Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's June 14 2009 foreign policy address at Bar Ilan University made headlines around the world for his acceptance of a Palestinian state. Less noticed by the foreign press was the second part of Netanyahu's speech: His demand for reciprocity from the Palestinians. That Palestinian state, he said, would have to recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, it would have to be demilitarized, and Israel's critical security needs would have to be honored.
That reference to Israel's critical security needs represented a return to the traditional Israeli position that peace with its Arab neighbors can only come through secure borders for Israel. The classic statement of that doctrine was the so-called Allon Plan, formulated by Foreign Minister Yigal Allon in the wake of the 1967 Six-Day War. Allon envisioned Israel retaining captured territory in Judea and Samaria vital to Israel's security, especially the Jordan Valley – the entire area from the Jordan River bed to the crest of the eastern slope of the Judean and Samarian mountain ridge facing the Hashemite kingdom of Jordan. In a speech to the Knesset, one month before his assassination, Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin, who served under Allon in the pre-state Palmach, reiterated the vision of his mentor. "The security border of the State of Israel will be located in the Jordan Valley in the broadest meaning of that term," Rabin said. He added that Israel would not return to the 1949 armistice lines, which were in place until June 5 1967.
From the middle of the Oslo process, however, Israel's traditional security-based diplomacy doctrine began to be replaced by a radically different approach, best describes as diplomacy-based security: the idea that peace is not secured by Israel retaining the ability to defeat any possible combination of enemies, but by entering into diplomatic agreements with the Palestinians and its Arab neighbors. That new approach reached its height under the premiership of Ehud Barak at the 2000 Camp David conference, when Yasir Arafat was offered a state in virtually the entirety of territory Israel captured in 1967.
One analyst who was listening carefully to both parts of Netanyahu's Bar-Ilan speech, was Daniel Diker, a Harvard-trained, foreign policy fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (JCPA), and currently Secretary-General designate of the World Jewish Congress. JCPA is headed by Dr. Dore Gold, a former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations. With the backing and direction of Gold, Diker conceived the idea of gathering a group of Israel's leading military strategists to flesh out the comprehensive security analysis behind Netanyahu's Bar-Ilan speech.
The group assembled was exceptionally distinguished by any measure. It included a former chief of staff (and current vice- prime minister) – Lt.-Gen. Moshe (Bogie) Ya'alon; a former deputy chief of staff -- Maj.-Gen. Uzi Dayan; a former head of IDF Intelligence -- Maj.-Gen. Aharon Ze'evi Farkash; two former heads of IDF Intelligence Assessment Division -- Maj.-Gen. Yaakov Amidror and Brig.-Gen.Yossi Kuperwasser; a former head of IDF Planning Division -- Brig.-Gen. Udi Dekel; and two former national security advisors to the prime minister – Dayan and Maj.-Gen. Giora Eiland. Dekel also headed the unit responsible for negotiations with the Palestinians under Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Though the participants wrote different chapters of the final report, entitled Israel's Critical Security Needs for a Viable Peace, Diker told me there was consensus among the group on all of the security requirements. The findings were presented at a major conference at Jerusalem's David Citadel Hotel on June 2, at which this writer was present.
When I asked Diker, whether there is any chance that the Palestinians, who have not changed their stance on any major issue since 1993, might ever agree to the security arrangements outlined in the report, he implied that the question begs the point. It is not Israel's task to continually retreat from its positions to coax an agreement from the Palestinians. Rather Israel must identify what its basic security needs are. Israel's Critical Security Needs, he explained, represents an attempt to return a basic symmetry of claims to negotiations with the Palestinians, from the current situation that began at Oslo, in which the Palestinians have refused every Israeli offer, while "pocketing" the latest Israeli concessions as the starting point for the next round of negotiations.
"American support for Israel's security needs has always been bi-partisan and rock solid in Congress. It was Israel, under Prime Minister Ehud Barak, that confused matters by taking the position that peace agreements with the Palestinians could, by themselves, create security for Israel," Diker told me. "Netanyahu is now trying to undo the confusion Israel itself sowed among her supporters in Congress and previous administrations."
Meeting the Conventional Threat
The classic threat upon which Israeli military planners focused until the beginning of the Oslo process was an attack by multiple Arab armies, such as occurred in 1948, 1967, and 1973. Prior to the successful conclusion of the Six-Day War, Israel's primary vulnerability with respect to such an attack was its narrow coastal plane, in which 70% of its population and 80% of its industrial output is located. At its narrowest point, the distance between the Mediterranean Sea and the 1949 armistice lines was only 9 miles, and at no point was it much more than 15 miles. That lack of strategic depth led the late Foreign Minister Abba Eban to famously refer to the 1949 armistice lines as Israel's "Auschwitz borders."
Israel's lack of strategic depth was compounded by the fact that it faces Arab standing armies many times the size of its own, and depends for its defense for mobilization of reserve units, which takes at least 48 hours to complete. In the meantime, a numerically overwhelming foe could overrun IDF defense positions.
For those reasons, military analysts agree that the borders prior to June 5 1967 were indefensible in the long-run. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara asked General Earl Wheeler, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, after the Six-Day War, what minimum territory Israel would be justified in retaining. The latter replied that Israel would need to retain some captured Arab territory to achieve militarily defensible borders, and a document prepared by the Joint Chiefs of Staff recommended "a boundary along the commanding terrain overlooking the Jordan River."
Some argue that in an age of air power and missiles that ground forces, and thus strategic depth, are less important than they once were. Former deputy chief of staff Uzi Dayan disagrees vehemently. He points out that even with overwhelming air power in Iraq in 1991 and 2003, American forces required a massive ground operation to prevail. And Israel learned in Lebanon in 2006 that without an effective ground offensive no amount of air superiority was capable of suppressing Hizbullah missile fire.
To defend against a conventional attack strategic depth is crucial. The Israel Air Forces (IAF's) unquestioned superiority would not be sufficient to stop an enemy attack by itself, since the IAF would have to be employed first in destroying enemy states' air defense systems and attacking sites of ballistic missiles launched at Israeli cities. In the meantime, Dayan points out, Palestinians using easily available and highly mobile shoulder-held rockets would have the ability to severely disrupt Israel's mobilization of its reserves.
To prevent a Palestinian entity from linking to Arab armies on the other side of the Jordan, Israel, according to all the analysts, would have to retain control from the Jordan River to the eastern crest of the mountain range facing Jordan. In addition, the Palestinian state would have to be demilitarized in the conventional sense – i.e., no tanks, no planes, no military alliances; no stationing of foreign troops; no military infrastructures or defense industries, including those with dual use capacity.
The Terror Threat of a Palestinian State
But even the conventional type of disarmament described above would be completely insufficient, argues former IDF intelligence chief Gen. Aharon Ze'evi Farkash, to deal with the greatest threat to Israel from a Palestinian entity: that a failed Palestinian state would become a safe haven for jihadi terrorists from around the world. Every terrorist group needs a safe haven somewhere, points out Colonel Richard Kemp, who had firsthand experience of such groups as commander of British forces in Afghanistan. The Taliban and Al Qaeda have found such a safe haven in the tribal regions of Pakistan; Sunni insurgents in Iraq operated freely across the border from Syria. And, Kemp predicts, a Palestinian state would likely become such a haven for multiple terrorist groups.
Dan Diker pointed out to me, in our phone conversation, that there are at least 100,000 uncollected weapons in the West Bank from the days in which Yasir Arafat was supporting 60,000 armed men in his various security forces. It is far from clear that the 3,000 American-trained Palestinian security personne have the ability or political will to rein in potential terrorists, who are in many cases relatives, neighbors and friends of the official Palestinian security services. In the estimation of Israeli security officials, it is only the presence of Israeli troops in the West Bank today that prevents a Hamas takeover of the West Bank, just as it did in Gaza. And, according to former head of IDF Intelligence Gen. Farkash, only the presence of the IDF has prevented Palestinians on the West Bank from manufacturing short-range rockets, as they do in Gaza.
The potential for terrorism emanating from a Palestinian state in the West Bank is exacerbated by the nature of peace negotiations since Oslo. Vice-Prime Minister Ya'alon describes the entire process as "top-down:" "Leaders have held meetings, shaken hands, attended peace conferences, and even signed agreements with Israeli leaders." But such a process, which "does not sprout from the grassroots of a society," is in Ya'alon's view, "useless." As long as suicide bombers are still lionized in the official Palestinian media as "holy martyrs," and there does not exist on the Palestinian side any movement towards a culture of peace, then the entire process is a sand-castle. The "top-down" approach, suggests Eiland, is a subspecies of a particular form of Israeli hubris that we can completely control everything. In this case that hubris is expressed in the belief that Israel can somehow bring about peace itself, without a fundamental transformation of Palestinian society.
An unstable, terrorist enclave would not only be a mortal threat to Israel, but to the stability of neighboring Jordan as well, which would be destabilized by the presence of radical Islamic terror groups. Today, Gen. Eiland commented sarcastically, Jordan's King Abdullah has the best of all possible worlds. He can gain street credibility with the Palestinians by "insulting Israel twice a day," while benefitting from Israel keeping a lid on the West Bank.
Conventional deterrence works poorly against terrorist enclaves because the nominal government is not viewed as responsible by the international community, as Israel's Gaza experience demonstrates. Hamas was democratically elected, and yet the international community refuses to hold it accountable for the rockets fired from the Gaza Strip. Even after being hit with thousands of rockets from Gaza, Israel was still condemned for finally entering the Gaza Strip to stop the rocket fire.
The fear that keeps Israeli strategists up at nights is of terrorists in possession of what Gen. Giora Eiland calls the three "game-changers:" anti-tank missiles; anti-aircraft missiles; and short-range rockets, like those in possession of Hamas in the Gaza Strip. For Israel, General Farkash explains, demilitarization of the West Bank means far more than the traditional – no planes, no tanks, etc. It means that absence of any security threat – whether it be symmetrical or asymmetrical, military or terrorist – that poses a threat to disrupt daily life in Israel.
Eiland's "game-changers" represent just such a threat. All are readily available and easily hidden from view. Admiral Brian Peterman, former special assistant to President George W. Bush, spoke to the June 2 conference on film. He noted that there are estimated to be 500,000 shoulder-fired anti-aircraft weapons in the world, and these are easily procured on the black market. Even the most primitive of these weapons, he said, would be capable of bringing down a commercial airliner coming into Ben-Gurion Airport, where many of the landing patterns involve flying over the West Bank. In addition, the West Bank high ground overlooking the airport makes surveillance of flight patterns very easy. Even the threat of attacks on commercial aircraft could effectively cut Israel off from the world.
Intelligence about shadowy terrorist groups deeply embedded in a civilian population is extremely difficult to come by, points out Col. Richard Kemp. Despite all the United States's advanced technology, it barely made a dent on the ability of Al Qaeda to transfer munitions freely in Afghanistan. In the last year of Kemp's service, Al Qaeda and the Taliban increased their attacks on allied forces by 80% and on civilian populations by 70%.
Heightening the danger posed by Eiland's three "game-changers" is the topography of Judea and Samaria: Much of it is 3,000 feet above sea level and Israel's coastal cities. Not only is the entire coastal plane, including Ben-Gurion Airport, exposed from the vantage point of the West Bank's central mountain range, but so is the Tel-Aviv-Jerusalem Highway. In the 1967 war, 9,000 mortars rained down on Jerusalem from Jordanian positions in the West Bank. Within a few miles of the West Bank lies much of Israel's most vital infrastructure: the Trans-Israel Highway; the national water carrier, and high voltage electric lines. From the West Bank, even the missiles currently in Hamas's possession, could hit over 70% of Israel, and a much higher percentage of its population.
To have any protection against the threats posed by the "game-changers," Israel would certainly have to maintain the areas overlooking Ben-Gurion Airport, and the strategic high points around Jerusalem, which have been built up since 1967. And it would have to retain the Jordan Valley up to the Jordan River in order to prevent the smuggling of easily transported rockets into the West Bank. Israel has already had bitter experience in Gaza of what a lack of border control means in terms of weapons smuggling. Though home-manufactured rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip took place even prior to the Gaza withdrawal, with the transfer of responsibility over the Philadelpha Corridor from Israel control to Egypt, rocket attacks increased fivefold.
With respect to arms smuggling, the conference discussed only the interdiction of arms coming via Jordan. But what if somehow Fatah and Hamas could reach an agreement that would allow for the reunification of the West Bank and Gaza? Smuggled weapons are pouring into Gaza, and if Gaza were connected to the West Bank via a tunnel or a bridge, as some have proposed, then they could easily enter the West Bank as well. I asked Dan Diker about this possibility. The best he could offer was to express great doubts that Hamas and Fatah will reach a national unification agreement any time in the near future, in light of their mutual loathing and deep suspicion of one another.
The traditional answer given by the Europeans to Israel's fear of the West Bank becoming a terrorist enclave, as soon as Israeli troops withdraw, has been: We will protect you. The Europeans make the same offer with respect to guarding the Jordan River against weapons smuggling.
Israel, however, has always insisted on retaining the ability to defend itself, by itself, against any threat or combination of threats. In President George W. Bush's April 14 2004 letter to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Bush reiterated the United States's steadfast commitment not only to "secure, defensible borders" for Israel, but also "to preserve and strengthen Israel's capability to deter and defend itself, by itself, against any threat or possible combination of threats." According to Elliot Abrams, Deputy National Security Advisor with responsibility for the Middle East under President Bush, that clause was even more important to Prime Minister Sharon than Bush's famous commitment to Israel's retention of major population centers built since 1967.
The Obama administration, however, has edged ever closer to the European position, with the President's first National Security Advisor, General James Jones an open advocate of a multi-national force as a means of expediting an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank. For that reason, no subject received so much attention at the June 2 conference as the viability of multi-national peacekeepers. Two presentations – those of Col. Richard Kemp and Gen. Yaakov Amidror – were almost entirely devoted to the subject.
International peacekeepers have a long history, and, unfortunately, there is little in that history to suggest that such peacekeepers would be effective in preventing terrorism against Israel. For one thing, there is no guarantee how long such peacekeepers would stay or how willing they would be to risk their lives to protect Israelis. Older Israelis have not forgotten how the United Nations Emergency Forces pulled out of the Sinai, prior to the Six-Day War, at Egyptian president Gamal Nasser's demand, prompting Abba Eban's quip that U.N. peacekeepers are like an umbrella that closes whenever it rains. British and American peacekeepers left Lebanon in 1983, within less than a year after a Hizbullah suicide bombing of a Marine barracks that killed 283. In Afghanistan, the NATO forces are restricted by no less than 83 separate national caveats, many of them designed to keep troops out of harm's way – e.g., national caveats that peacekeepers cannot conduct missions at night.
As General Amidror puts it, "Peacekeepers are not going into the casbah in Nablus to search for terrorists or their weapons caches." Over and again, UNIFIL peacekeepers have refused to enforce U.N. Security Council resolutions against Hizbullah or even to risk irritating the terrorist group. For instance, UNIFIL troops filmed Hizbullah kidnapping three Israeli soldiers from Israeli territory. Not only did they not intervene, they never divulged the existence of the film to Israel.
Even under a more robust mandate under U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701, UNIFIL peacekeepers have done nothing to prevent Hizbullah from amassing 50,000 rockets since the end of the fighting in Lebanon in summer 2006. In fact, there is not a single instance anywhere in the world, General Amidror insists, where U.N. forces have succeeded where any of the parties have refused to live up to their responsibilities.
At best, peacekeeping forces would be ineffectual; at worse, they could constitute a major impediment to Israeli actions against terrorists. Gen. Amidror cites, for instance, cases where Hizbullah has set up mortars within fifty meters of UNIFIL positions without hindrance. But when Israel returns fire, UNIFIL files a complaint. The presence of peacekeepers would force Israel to always take into account the location of those peacekeepers before responding. The worse nightmare for Israel would be the involvement of American peacekeepers. If an American soldier were ever injured or killed in the course of an IDF action, the damage to American public opinion could be devastating.
Col. Kemp, a veteran of 14 tours of active duty in hotspots around the world, summed up the matter to me in a private phone conversation: "Israel is fully justified in its wariness of relying on NATO or other types of peacekeepers. They can't very well just say, 'Let's try it and see how it works,' because the experiment might end with many of its citizens dead."
Control of Airspace and the Electro-magnetic Spectrum
One area in which conflicts between the Palestinians' desire for full sovereignty and Israel's security needs would inevitably conflict concerns control of the airspace over any potential Palestinian state. Because of the close proximity of Israel and any potential Palestinian state, in a geographically small area, it would not be possible to divide up control of the airspace or of the electromagnetic spectrum.
Israel requires full control of that airspace to protect against potential attack from the air. Gen. Udi Dekel reveals how at Camp David in 2000, Israeli negotiators raised the possibility of a civilian airplane being diverted to a suicide attack as a reason in favor of Israeli control of a unified airspace over the West Bank. American mediators ridiculed the overactive imaginations of the Israelis – at least until 9/11.
The 9/11 scenario means that Israel could not grant the Palestinians a civilian airport anywhere in proximity to Jerusalem. Ideally, such an airport would be located in Jordan. In addition, air control of civilian traffic over the West Bank would have to remain in Israel's hands, though Palestinian air controllers could, according to Dekel, eventually be integrated into the system.
From the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea is only 40 miles, and it takes a fighter aircraft only four minutes to traverse that distance. Less than two minutes separate the Jordan River from Jerusalem, and any attacking plane would have to be shot down at least ten miles east of Jerusalem to avoid grave damage to civilians. To do so. Israel must retain the ability to confront any attacking aircraft as soon as it crossed the Jordan River.
A Palestinian state occupying the central mountain range running north and south through the West Bank would pose other potential security problems for Israel. It could not be allowed any radar or surveillance equipment, such as the advanced Iranian intelligence-gathering systems Israeli troops discovered in Lebanon in 2006. The high ground also makes jamming of communications easier for the Palestinians, which is one of the reasons that Israel must maintain control of a unified electro-magnetic spectrum.
Since Camp David in 2000, the Palestinian Authority has rejected the Israeli requirements with respect to airspace and the electro-magnetic spectrum as non-starters.
Israel's security requirements can never be completely separated from its diplomatic situation, and particularly its relationship with its most important ally, the United States of America. That is why Israel's Critical Security Needs for a Viable Peace includes a lengthy chapter by Israel's former ambassador to the United Nations, Dr. Dore Gold, reviewing the history of American commitments on the issues of Israel's borders and security needs. Both Dr. Gold and former U.S. Deputy National Security Advisor Elliot Abrams addressed the issue at the June 2 conference.
That history begins with the Six-Day War and its aftermath. President Lyndon Baines Johnson said shortly after the war, that an Israeli return to its position as of June 4 1967 would not be "a prescription for peace, but for renewed hostilities." U.N. Security Council Resolution 242, whose principal draftsmen were American ambassador Arthur Goldberg and British ambassador Lord Caradon, deliberately refused to call on Israel to withdraw from "all captured territories," as the Russians demanded, and referred to the right of every state in the area to live in "secure and recognized boundaries."
Subsequent American presidents, until President Barack Obama, stated explicitly that Israel cannot be expected to return to the unstable lines as of June 4 1967. President George W. Bush's April 14 2004 letter to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, which was approved overwhelmingly by a concurrent resolution of both houses of Congress, concretized in a presidential letter for the first time the need for significant border adjustments from the 1949 armistice lines. Bush wrote, "In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli population centers, it is unrealistic to expect . . . a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949, and all previous efforts to negotiate a two-state solution have reached the same conclusion." That letter, Abrams stresses, was negotiated line-by-line, in conjunction with Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.
The Obama administration has taken a radically different approach from its first day in office. It has consistently refused to make any distinction between building in Jerusalem, in areas not under Israeli control prior to the Six-Day War, which today house close to 300,000 Israelis, and building anywhere else. And it has made clear that it does not view the Bush letter as binding upon it. The administration has continually indicated that it views the 1949 armistice lines "with minor adjustments" as forming the basis for the eventual boundaries of the future Palestinian state. Such language has not been heard since the early days of the Nixon years, under Secretary of State William Rogers. And as we have already noted, the administration has moved dramatically closer to the idea that Israel should entrust its basic security to some form of international peacekeepers.
Even the traditional American commitment to maintaining Israel's qualitative military advantage and opposition to unilateral steps by both sides does not appear as firm as formerly. An American promise to exercise its U.N. Security Council veto of a Palestinian request for recognition of a state based on the 1949 armistice lines is being used as a bargaining chip in negotiations with Israel over an additional settlement freeze. Such a Palestinian attempt to delegitimize Israel and obtain a state without negotiations would have been automatically vetoed by past U.S. administrations.
The Obama administration has just announced a massive $60 billion arms deal with Saudia Arabia. In the past, Dan Diker told me, Israel would surely have received the 20 stealth fighters that are also being used as a bargaining chip, in the wake of such a massive sale to a potential adversary of Israel. It is not even clear what those stealth fighters are contingent upon. Originally, it was reported that they were in exchange for Israel's agreement to a further three-month settlement freeze. But later reports suggest that Israel would only receive the planes if it signs a provisional agreement over borders with the Palestinians, with security arrangements to be worked out later. The vast disparity between the two versions explains why a number of ministers are demanding to see the American commitments in writing.
I asked Diker whether there could be a bigger contradiction to the security-based diplomacy that Prime Minister Netanyahu outlined in his Bar-Ilan speech, than signing an agreement on borders without all security details in place. "No," he tells me, "and I'm convinced that Netanyahu would never do it."