Academic journal article Jewish Political Studies Review

Israel's National Security Considerations in Its Approach to the Peace Process

Academic journal article Jewish Political Studies Review

Israel's National Security Considerations in Its Approach to the Peace Process

Article excerpt

The architects of Israel's national security doctrine from Yigal Allon to Moshe Dayan to Yitzhak Rabin found compelling reasons to insist that it must not return to the vulnerable 1967 lines, which only appeared to invite aggression and imperil Israel's future rather than set the stage for peace. These Israeli leaders sought new boundaries that would allow Israel to defend itself, by itself. Israel must never allow the West Bank to become a launchpad for rocket attacks on Israeli cities, which is what happened in the Gaza Strip after the 2005 pullout. Israeli security requirements in the West Bank are based in part on preventing that kind of outcome. The Israeli experience with an international presence has been poor. UNIFIL in Lebanon has not lived up to Israeli expectations in preventing the rearmament of Hizbullah since the 2006 Second Lebanon War. Likewise, EU monitors abandoned their positions at the Rafah crossing in 2006 when challenged by local insurgents from Gaza.

ISRAEL'S 1949 ARMISTICE LINES WERE INDEFENSIBLE

Israel's fundamental right to defensible borders is grounded in the special legal and strategic circumstances it faced in the aftermath of the 1967 Six-Day War, when the West Bank and other territories were captured. The armistice line of 1949, from which Israel was attacked, had only been a military boundary between the Israeli and Jordanian armies, and not a permanent political border, according to the 1949 Armistice Agreement itself. This provided the background for UN Security Council Resolution 242 of November 1967, which did not call on the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) to withdraw fully to that line. Instead, it concluded that Israel would need "secure and recognized boundaries" that could be different from the indefensible prewar lines. Before 1967, Israel's waistline between its major coastal cities and the Jordanian-occupied West Bank came to approximately eight miles at its narrowest point, and provided no strategic depth in case of invasion.

Today, it is commonly misunderstood just how vulnerable Israel actually was then and would become once again if it were compelled to withdraw to the pre1967 lines.

Israel is a tiny country of about ten thousand square miles, approximately the size of New Jersey or slightly smaller than Belgium. Compounding Israel's small size is the fact that 70 percent of its population and 80 percent of its industrial capacity are concentrated in that narrow coastal strip sandwiched between the Mediterranean Sea and the West Bank.

To make matters worse, the adjacent hills of the West Bank topographically dominate the coastal plain, which is a relatively flat and exposed area. This provides distinct advantages to an attacker for observation, fire, and defense from an Israeli ground response. And there are many targets located along Israel's coastal plain: Ben-Gurion International Airport; the Trans-Israel Highway (Route 6), which runs north-south only tens of meters west of the West Bank; Israel's National Water Carrier; and its high-voltage electric power lines. If the West Bank were to fall into hostile hands, the resulting situation would pose a constant threat to Israel's national infrastructure.

For this reason, the architects of Israel's national security doctrine from Yigal Allon to Moshe Dayan to Yitzhak Rabin found compelling reasons to insist that it must not return to the vulnerable 1967 lines, which only appeared to invite aggression and imperil Israel's future rather than set the stage for peace. These Israeli leaders sought new boundaries that would allow Israel to defend itself, by itself. Thus there emerged within the national security establishment a broad consensus that called these new lines "defensible borders" and urged that they be sought in any future negotiations.1 In 2004, the United States provided Israel with a letter of assurances recognizing its right to defensible borders; it was signed by President George W Bush and backed by a bipartisan majority in both houses of Congress. …

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