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[*] “Precisely because of our friendship [with Israel], it’s important that we tell the truth;”
[*] “And it is precisely because of our commitment to Israel’s long-term security that we have worked to advance peace between Israelis and Palestinians.”
President Obama, however, has not told the whole truth in his review of the record of previous U.S. presidents. He has also been less than precise concerning his own efforts for peace and downright sloppy in his review of Israel security needs and demographic considerations.
Actually, if Israel were to return to the old frontier lines (which date from 1949, not 1967) as President Barack Obama urges, Israel’s strategic situation would be dramatically worsened in many ways.
Mortal Danger: Arab armies or terrorists would be able to cut Israel in half along its narrow waist, because there would be only eight or nine miles (15 km.) from the Arab state Obama envisions and the Mediterranean Sea. This is about the same distance as from Wall Street to Columbia University in New York City. An Arab armored column could knife across Israel’s heartland through the narrow and heavily populated coastal plain at Netanyah. Within minutes, certainly no more than hours, a surprise Arab attack could mortally wound Israel. Even a small and well-executed terror incursion could sever Israel in two very rapidly.
Air Space and Air Alert: Israel’s mountain bases in the West Bank and the Golan Heights, which Obama wants Israel to relinquish, allow Israel early warning time from threats (such as missile launches and air attack) from even as far away as Iran and Iraq. In addition, the heavily industrialized coastal plain gets a few extra minutes warning time from closer threats. Today, a jet fighter can cross from the Jordan River to Tel Aviv, Haifa or Netanya in under three minutes. That is not a lot of time, but it is better than having less than a minute.
Palestinian leaders refuse even to discuss Israel maintaining sovereign air rights over any Palestinian territory or Israel holding bases inside such territory. Indeed, the history of Israeli bases in the Gaza Strip, which were constantly attacked, is proof of how difficult it would be to maintain bases without significant Israeli territory linking them to Israel. This, too, is ruled out by PLO leaders, and no amount of “land swaps” can possibly correct the problem.
Indefensible Borders: The West Bank is essentially the world’s biggest anti-tank trap. Five mountain passes rise steeply from the low ground of the Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea (the lowest point on the planet) up to mountains of Judea and Samaria. Israel can easily hold off superior forces from the high ground. That is why Gen. Earle Wheeler and the US Joint Chiefs of Staff told President Lyndon Johnson in July 1967 that, for its defense, Israel needed to hold this high ground. (For a copy of JCSM-373-67, June 29, 1967, see Michael Widlanski (ed.), Can Israel Survive A Palestinian State, Jerusalem, IASPS, 1990, pp. 148-149.)
President Lyndon Johnson’s advisers Eugene Rostow and Arthur Goldberg drew up UN Security Council Resolution 242. They specifically wrote “defensible borders.” This was a reference to the research opinion solicited by President Johnson from his Joint Chiefs of Staff. Johnson’s aides also refused the concept of total withdrawal.
Israeli military men and policy makers as diverse as Labor’s Yigal Allon and Likud’s Ariel Sharon also built their own strategic visions on Israel retaining at least 30-50% of the West Bank for Israeli security needs. Such significant Israeli control is completely rejected by Arab policy makers. It cannot be fixed by “land swaps” because Israel simply does not have enough land to swap.
Obama Rules Out Major Border Changes: Since making his State Department policy speech on the “67 borders,” Obama has tried to explain that he was not demanding a return to previous frontier lines, but several elements show that he is again not telling anything close to the truth. First, Obama himself stipulates that Israel’s total land area should not be increased, but that “Palestine” and Israel should execute mutually equal land swaps. Secondly, Obama insists that “Palestine” should be “contiguous”—i.e. that Gaza and the West Bank must be connected by a land corridor that effectively cuts Israel in half. Thirdly, Obama insists that “Palestine” have borders with Jordan and Egypt, making it likely that terror and arms smuggling will be relatively easy—as is the situation in Gaza today. Most important, Mr. Obama insists on “the full and phased withdrawal of Israeli military forces” from the West Bank. In simple language, this rules out Israeli forward bases on the Jordan River or the Jordan Valley. That is basically a return to the pre-1967 or 1949 situation, whether Obama admits it or not.
When Obama says he is “leaving it up to both sides,” this is also not true, because when Obama makes the stipulations about full Israeli withdrawal and the limits on Israel’s total size, he is making it nearly impossible for any future Palestinian leader to take a Palestinian negotiating stance that is less Palestinian than Barack Obama’s.
Obama did this before with his position on Jewish “settlements,” and PLO leader Mahmoud Abbas admits that Obama essentially ran him “up the tree.”
Defending Jerusalem: Between 1949 and 1967, Jerusalem was a shriveled town, whose re-supply and communications lines were vulnerable to attack. That is one of the reasons that Israel’s Defense Ministry was set up in Tel Aviv. Jerusalem was Israel’s capital in name, but isolated and vulnerable in practice. Jerusalem is located along the continental divide between the Israeli coastal plain and the Judean Desert. Geographically, it is an enclave surrounded by the West Bank, and maintaining Israel control of Jerusalem would be difficult without controlling significant portions of the higher ground of the Judean mountains around Jerusalem. Israeli control of Jerusalem would also be made a nightmare by ceding Arab control to significant neighborhoods or regions around Jerusalem, as Obama envisions.
Other Implications of Cutting Israel Down to Size: This has been a dream of Arab regimes and pro-Arab policy-makers even before the 1967 War. In the 1940’s and early 1950’s, Britain’s Ernest Bevin, UN mediator Folke Bernadotte and many in the US State Department wanted to take Jerusalem and parts of the Negev out of Israeli control for a variety of reasons. Today, “cutting Israel down to size” is the express dream of Amr Moussa, the staunchly anti-Israel secretary-general of the Arab League and the leading candidate to succeed Egyptian leader Husni Mubarak His goal of cutting Israel down to size would also likely encourage irredentist tendencies among Israeli Arabs and demands for autonomy of predominately Arab sections of Israel in the Galilee and Negev. In other words, Obama’s ideas would not lead to peace and stability but to more instability and foment.
Overall Effect on Israel’s Defense Doctrine: Because of the loss of strategic depth and early warning, Israel would need to move to a trip-wire defense posture that would encourage massive pre-emptive and probably unconventional attack on any perceived threats. This, too, is not a formula for stability or tranquility.
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