The political outcry in Israel following Obama’s Mideast policy speech was palpable. The president stated what many Israeli hawks found to be unacceptable, if not outright dangerous: Any future Israeli-Palestinian agreement should be based on the 1967 borders with mutually agreed upon land swaps. Hysteria followed, with Netanyahu issuing a clear rebuke to Obama’s statement during his speech at the US Congress.
But is panic over a return to the 1967 borders justified? Recently, a slew of politicians, security experts, former defense officials and intelligence gurus presented a case that minimizes the efficacy of this argument. Martin van Crevald, arguably Israel’s most prominent military historian and strategist, laid out a compelling case that illustrated the negligible effects of giving up the West Bank. In his analysis, he states: “It is crystal clear that Israel can easily afford to give up the West Bank…strategically speaking, the risk of doing so is negligible.”
On April 14th, 2011 a group of senior political, security and intelligence officials introduced the Israel Peace Initiative, calling for negotiations with the Palestinians based on the 1967 borders and minor land swaps. It is difficult to imagine that these individuals, so intimately knowledgeable of the complex security and political situation on the ground, would actively postulate such plan if its outcomes were to be so gravely detrimental for Israel.
Furthermore, Gershon Baskin, Director of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information, reinforced this approach through his experience with scores of US military officials, NATO officers, IDF generals and intelligence experts in the Mossad and Shin Bet; all emphasized that a lack of a comprehensive peace is infinitely more threatening to the Jewish State’s existence than withdrawal from the West Bank.
Realities have changed
The 1967 borders have been the basis for negotiations since at least Camp David. Virtually every political analyst who looks at these borders with an objective perspective realizes that a viable Palestinian State is only possible within these lines.
Our borders proved to be perfectly defensible in the 1967 war against our Arab neighbors, even serving as a starting point for an expansion into the Sinai, Golan Heights and the West Bank, all of which were retained by Israel in the outcome of the war.
The pivotal difference here is clear: In 1967, Israel was forced to maintain a strategy of preemption and offense against conventional Arab armies amassing on her borders in order to avoid complete invasion akin to that of the 1948 War of Independence. Later, the 1973 Yom Kippur war proved that holding those territories was necessary for fighting a defensive rather than offensive war.
However, the political and military situation in the region has altered dramatically since 1973. Our enemies have transformed from large state entities with conventional militaries into guerilla organizations with small ground forces and massive rocket arsenals. Even the hostile nations with conventional armies, such as Syria and Iran, do not threaten Israel’s existence via a ground invasion, but with their missiles as well as chemical, and possiblity nuclear, capabilities.
As such, Israel finds herself reverting to the strategy of preemption. In 2006, the Air Force hit Hezbollah’s long-range missile bunkers before they could be utilized. During Operation Cast Lead in 2008, a massive air campaign shocked Hamas to the point where the IDF completely broke its will to fight. Similarly, a future war with Iran will likely be instigated by a preemptive strike, either by Israel alone or a coalition of international forces.
Whenever we consider relinquishing the territories, Israeli hawks cry foul with the “rockets will fall on Tel Aviv” argument. They also stress that after any withdrawal from the West Bank, terrorism will spread rapidly. Yet are these sound arguments? After all, as it is Hezbollah already possesses rockets that could reach Israel’s south, while Hamas can target Tel Aviv with its own arsenal.
As for the terrorism argument, the security barrier largely prevented potential attacks. In the case of withdrawal, IDF currently in the West Bank would be redeployed to reinforce the various positions along the new border. The security barrier will be reconstructed to parallel the Israel-Palestine borders and will continue to serve as a major deterrent against terrorists.
De-legitimization worse than war
Lastly, the IDF has honed its expertise in curtailing terrorists operations with an astonishing degree of success and precision. Hence, we hold all the resources necessary to ensure the State of Israel’s existence and protection. Moreover, with the Iron Dome fully functional and IDF troop levels in the West Bank the lowest in two decades, we should have faith in our defenses.
Our enemies have adapted ingeniously to the modern-day battlefield, where land has ironically become one of the least relevant factors in the Palestinian struggle against Israel. What many fail to understand is that our retention of the West Bank has become the primary weapon against us in a war of de-legitimization: An arsenal of legal, political, economic and moral weapons more powerful than anything that is currently stockpiled in Gaza or Lebanon.
Israelis need to be introspective and ask themselves an important question: How long are we going to allow the de-legitimizers cripple us with our own “strategic territory?” Is Kiryat Arba worth the economic boycott against Israeli goods? Is retention of Yitzhar worth Israeli exclusion from academic discourse?
Simply put, arguing that existential threats faced by Israel today would be reinforced by losing our foothold in Judea and Samaria embodies an antiquated military perspective. Today, those threats are connected to the de-legitimization battle that is fueled by our presence there.
If that campaign alone isn’t strong enough to convince us of the challenges we face, then the demographic threat absolutely should. Our control over millions of Palestinians remains a threat to the Jewish and democratic nature of our state, and is subsequently being used by our enemies to ostracize Israel.
For years, our political leadership has been afraid to undertake major sacrifices for peace, instead preferring short-term political survival. The myth of indefensible borders has been fed to us based on an outdated paradigm, one that many Israelis have swallowed hook, line and sinker. The time has come to change our diet.
Avi Yesawich and Daniel Nisman are independent journalists, IDF combat reservists and contributors to the IDF activism website, www.friendasoldier.com
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