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FP: Territorial depth and air space are some of the strategic advantages of Samaria. What is the scope of protection offered by this land?
Gottlieb: For Israel to defend her home front, she needs the ability to detect and intercept enemy aircraft and incoming missiles from a sufficient enough distance. At least 70% of Israel’s territorial depth, from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean coast, comes from Samaria. That provides Israel with the airspace cushion she needs to protect her citizens.
Also, the Shomron offers commanding views of much of the country. On a clear day, from the “Three Seas” lookout in the Samarian settlement of Itamar, the naked eye can see the Mediterranean Sea, the Dead Sea and the Sea of Galilee, as well as the Jordan Valley. That’s more than a third of the entire country visible from just one spot. Imagine what would be if Israel’s enemies were to control that and other such lookouts.
FP: If Israel were to give up Samaria to the Palestinians, can modern weapon systems and international guarantees somehow compensate her for the strategic loss?
Gottlieb: Any modern weapon system, even if based on cutting edge technology, has a limited shelf life; it’s just a matter of time before it becomes outdated. Any system requires regular updating, upgrading and eventually replacement. System can be jammed and failures can happen unpredictably. Without any territorial height or depth to fall back on and living in a very dangerous neighborhood, a slimmed-down post-withdrawal Israel cannot afford even one mistake. While weapon systems do play an important role in a country’s defense, they are no substitute for its natural topography and territorial depth. Israel cannot allow herself to gamble with her survival in such a way.
International guarantees sound nice in theory, but are in no way a sure bet. They cannot be enforced and are subject to change. Just look at UNSC Resolution 1701, adopted after the Second Lebanon War. It promised that UNIFIL soldiers will disarm Hizballah, restore full control to the Government of Lebanon and bring home the Israeli POWs. Instead, Hizballah is now armed to the teeth, our POWs still missing and Lebanon has become a virtual puppet of Iran. Israel’s northern border is again primed for hostilities. I don’t put much faith in international guarantees.
There is no justification for trading Israel’s strategic land assets for weapon systems and international promises. The only guarantor of Israel’s security is Israel herself.
FP: How well is the Shomron’s strategic advantage understood by the average Israeli?
Gottlieb: Unfortunately, not well enough. The Israeli media and intelligentsia, enablers of the Left’s agenda, have cornered the marketplace of ideas. They suppress an open and free exchange of opinions if it runs counter to their worldview, which is very undemocratic. Thus, most Israelis are unaware, uninformed and conditioned to dismiss anything or anyone over the Green Line. The image of the settlers and the Greater Israel movement suffer from this. The Right has trouble getting its message out to the mainstream. It’s hard to convince an Israeli of the strategic importance of Samaria when he believes our hold on Samaria was born in sin.
Yet, people are finally starting to wake up. Activists and private initiatives are bringing people out to the Shomron to show them firsthand its beautiful countryside, patriotic residents and strategic importance. I’m optimistic for the future.
FP: Certainly Israel’s military leaders and strategists know a thing or two about security and defense. What is their position on giving up the Shomron?
Gottlieb: The commanders of the Israel Defense Forces know very well that Samaria is a strategic asset of the highest order. The region’s empty, wide open spaces provide ample room for air force maneuver exercises. Its hilly terrain is ideally suited for the army’s radar stations, communications towers, observation and listening posts. Far from encouraging conflict, the IDF presence on the Shomron actually discourages hostilities and stabilizes the area. I believe that Israel’s not-so-friendly Arab neighbors also appreciate Samaria’s strategic value and that helps to keep them at bay. Nothing would tempt them more than a defenseless, Samaria-free Israel. If Israel doesn’t use the Shomron for her own benefit, others will use it to her detriment.
The problem arises when some of these otherwise astute military men become our politicians, which is typical here. They seem to suddenly forget the strategic and deterrent value of the land and behave very irresponsibly.
FP: You equate the strategic importance of Samaria with the Golan Heights. What would you say to those who would charge this to be an exaggeration?
Gottlieb: Come and see for yourself. Go to any lookout point on the western slopes of the Samarian mountain range and look out towards the sea. The entire coastal plain is laid out before your feet. Witness the sweeping panoramic views of 130 kilometers of coastline, from Ashkelon to up the Carmel Mountains. Gaze upon three-quarters of Israel’s population, industry, infrastructure and roadways. Watch from above as planes take off from Ben Gurion International Airport. You are at the doorstep of Israel’s soft underbelly. Now jump in your car and drive uphill a few minutes until you reach the ridge’s summit. From here face east and peer down into the Jordan Valley abyss below. You will immediately understand why no enemy tank could cross into Israel from Jordan.
Actually, my blog doesn’t equate the strategic importance of Samaria with that of the Golan. Of the two, Samaria is more significant. The Golan Heights is indeed very strategic but it’s far from the crowded center; Samaria sits right on top of it.
I invite your readers to log on to my Shomron Central blog here to learn more about Samaria.
FP: Michael Gottlieb, as always, a pleasure.
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