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In the years that followed the 1967 Six Day War a prevailing conventional wisdom developed among Western policy makers – especially in Washington — that simultaneously contends that a “strong and secure Israel” should have, as per UN Resolution 242, “secure and recognized boundaries” or simply “defensible borders,” yet nonetheless calls on Israel to make unilateral territorial concessions (today’s PC term is a return to the pre-’67 lines with “mutually agreed land swaps”) as part of an ultimate peace settlement with its Arab neighbors.
Strangely few perceive the inherent contradiction between the call for a “strong and secure Israel” and the call to give up the very territory that would – at minimum – comprise said strength and security.
This was the case with Egypt, for example. More than 30 years ago, Israel gave up the entire Sinai Peninsula, including its vast strategic depths and bottleneck passes as well as the Abu Rodeis oil fields, which supplied Israel more than half its energy needs and would have made Israel energy independent within a few short years more than 30 years ago. And this is also the case today with the Palestinian Arabs. As long as there are Palestinian Arabs willing to take territory from Israel even without any quid pro quo from their side, Israel is expected to unilaterally give up its most strategically critical territory.
Israel, without the administered territories, is a strategically crippled country. These areas, known historically as Judea and Samaria and labeled “the West Bank” following the Jordanian occupation of said territories in 1949, are the key to Israel’s strategic strength against any attack from the east (Jordan, Syria, Iraq, Iran, et al.). An Israel with control of these territories is a strategic asset to the West in defense against radical Islamic expansionism no less, if not more, than during the Cold War period when Israel was the West’s reliable bulwark against Soviet expansionism in the Middle East.
Up until the late 1980s, following the outbreak of the so-called “Palestinian uprising” or “first intifada,” everyone viewed the security threat to Israel to be solely by conventional Arab armies who, to quote the late Egyptian President Nasser, wished to “drive the Jews into the sea.” In the following two decades, with the vast increase of terrorist attacks and the introduction to the missile age, it appeared that conventional war no longer threatened Israel’s existence per se. And if the threat was primarily terrorism and missiles fired from afar, territory with its high ground and strategic depth no longer seemed as important. From the standpoint of Israel’s national security, however, this is a misconception. Territory is not only still vital for national defense, it is even more so than previously.
There is a basic premise: Israel’s security can be discussed only in terms of national survival. It is necessary to understand the price Israel pays if she unilaterally gives up more of these territories and what she benefits by their retention.
Given the three potential threats of missile attacks, terrorism, and conventional warfare, Israel must retain a safety zone with the aforementioned high ground and strategic depth to deal with any potential future threats — even if political agreements are signed with its Arab neighbors. Israel cannot afford to bet its survival on signed agreements while giving up critical tangible physical strategic assets. Israel needs to maintain the ability to defend itself under any and all possible circumstances. (Given the Muslim/Arab history for not keeping agreements with non-Muslims, this is not mere whimsy.)
The key question Israeli policy makers must ask themselves: If Israel were attacked by a combination of a conventional Arab army, ballistic missiles, and terrorist bands, would a truncated border with its lack of strategic depth be sufficient for the IDF’s small standing army to successfully repel the invaders and do so with minor damage to Israel’s national infrastructure? Or to be blunt: Could Israel survive such an attack in the event of an all-out war?
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