One does not have to be a military expert to easily identify the critical defects of the armistice lines that existed until June 4, 1967. A considerable part of these lines is without any topographical security value; and, of no less importance, the lines fail to provide Israel with the essential minimum of strategic depth
– Deputy PM Yigal Allon, former commander of Palmah strike force, 1976.
…historians a thousand years hence will still be baffled by the mystery of our affairs. They will never understand how it was that a victorious nation, with everything in hand, suffered themselves to be brought low, and to cast away all that they had gained by measureless sacrifice and absolute victory… Now the victors are the vanquished… that is the terrible transformation that has taken place bit by bit.
– Winston Churchill, in the House of Commons, March 1938.
With the two-state solution… Israel will collapse, because if they get out of Jerusalem, what will become of all the talk about the Promised Land and the Chosen People? What will become of all the sacrifices they made – just to be told to leave? They consider Jerusalem to have a spiritual status. The Jews consider Judea and Samaria to be their historic dream. If the Jews leave those places, the Zionist idea will begin to collapse… Then we will move forward.
– Abbas Zaki, PLO ambassador to Lebanon, 2009
I realize that I have referred to these excerpts in earlier columns, but together, they encapsulate with such succinct precision the substance of the message I wish to convey this week that I feel compelled to employ them once again.
Bitterest of ironies
Arguably the bitterest irony unfolding in Israeli politics is the disheartening spectacle of scores of senior military men who spent most of their adult life defending Israel, now rallying to promote a political initiative that will make Israel indefensible.
It is indisputable that this initiative will make Israel incalculably more difficult to defend, vastly more vulnerable and a far more inviting target to attack.
As mentioned last week, toward the end of last year, a group of former high-ranking security personnel (from the rank of brigadier-general and the equivalent in the intelligence services and police) began to coalesce around an initiative launched by Maj.-Gen. (res.) Amnon Reshef, who served as commander of the IDF Armored Corps (1979-82). Today, the group, which goes by the name “Commanders for Israel’s Security,” claims have almost 200 members with over 5,000 years of accumulated security experience – very few of which had any professional pertinence to the task they have now taken upon themselves.
Although it professes to be a nonpartisan movement, it is anything but – aggressively promoting a political agenda that would be eagerly embraced by the Israeli Left, and firmly rejected by the Israeli Right.
As time passes, CIS is emerging as an undisguised anti-Netanyahu lobby, working vigorously for his removal from office – and hence for ensconcing his political rivals, the Herzog-Livni duo, in power.
As I have previously pointed out, I am in no way an avid apologist for Benjamin Netanyahu. On numerous occasions I have found his performance as prime minister far from unblemished and have severely criticized his handling of affairs.
Yet CIS’s naked acrimony toward Netanyahu has expressed itself in wildly implausible accusations, undermining its credibility, on the one hand, and exposing its partisan nature, on the other. When, in a press conference, one of its leading spokesmen charged that the prime minister “is responsible for turning the United States from an ally into an enemy,” it is difficult to know whether to respond with rage or ridicule.
After all, there was little sign of anti-Israeli enmity in the enthusiasm with which Netanyahu was greeted by the representatives of the American people in Congress – unless of course back in CIS, they feel the United States legislature is not part of the United States.
Nor is much animosity evident in the attitude of the American public, where support for Israel is close to alltime highs – unless of course the sentiment among the folk at CIS is that Americans should not be considered part of America.
Only obsequious obedience?
It not only seems that, in CIS’s view, it is the White House alone that comprises the “United States.” It appears that it believes that the sole prescription for not alienating the US and for preserving the alliance with it, is obsequious obedience to the president – regardless of his animosity toward Israel and misjudgments in his foreign policy, particularly in the Mideast.
This is an attitude that – despite 5,000 accumulated years of operational security experience – betrays ignorance of the history of US-Israeli relations, unawareness of the mechanism of domestic US politics and deliberate disregard for the nature of the current US administration.
Indeed, in the history of US-Israel relations there have been periods of great tension between the two countries – arguably more intense than the current Obama-Netanyahu dust-up.
Perhaps the most notable was the 1975 “Reassessment” of US policy toward Israel, when Yitzhak Rabin refused to bow to demands from the Gerald Ford administration.
Rabin’s intransigence in resisting White House pressure was described by Henry Kissinger, then secretary of state as “an indignity to the United States.”
In his memoirs, Rabin wrote that “Reassessment” was “an innocent-sounding term that heralded one of the worst periods in American-Israeli relations.” US arms transfers to Israel were halted, negotiations with Israel over future weapons purchases were suspended, and visits to the US by Israeli diplomats were canceled.
‘…stand firmly with Israel’
Significantly, then it was Congress that came to Israel’s aid, with 76 senators signing a letter urging the president to “stand firmly with Israel.” It warned that “withholding military equipment from Israel would be dangerous, discouraging accommodation by Israel’s neighbors and encouraging a resort to force…”
In a recent opinion piece (Haaretz, February 16), Moshe Arens former defense minister, foreign minister and ambassador to Washington, gave a succinct synopsis of the ups-and-downs of the Israel-US relationship.
Arens concluded: “The strategic relationship between the United States and Israel has weathered rough spells before, and it will survive the current discord between its two leaders.”
But what would he know? After all, he doesn’t have 5,000 years of martial experience to his credit, does he? As a rule of thumb, it would seem that whenever Israel has stuck to its guns, despite pressure from the administration, in the long run, the relationship emerged from crises unscathed – even strengthened.
For as The Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens wrote in an incisive column last month: “… Israel cannot expect indefinite support from the US if it acts like a fretful and obedient client to a cavalier American patron. The margin of Israel’s security is measured not by anyone’s love but by the respect of friends and enemies alike…
Mr. Netanyahu is demanding that respect. Irritating the president is a small price to pay for doing so.”
But what would he know? After all, although he won the Pulitzer Prize for “his incisive columns on American foreign policy and domestic politics,” he sadly has not accumulated 5,000 years of military experience.
‘President repays allies with neglect & derision’
Ironically, Netanyahu is the last person who should be accused of not trying to accommodate White House caprices – no matter how outrageous. Perhaps more than any other Israeli politician in recent decades, he has gone against his political base to comply with the administration’s demands – whether it was the unilateral freeze on construction in Judea-Samaria, the unreciprocated release of scores of convicted terrorists, or the uncalled for apology to Turkey.
But all this pliancy has not resulted in any positive response from Obama’s administration. It has only created increasingly petulant expectations that more demands – however detrimental to Israeli interests – be complied with.
In this regard, Stephens provides an accurate diagnosis of Obama’s international conduct: “The president collects hard favors from allies and repays them with neglect and derision.”
It would be intriguing to see how CIS translates its accumulated 5,000 years of experience into an actionable prescription, beyond bland platitudes of goodwill and cooperation, for how to deal with a president who approved – perhaps, even facilitated – Hosni Mubarak’s downfall in Egypt; applauded the ascent of Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi; and disapprovingly distances himself from incumbent president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi – effectively driving Egypt, a formerly staunch US, ally into the eager arms of Vladimir Putin.
Vision or delusion?
The CIS “vision” (delusion?) features on the group’s well-endowed website. The following is a virtually verbatim reproduction of what appears on it: The government of Israel shall initiate a regional process to consolidate political-security arrangements with the Palestinians and the Arab States [which] will grant Israel permanent and recognized borders that ensure Israel’s security, its solid Jewish majority and the democratic character of the state for years to come.
The agreement with the Palestinians will be based on the principle of “two states for two peoples” and the 1967 lines with arrangements and adjustments as dictated by Israel’s security and demographic needs… Realities in the Middle East make it necessary, and the Arab Peace Initiative makes it possible to achieve a combined agreement – with the Arab states and the Palestinians – that significantly enhances Israel’s national security interests.
Israel’s security forces have the power to secure the borders agreed upon by the government of Israel and endorsed by the Israeli people.
This CIS proposal is so embarrassingly implausible, it seems inconceivable that men with 5,000 years of accumulated experience would allow – much less, wish – to have their names associated with it.
This “vaunted” initiative betrays gross lack of understanding of the basic principles of international relations and the anarchic interstate system. Moreover, it is an unfortunate amalgam of two flawed concepts that have failed disastrously and consistently. The one is the aspiration to resolve the wider Israeli Arab conflict by means of a regional solution, strongly reminiscent of the now discredited concept of a “New Middle East” and the attendant illusion of an economic bonanza.
The other is the establishment of a Palestinian state with frontiers based on the pre-1967 lines with unspecified – indeed, unspecifiable – land swaps.
My (initial) challenge to the generals
The CIS proposal as presented today is so fatally flawed it would require far more than the space in this column to address its defects adequately – much less, exhaustively – here.
I will, therefore, focus on a few points and principles that appear to me to be cardinal. In doing so, I would call on the CIS members to refrain from presenting a glib political wish list and produce a detailed security-based prescription for what to do, and how to detail the foreseeable ramifications of situations liable to arise from that prescription.
For example, with regard to the return to the pre-1967 lines (or some approximation thereof), would CIS suggest that these lines leave Ben-Gurion Airport within mortar range of the Palestinian state, or not? Would they leave the Trans-Israel Highway (Route 6) within tunnel reach, or not? If they do, what security arrangements are prescribed to ensure air/road traffic? What preemptive/punitive measures are envisioned to prevent/punish any disruption? What would be the diplomatic repercussion of such measures? What would be the economic impact of such disruption – or even the tangible threat thereof? If they do not, what land swaps are envisioned to compensate the Palestinians – as stipulated in the Arab Peace Initiative for land appropriated to secure the airport/ highway, creating frontiers that deviate from the pre-1967 lines? It would be more than intriguing to learn what CIS proposes on this.
Does CIS recommend that major settlement blocs (like Ariel and Ma’aleh Adumim) remain under Israeli control? If so, what access facilities would there be to them? How much land, across the pre-1967 lines, would be required? How would this access be secured? What territory would be offered the Palestinians in exchange? Or would these settlements be left as isolated ghettos, surrounded by Palestinian territory, detached from “mainland” Israel? As for the “regional arrangements” with Arab states, how will this be guaranteed over time? Surely the CIS members remember the days when Turkey and Iran were among Israel’s closest allies? Are they willing to bet the farm that a similar change will not occur with allegedly “moderate” Arab states? If not, then what? Ah, so many questions and so little space….
To be continued.
Martin Sherman (www.martinsherman.org) is the founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies (www.strategicisrael.org).