Samaria’s Strategic Value

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Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Michael Gottlieb, an oleh (immigrant) from the US who is a man on a mission. After moving from New York’s suburbia to Israel’s bucolic Samarian (Shomron) heartland region, he has joined the battle to save the Land of Israel in general and the Shomron in particular. His weapon of choice: his Shomron Central blog.

FP: Michael Gottlieb, welcome back to Frontpage Interview. It was a pleasure to speak with you in our previous two interviews. (Part I, click here, Part II, click here)

Gottlieb: Thanks, Jamie.

FP: Your blog’s lead-off page explores the immense strategic value of the Samarian mountain range to Israel and her citizens. Share with us its main points and arguments.

Gottlieb: Its main points are the advantages to Israel of Samaria’s strategic heights, territorial depth and airspace, without which her borders would be indefensible.

Samaria straddles Israel’s Central Mountain ridge, running north-south for 70 kilometers right down the middle of the country. This ridge runs parallel to that part of the coastal plain which is the most heavily populated, including the Tel Aviv Metropolitan Area. It is staggering to think that the western side of this ridge dominates a section of the coastal plain that is home to 70% of Israel’s population and 80% of its industry and infrastructure, not to mention numerous military installations, most major traffic arteries and its sole international airport. Were an enemy to control the Samarian heights, Israel could be shut down overnight. Moreover, the eastern side of the ridge overlooks and controls the strategic Jordan Valley, widely considered essential to Israel’s security.

People don’t realize that pre-1967 Israel, without Samaria, is just 15 km wide at its narrowest point. An enemy tank can traverse that in under 18 minutes. That’s not a defensible border. Once that weak link is broken, Israel is cut in half. Samaria serves as a buffer to the country’s nerve centers along the coast to the west and provides territorial contiguity with the Jordan Valley to the east. Its depth provides Israel with the crucial reaction time needed to mobilize forces and repel a ground invasion. It also allows her to deploy her air defense systems from forward positions along the Samarian hilltops and not from the crowded coastal plain. Short-range radar and early-warning systems positioned on the plain would have their line-of-sight blocked by the mountain ridge.

The airspace overhead is no less crucial to Israel’s security. It takes just three and a half minutes for an enemy fighter bomber to cross over the Jordan River and reach the Mediterranean. Under two minutes to reach Jerusalem. Without Samaria, Israel would lack the minimum reaction time needed to intercept enemy aircraft or deploy anti-aircraft missiles. Without this airspace, she would be defenseless.

FP: Would trading the strategic high ground of Judea and Samaria for some kind of “peace deal” in the future ever be worth Israel’s risk?

Gottlieb: That all depends on what kind of peace deal you mean. While it is theoretically possible for Israel to get the kind of deal it needs to safely and permanently decouple from Judea and Samaria, I doubt that will happen in our lifetimes, if ever. There isn’t a shred of evidence to suggest that such a deal is likely to materialize. The Arabs won’t compromise; their intransigence is legendary. And the gap between what could be an acceptable deal and what’s possible today is vast and growing. The Palestinians’ best offer is so far from one that Israel can afford to accept, that the odds of a mutually acceptable, successful and lasting peace deal is virtually nil. The Two State Solution has hit a dead-end.

In light of this, Israel must get off the fence and make some tough decisions now. She could capitulate and withdraw to the Green Line, but then the resultant Palestinian state would be final and irreversible. An ensuing state of war would be inevitable. Or Israel can assert full control over Judea and Samaria, undo past mistakes and keep open all her options. The latter is a lot less risky.

In any case, one thing is for sure: peace deals and regimes are transient. They can be abrogated and toppled. The strategic high ground, however, is forever and unchanging; it will always protect its possessor.

FP: You refer to the “Mountain Ridge Shield”. What is that?

Gottlieb: The Samarian mountain ridge dominates Israel’s western and eastern flank. Israeli control over the western slope provides a protective shield for the country’s major transportation arteries in the exposed coastal strip to the west. This is crucial during a wartime mobilization. Three-quarters of the Israel Defense Forces are reservists who need quick, unfettered access to the roadways during a call-up. Materiel must also be moved quickly from various points throughout the country to the fronts. An enemy presence on these heights will disrupt and delay a mobilization. But that won’t happen if Israel controls the Samarian heights.

The mountain ridge is also the world’s most effective natural tank barrier. Its steep, 1200 meter high eastern slope overlooks the Jordan Valley depression and is virtually impenetrable. There are only five east-west crossings over the length of the entire ridge. Strategically positioned at these crossings, Israel can block a large easterly invasion with a relatively small force, buying herself valuable time to mobilize.

There’s a lot of misinformation going around regarding this issue. Two-state solution advocates claim that Israel can afford to relinquish control of their Judean and Samarian land assets. Their rationalization is that the high ground is less relevant in today’s age of ballistic missiles and sophisticated weaponry. I disagree. In fact, just the opposite is true. The more advanced and destructive the Arabs’ weapons become, the quicker Israel needs to mobilize. That can’t happen if the enemy is disrupting Israel’s transportation network from the Samarian heights. Also, while missiles do destroy, it’s the tanks and troops that conquer and occupy. To defeat an enemy, there is still no substitute for a ground invasion, as was borne out by the 2002 Afghanistan and 2003 Iraq campaigns. Israel’s control of Samaria will deter such an invasion.

Remember, the next Mideast war will likely be multi-frontal.  Israel’s control of the high ground will greatly improve her odds of repelling an invasion and that will free up the army to deal with the other fronts. Without the Mountain Ridge Shield, Israel’s would be defenseless.

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  • Michael

    There is one thing in particular that Israel could quite legally do. Namely, unilaterally to assume the responsibilities for administering the Mandate for Palestine, which is still in force for the West Bank and Gaza.

    Then, remove Palestinian citizenship (as created by the British in 1925) from everyone who has, acquires, or is entitled to a foreign citizenship.

    Israel would then be free to annex the West Bank without having to promote the inhabitants to Israelis.

    • Stephen_Brady

      Michael, those are strong words, and I don't know all of the details of the Mandate. However, I agree with you, and for one express reason. If the Israelis were to give up the West Bank, they would have to do 1967, again, after the first rockets started falling on Tel Aviv.

      Doing what you said in your post avoids war, and saves lives. Who cares what the "world community" … which is almost unanimously opposed to the existence of Israel, anyway … thinks of the action?

  • 080

    That Israel is indefensible without the West Bank was attested to by 100 American generals in a published statement many years ago. I believe them. If anyone doesn't I would like to know why not.

  • Draza

    Expel the muslims from israel. Take the land from the Nile to the Great river Euphrates.
    Make Lebanon a Christian nation again. Turn Tehran and Damascus to molten glass. Threaten the remaining Arabs with nuclear destruction. Then the Jews will be able to live in peace,