States will follow the “Israel model” with his country in the meantime.
What is the ‘Israel model’?
Since the 1960s, one American president after another has described U.S.-Israeli ties in terms of ironclad support and deep cooperation, much like the “special relationship” between Britain and the United States. That led to close coordination between American and Israeli spy agencies and helped Israel develop one of the world’s most technologically advanced militaries.
Although American military aid normally requires the purchase of U.S.-manufactured weapons, Israel has been allowed to use some of that money to buy Israeli-made weapons, contributing to the growth of its defense industry into a powerhouse. (That special allowance is being phased out.)
The United States has supplied vast sums to Israel over the years. In 2016, for example, Congress passed a 10-year security assistance agreement pledging $38 billion through 2028. The Biden administration has sent more than $41 billion in military assistance to Ukraine since the start of the war, well surpassing that sum.
How would it apply to Ukraine?
Washington’s military aid to Ukraine so far has been allocated on an ad hoc basis. Under an Israel-style arrangement, Congress could pass a long-term military aid agreement that would help the Ukrainians build up their military over a matter of years.
It could also potentially foster the growth of Ukraine’s defense industry by allowing for the purchase of arms from Ukrainian manufacturers, said Grant Rumley, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a research group.
Such a relationship, he added, would send a strong message to Russia without entangling the United States in a formal treaty. Critically, it would avoid a provision like NATO’s Article 5, which declares that an attack against one member state is an attack against them all.
Would it serve as a deterrent to Russia?
Some critics argue that it wouldn’t, and that the only effective deterrence is NATO membership for Ukraine.
“If the trans-Atlantic community consigns Kyiv to the Israel model, Ukraine will be left indefinitely in the gray zone of insecurity that has repeatedly catalyzed Putin’s hegemonic ambitions into violent actions,” Ian Brzezinski, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, wrote in an article recently.
Western leaders including President Biden, in an effort to avoid a full-blown conflict with Russia, have said NATO membership for Kyiv will have to wait until the end of the fighting.
How do the U.S. relationships with Israel and Ukraine differ?
Whereas the U.S. relationship with Israel benefits in part from decades of strong bipartisan support in Congress, it is unclear how long American lawmakers will agree to underwrite Ukraine’s war effort.
Although Democrats are largely united behind continued military aid for Ukraine, Republican presidential candidates were split on the question at last week’s debate. In Congress, some Republicans have bristled at the money allocated to Ukraine — and it is unclear how the spotlight of an election year, paired with a conflict that has shown few signs of ending soon, could change the outlook for continued support.
Israel and Ukraine also face very different threats with very different militaries.
Israel possesses a powerful army, advanced weaponry and a nuclear arsenal; Ukraine, which gave up its nuclear weapons in the 1990s, rebuilt its military from Soviet stockpiles while fighting an invasion.
Israel’s enemies — who range from Palestinian militants to the more sophisticated Iran — do not include a global superpower armed with nuclear weapons.