Archive for ‘Palestinians, West Bank & Gaza’

May 10, 2012

Bringing Kadima into the Government Increases the Possibility of a Multilateral Strike on Iran

by Gedalyah Reback

Shaul Mofaz‘ win in the Kadima primaries just three weeks ago was about a lot more than the survival of Tzipi Livni. Read the postmortem reports about Tzipi Livni’s political career and you find that her inability to compromise with other politicians was what ultimately doomed her candidacy to remain at the top of Kadima. When Ehud Olmert resigned his post in 2008, she couldn’t form a coalition with other political parties and had to hold a new election. Even after winning those elections in March 2009, 28 seats versus Likud’s 27, she still couldn’t compromise enough for any parties in order to get them to agree to joining a new coalition. That’s why second-place Likud ended up leading the government. Livni made things worse by opposing everything Likud did in power, even though they were often continuing a lot of the same policies she supported while she was in power the previous administration.

In reality, this primary was about whether or not to join the Likud-led government. Now Mofaz, former head of the IDF and Minister of Defense, is a member of the administrative Cabinet and Deputy Prime Minister. He has been revered for his performance during the Yom Kippur War and an appropriate leader in the event there were a war with Iran.

And that might be what has made this deal happen. Benjamin Netanyahu would have won the September elections easily, with few parties offering much opposition or alternative. But instead of going to elections and refreshing his term as Prime Minister, which would then be guaranteed to last at least until September 2016, he will lead the largest coalition in Israeli history and its largest cabinet (94/120 Knesset members; 33 members of the cabinet – over a 1/4 of the Knesset). Why? Perhaps because he wants political strength to strike Iran.

When the government he formed took power in Spring 2009, worries circulated worldwide about the direction of policy and particularly the influence of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Leading Yisrael Beitenu, he has been extremely outspoken about the uselessness of the peace process and applied enormous social pressure on Israeli Arabs. Many on the political scene thought there would be massive diplomatic boycotts of the figure, and they’ve been right. Ehud Barak has met with a number of Western leaders in place of Lieberman. Avoiding Lieberman preceded the actual diplomatic crisis two years ago when Israeli commandos killed 9 Turks on a boat running the Gaza blockade. Many people wanted Kadima to join the government in order to blunt Lieberman’s influence and impact policy on the peace process.

What impact this will all have on policies toward settlements and relations with the Palestinians remains to be seen, though the first hints of change are breaking through. But Shaul Mofaz is important for the reason he effectively opposes a unilateral Israeli strike on Iran. His coming in gives the government a number of things. On the one hand, it eases Israel’s trigger finger, which many have speculated has been on the verge of a strike. But on the other hand, Mofaz is a defense man, and a unity government like this might signal leaders’ preparing for a strike and ensuring near universal political approval. Regarding diplomacy, Mofaz becomes the instrument others have hoped for since 2009. He opposes striking Iran, but has called striking Iran under certain scenarios “unavoidable.” He is rational and flexible. He enhances the image of Israel’s government abroad, even by just a bit. Bringing a qualified voice of caution into the mix brings Israel’s position closer to the Western powers negotiating with Iran over its nuclear program. Closing the gap, Israel’s aggressive stance is going to start sounding more rational as Mofaz probably will cool the rhetoric, talk about calculated steps and especially emphasize multilateral, international opposition to an Iranian nuclear weapon.

So if things do break down, Mofaz and his Kadima Party will make it easier to talk alliance with other countries, and maybe even increase international support for a future unilateral Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

April 16, 2012

Liberal Protests just aren’t the IDF’s Bag

by Gedalyah Reback

Another incident with liberal, pro-Palestinian activists has hit the IDF squarely in the face, metaphorically speaking. This picture is a screenshot from the latest incident, when Shalom Eisner suddenly smashed his rifle into Danish activist Andreas Ayas’ punim. Despite whatever other articles have been published that try to emphasize the excuse provided, the video doesn’t show this particular man doing anything. In fact, he looks confused and oblivious to Eisner’s shouting.

It’s just the latest incident that didn’t have to happen. Activists have been coming to the West Bank and before 2005 Gaza for quite a long time. The sudden concern about publicity stunts like the flotillas on boats and “flytillas” on planes are a worrisome stain on the country’s reputation. The Israeli media delivers more attention to activists than any other country’s private and public coverage. It was unusual that such a minor publicity stunt, like May 2010’s flotilla, attracted such a massive amount of reporting. It put pressure on the Israeli navy that shouldn’t have been there.

Now the Israeli government is dealing with a dragged out media shouting match between Eisner and Ayas. The Danish ambassador has had to demand answers from Jerusalem. The attention given to Eisner’s broken hand, no matter how he got it, seems to be justifying some sort of rage coming from Eisner, which is inexcusable as well.

In retrospect, this isn’t the big incident that even this blog post might lead you to think it is. Accidents happen in crowd control, or someone does something stupid. This is nowhere near the uncalled-for pepper spray incident at UC Irvine last year.

This isn’t the flotilla debacle from two years ago, either. No matter how selective or unfair the editing is, Israeli commanders have to add media to their perspective on how to deal with things like this.

April 4, 2012

ICC Denial to Palestinians is Proof Settlements are Legal – Part II

by Gedalyah Reback

What’s Customary about the Fourth Geneva Convention?

International Court of Justice

International Court of Justice

If the Fourth Geneva Convention is considered customary, then it shouldn’t matter if a party actually ever agreed to the treaty. Based on this logic, Israel and the Palestinian Authority (or any Palestinian militant group) would have to abide by it. But that doesn’t fully explain the opinion that Israel is still occupying a territory that isn’t its own. A more effective argument would be Israel doesn’t claim the West Bank, despite the settlements that exist there. No part of the West Bank or Gaza was ever annexed by Israel after the Six-Day War except East Jerusalem. Even though it strengthens Israel’s claim to the eastern half of the city, it still, apparently, doesn’t undercut the argument Israel is occupying territory that isn’t its own. So, it cannot be argued that Israel’s not annexing the West Bank is what makes the settlements illegal. If it did, all Israel would have to have done is annexed the land where houses were built. So what is the argument that Israel cannot build the settlements it has in the West Bank and that once existed in the Gaza Strip?

There is further precedent on the issue, going back to the Hague Convention of 1907. Though they are less than the 1949 rules, the 1907 rules define an occupying power and its responsibilities. But even in the most apparent of examples, post-World War II Germany, the Allied Powers never considered the 1907 rules relevant because they weren’t occupying a standing country – the Third Reich had been destroyed, so Germany, technically, ceased to be.

In an advisory opinion to the ICJ in 2004 on the legality of Israel’s barrier (intended to keep suicide bombers out of Israel), there is no explicit reasoning given to the application of the Fourth Geneva Convention other than its customary basis. By saying it might “alter the demographic composition of the Occupied Palestinian Territory and thereby contravene the Fourth Geneva Convention,” the court is assuming the reasoning is based on protecting Palestinian civilians. But this treatment assumes that many of the clauses in the convention are irrelevant. In fact, considering the convention customary is difficult because it has never been implemented formally in any other setting until the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Even the occupation of Iraq by the US and UK, as argued by those two countries, didn’t fall under the convention’s jurisdiction. Ideas like this declare a state’s irrelevance. But then again, the advisory opinion of the court isn’t binding.


Mahmoud Abbas

In fact, it also cites a 1980 UN Security Council resolution that calls the settlement policy a “flagrant violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War.” But that resolution isn’t binding. It was issued under Chapter VI of the UN Charter, which most international legal experts consider non-binding. It is the much rarer Chapter VII resolutions which are binding. Going further, it was an advisory opinion to the ICJ that considered the Chapter 6 resolutions binding. In effect, it would be one non-binding opinion solidifying that another non-binding opinion would actually be, well, binding.

For some reason, the ICC refuses to recognize Palestinians’ right to sue because there is no state. It would be a logical extension of the Fourth Geneva Convention understandings to extend it, but it hasn’t happened. The existence of a state is still relevant.

April 4, 2012

ICC Denial to Palestinians is Proof Settlements are Legal – Part I

by Gedalyah Reback

The West Bank is an Anomaly under International Law

International Criminal Court

International Criminal Court

The ICC refused to hear the Palestinian Authority’s case against Israel for Operation Cast Lead because, according to the court, the Palestinians aren’t a recognized state. That carries more weight than the court perhaps intended, since it seems to add validity to Israel’s argument that it has the right to build in the West Bank because the territory technically doesn’t belong to anybody.

The Israeli case for the settlements’ legal status is based on the Fourth Geneva Convention. More specifically Israel asserts that Article 2 of the Fourth Geneva Convention undercuts Article 49. Article 2 reads like this: “The Convention shall also apply to all cases of partial or total occupation of the territory of a High Contracting Party . . .” Article 49 says there shall be no transfer of the occupying power’s citizens to the occupied territory. Article 49 doesn’t bother making explicit the occupied territory belongs to the “High Contracting Party” mentioned in Article 2, because that would be redundant. The territory belonging to another country is a qualifier for the occupied territory being addressed in the Convention. Several international court decisions have not accepted this argument, but ex post facto provide no practical grounds (if any) for dismantling the settlements.

The argument though lacks the teeth that comes with the logic. It has been accepted by the United Nations and International Court of Justice that the conventions do apply to occupied Palestinian territory. The clarification has seemed necessary before because of this anomaly in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Otherwise, there might be an argument Israel occupied Jordanian, Egyptian and Syrian territory after the Six-Day War in 1967. But Egypt never claimed Gaza. Jordan gave up its claim to the West Bank in July 1988 in favor of recognizing the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s claim. But the PLO didn’t have the international recognition to back it up. Going further back, Jordan’s authority in the West Bank was only ever recognized by itself and by the United Kingdom. Even the PLO might have boasted more support than that. But it was irrelevant. By transferring Israeli citizens to the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Israel couldn’t have been said to be settling someone else’s territory.

The United Nations might have an older precedent to tangle with the settlements’ legality. The 1947 Partition enforced a Jewish state, an Arab state and an international (UN-administered) Jerusalem-Bethlehem. The agreement went into partial effect. Only Israel recognized it. As a matter of fact, the Fourth Geneva Convention didn’t exist before the end of the Israeli War of Independence. So, when the war ended after Israel had expanded its borders to the edge of the Old City of Jerusalem and in other areas, little could be said against Israel’s legitimate rule in the captured territories. The same went for Egypt and Jordan in Gaza and the West Bank, respectively. It was in August that year the 4th Geneva Convention took effect.

Yasser Arafat was aware of this political ambiguity in the 1980s. In 1989, a Palestinian Declaration of Indepedence (November 15, 1988), Arafat said Palestine would become party to the convention. The Swiss Federal Council, which administers the conventions, refused to say one way or another if the joining was legitimate, “due to the uncertainty within the international community as to the existence or non-existence of a State of Palestine.” If Palestine is not a party to the convention, how can its territory be occupied? Certainly, the Israelis who have settled in the West Bank or Gaza Strip

Regardless, the State of Palestine would not represent the Arab State the UN Partition Plan intended to create. That state never developed, and would be something wholly different than a brand new Palestinian state, in 1989 or even in 2012. The 1988 Palestinian Declaration of Independence bases its legitimacy on the original Partition Plan, but it presents infinitely unfair implications. Recognizing the declaration would open the door for countless retroactive actions by different countries, conflicting with 40 years of other developments. It would also open the door to Palestine trying to claim Israel occupied areas that belonged to it at the end of the 1948 War of Independence. As mentioned before, legally it would be problematic. More practically, no country has ever given a substantial argument against Israel’s continued rule in those conquered areas (see map below).

Blue areas went to Israel according to the 1947 Partition Plan.  Pink areas were conquered by the Israelis in the War of Independence.

Blue areas went to Israel according to the 1947 Partition Plan. Pink areas were conquered by the Israelis in the War of Independence.

Switzerland effectively said the same thing in 1989 that the International Criminal Court said this week in 2012. There is no clearly existing Palestinian state, and only UN recognition could create one. In the 65 years since the Partition Plan passed, no Palestinian state/Arab state in the former Mandate of Palestine has been recognized by the UN. The Palestinian Authority, recognized by Israel, has only had “observer” status, just as its earlier Palestinian representatives had before the Authority came to be in only 1993.

As much as international organizations recognize the Fourth Geneva Convention as applying to all occupied, non-annexed territory as a matter of customary law (“minhag” if you will), the Palestinian Authority’s best argument for statehood and sovereignty right now is based on the areas it polices – Area A in the West Bank. It cannot even claim Gaza as its territory, since it belongs to Hamas. That brings up other major legal and philosophical problems.

Even if the Palestinians’ independence was recognized on November 15, 1988, for the four months between Jordan’s relinquishment and Palestine’s independence, the only power that can be said to have true and undisputed control of the territory was Israel. At that point, no claim against Israeli settlements, at least until 11/15/88 could stand. It is only by custom that the idea Israel doesn’t belong there make sense. The continued insistence by international organizations and even the United Nations that there is no Palestine brings into question just when a country has the right to declare territory its own.

April 3, 2012

Palestinians Can’t Sue Israel, so says the International Criminal Court

by Gedalyah Reback

That is, if there is a Palestine.

Mahmoud Abbas was metaphorically hit in the face today because the International Criminal Court refused to accept the Palestinian Authority’s right to stand in court because it wasn’t a recognized state. The Palestinians had asked the court in 2009 to investigate Israeli war crimes during Operation Cast Lead. Only the UN or a “recognized state” can be allowed to bring a case or demand investigations into violations of international law.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are floored. But they should have seen it coming. The suit by the Authority would have overturned the understandings of international law that exist today. If the Palestinian Authority could bring claims, then any institution claiming jurisdiction over an area could be welcome to the court. It’s an extreme idea, but certain states do exist and function with much greater independence and ability than the Palestinian Authority – (Turkish) Northern Cyprus, (Armenian) Nagorno-Karabakh or the Somaliland state in the extremely failed state of Somalia. Fewer countries recognize those countries’ independence than that of the Palestinians, but they presumably would also be able to enter the court.

Back to the UN

The ICC left it to the UN to upgrade the Palestinian Authority’s status through the General Assembly or have it recognized as a bonafide, member state via the Security Council. Otherwise, it is merely an “observer” and not a so-called “non-member state.”

This doesn’t give Israel’s government much more time though than it had before. Abbas wants to go back to the UN and get his vote for recognition. The parameters have been set, and now Abbas knows what he needs in order to bring Israel to international court, where the bias might be heavily stacked in the Palestinians’ favor.

July 12, 2011

South Sudan and Palestine: One is Different from the Other

by Gedalyah Reback

Benjamin Netanyahu was wise to immediately recognize the new Republic of South Sudan over the weekend. Some analysts saw it is as a convenient way to show Israel off as a consistent, ethical country. Recognizing a state which won its independence through negotiations is apparently the right message to send as it argues against Palestinian unilateralism. But the moment might present more implications for Israeli foreign policy which might have been unthinkable in 2010. An editorial by G Pascal Zachary recently published by The Atlantic challenged readers to rethink Africa and to rethink independence. He suggested that there is nothing rational about preserving Africa’s borders – they are artificial he reminds us, being inventions of European empires less than 200 years ago. They represent European divisions, not African ones, and forcing countries and their very diverse or combative tribes to stick together may be wishful thinking and mortally fallible.

The creation of South Sudan builds a case for more countries to be created. Somaliland, Puntland and Darfur are offered as African examples of appropriate candidates for independence by Zachary. The implications come in that Israel too should come to embrace this philosophy. This initially would seem counter-intuitive – pushing for the independence of new countries might justify the independence of Palestine at a time not of Israel’s choosing nor at its convenience. But this is not a self-defeating proposition. New countries offer new partners for Israel, whether they are partners in peace or partners in war.

It is in Israel’s immediate interest to facilitate the rapid build of South Sudan. The country needs roads, new oil pipelines and cheap means of transportation for 8 million people. It also sits in the heart of Africa and adjacent to traditional enemy, the Republic of Sudan, who has been caught twice in the past two years facilitating weapons supplies on their way to the Gaza Strip. So too, the deployment of ambassadors, CEOs and perhaps even generals is warranted to other would be republics in the now defunct Somalia, the “crumbling empire” of Sudan as Zachary so calls it, and all around the southern Sahara. Yigal Palmor said it himself in 2010, Israel might align with and recognize Somaliland as part of its fight against Islamic militants in the Horn of Africa

The Balkans and the Caucasus have seen the birth of Kosovo, Abkhazia and South Ossetia over the past three years. These examples will quickly be project into the Middle East. Libya faced the prospect of a long-term division just this year, and speculators foresee Syria too could split between ethnic rivals as well.

As Israel expands the reach of its ambassadors, it should opt for the less conventional path as well, embracing the breakaway states of the new world. These states face the same challenges tiny Israel fought in its struggle for recognition. Few states enjoy global support and some only enjoy the recognition of a single patron. Abkhazia and South Ossetia depend on Russia; North Cyprus on Turkey. They are likely to embrace back seeking support wherever they can find it. This could be the making of a modern incarnation of the Doctrine of the Periphery. It is well worth consideration.

May 31, 2011

Israel’s Borders and National Security

by Gedalyah Reback

Israel’s Borders and National Security (from STRATFOR)
Created May 30 2011 – 20:37

By George Friedman

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said May 30 that Israel could not prevent the United Nations from recognizing a Palestinian state, in the sense of adopting a resolution on the subject. Two weeks ago, U.S. President Barack Obama, in a speech, called on Israel to return to some variation of its pre-1967 borders. The practical significance of these and other diplomatic evolutions in relation to Israel is questionable. Historically, U.N. declarations have had variable meanings, depending on the willingness of great powers to enforce them. Obama’s speech on Israel, and his subsequent statements, created enough ambiguity to make exactly what he was saying unclear. Nevertheless, it is clear that the diplomatic atmosphere on Israel is shifting.

There are many questions concerning this shift, ranging from the competing moral and historical claims of the Israelis and Palestinians to the internal politics of each side to whether the Palestinians would be satisfied with a return to the pre-1967 borders. All of these must be addressed, but this analysis is confined to a single issue: whether a return to the 1967 borders would increase the danger to Israel’s national security. Later analyses will focus on Palestinian national security issues and those of others.

Early Borders

It is important to begin by understanding that the pre-1967 borders are actually the borders established by the armistice agreements of 1949. The 1948 U.N. resolution creating the state of Israel created a much smaller Israel. The Arab rejection of what was called “partition” resulted in a war that created the borders that placed the West Bank (named after the west bank of the Jordan River) in Jordanian hands, along with substantial parts of Jerusalem, and placed Gaza in the hands of the Egyptians.

Israel’s Borders and National Security
(click here to enlarge image)

The 1949 borders substantially improved Israel’s position by widening the corridors between the areas granted to Israel under the partition, giving it control of part of Jerusalem and, perhaps most important, control over the Negev. The latter provided Israel with room for maneuver in the event of an Egyptian attack — and Egypt was always Israel’s main adversary. At the same time, the 1949 borders did not eliminate a major strategic threat. The Israel-Jordan border placed Jordanian forces on three sides of Israeli Jerusalem, and threatened the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem corridor. Much of the Israeli heartland, the Tel Aviv-Haifa-Jerusalem triangle, was within Jordanian artillery range, and a Jordanian attack toward the Mediterranean would have to be stopped cold at the border, since there was no room to retreat, regroup and counterattack.

For Israel, the main danger did not come from Jordan attacking by itself. Jordanian forces were limited, and tensions with Egypt and Syria created a de facto alliance between Israel and Jordan. In addition, the Jordanian Hashemite regime lived in deep tension with the Palestinians, since the former were British transplants from the Arabian Peninsula, and the Palestinians saw them as well as the Israelis as interlopers. Thus the danger on the map was mitigated both by politics and by the limited force the Jordanians could bring to bear.

Nevertheless, politics shift, and the 1949 borders posed a strategic problem for Israel. If Egypt, Jordan and Syria were to launch a simultaneous attack (possibly joined by other forces along the Jordan River line) all along Israel’s frontiers, the ability of Israel to defeat the attackers was questionable. The attacks would have to be coordinated — as the 1948 attacks were not — but simultaneous pressure along all frontiers would leave the Israelis with insufficient forces to hold and therefore no framework for a counterattack. From 1948 to 1967, this was Israel’s existential challenge, mitigated by the disharmony among the Arabs and the fact that any attack would be detected in the deployment phase.

Israel’s strategy in this situation had to be the pre-emptive strike. Unable to absorb a coordinated blow, the Israelis had to strike first to disorganize their enemies and to engage them sequentially and in detail. The 1967 war represented Israeli strategy in its first generation. First, it could not allow the enemy to commence hostilities. Whatever the political cost of being labeled the aggressor, Israel had to strike first. Second, it could not be assumed that the political intentions of each neighbor at any one time would determine their behavior. In the event Israel was collapsing, for example, Jordan’s calculations of its own interests would shift, and it would move from being a covert ally to Israel to a nation both repositioning itself in the Arab world and taking advantage of geographical opportunities. Third, the center of gravity of the Arab threat was always Egypt, the neighbor able to field the largest army. Any pre-emptive war would have to begin with Egypt and then move to other neighbors. Fourth, in order to control the sequence and outcome of the war, Israel would have to maintain superior organization and technology at all levels. Finally, and most important, the Israelis would have to move for rapid war termination. They could not afford a war of attrition against forces of superior size. An extended war could drain Israeli combat capability at an astonishing rate. Therefore the pre-emptive strike had to be decisive.

The 1949 borders actually gave Israel a strategic advantage. The Arabs were fighting on external lines. This means their forces could not easily shift between Egypt and Syria, for example, making it difficult to exploit emergent weaknesses along the fronts. The Israelis, on the other hand, fought from interior lines, and in relatively compact terrain. They could carry out a centrifugal offense, beginning with Egypt, shifting to Jordan and finishing with Syria, moving forces from one front to another in a matter of days. Put differently, the Arabs were inherently uncoordinated, unable to support each other. The pre-1967 borders allowed the Israelis to be superbly coordinated, choosing the timing and intensity of combat to suit their capabilities. Israel lacked strategic depth, but it made up for it with compact space and interior lines. If it could choose the time, place and tempo of engagements, it could defeat numerically superior forces. The Arabs could not do this.

Israel needed two things in order to exploit this advantage. The first was outstanding intelligence to detect signs of coordination and the massing of forces. Detecting the former sign was a matter of political intelligence, the latter a matter of tactical military intelligence. But the political intelligence would have to manifest itself in military deployments, and given the geography of the 1949 borders, massing forces secretly was impossible. If enemy forces could mass undetected it would be a disaster for Israel. Thus the center of gravity of Israeli war-making was its intelligence capabilities.

The second essential requirement was an alliance with a great power. Israel’s strategy was based on superior technology and organization — air power, armor and so on. The true weakness of Israel’s strategic power since the country’s creation had been that its national security requirements outstripped its industrial and financial base. It could not domestically develop and produce all of the weapons it needed to fight a war. Israel depended first on the Soviets, then until 1967 on France. It was not until after the 1967 war that the United States provided any significant aid to Israel. However, under the strategy of the pre-1967 borders, continual access to weapons — and in a crisis, rapid access to more weapons — was essential, so Israel had to have a powerful ally. Not having one, coupled with an intelligence failure, would be disastrous.

After 1967

The 1967 war allowed Israel to occupy the Sinai, all of Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Golan Heights. It placed Egyptian forces on the west bank of the Suez, far from Israel, and pushed the Jordanians out of artillery range of the Israeli heartland. It pushed Syria out of artillery range as well. This created the strategic depth Israel required, yet it set the stage for the most serious military crisis in Israeli history, beginning with a failure in its central capability — intelligence.

Israel’s Borders and National Security
(click here to enlarge image)

The intelligence failure occurred in 1973, when Syria and Egypt managed to partially coordinate an assault on Israel without Israeli intelligence being able to interpret the intelligence it was receiving. Israel was saved above all by rapid rearmament by the United States, particularly in such staples of war as artillery shells. It was also aided by greater strategic depth. The Egyptian attack was stopped far from Israel proper in the western Sinai. The Syrians fought in the Golan Heights rather than in the Galilee.

Here is the heart of the pre-1967 border issue. Strategic depth meant that the Syrians and Egyptians spent their main offensive force outside of Israel proper. This bought Israel space and time. It allowed Israel to move back to its main sequential strategy. After halting the two attacks, the Israelis proceeded to defeat the Syrians in the Golan then the Egyptians in the Sinai. However, the ability to mount the two attacks — and particularly the Sinai attack — required massive American resupply of everything from aircraft to munitions. It is not clear that without this resupply the Israelis could have mounted the offensive in the Sinai, or avoided an extended war of attrition on unfavorable terms. Of course, the intelligence failure opened the door to Israel’s other vulnerability — its dependency on foreign powers for resupply. Indeed, perhaps Israel’s greatest miscalculation was the amount of artillery shells it would need to fight the war; the amount required vastly outstripped expectations. Such a seemingly minor thing created a massive dependency on the United States, allowing the United States to shape the conclusion of the war to its own ends so that Israel’s military victory ultimately evolved into a political retreat in the Sinai.

It is impossible to argue that Israel, fighting on its 1949 borders, was less successful than when it fought on its post-1967 borders. What happened was that in expanding the scope of the battlefield, opportunities for intelligence failures multiplied, the rate of consumption of supplies increased and dependence grew on foreign powers with different political interests. The war Israel fought from the 1949 borders was more efficiently waged than the one it fought from the post-1967 borders. The 1973 war allowed for a larger battlefield and greater room for error (errors always occur on the battlefield), but because of intelligence surprises and supply miscalculations it also linked Israel’s national survival to the willingness of a foreign government to quickly resupply its military.

The example of 1973 casts some doubt around the argument that the 1948 borders were excessively vulnerable. There are arguments on both sides of the issue, but it is not a clear-cut position. However, we need to consider Israel’s borders not only in terms of conventional war but also in terms of unconventional war — both uprisings and the use of chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear (CBRN) weapons.

There are those who argue that there will be no more peer-to-peer conflicts. We doubt that intensely. However, there is certainly a great deal of asymmetric warfare in the world, and for Israel it comes in the form of intifadas, rocket attacks and guerrilla combat against Hezbollah in Lebanon. The post-1967 borders do not do much about these forms of warfare. Indeed, it can be argued that some of this conflict happens because of the post-1967 borders.

A shift to the 1949 borders would not increase the risk of an intifada but would make it moot. It would not eliminate conflict with Hezbollah. A shift to the 1949 line would eliminate some threats but not others. From the standpoint of asymmetric warfare, a shift in borders could increase the threat from Palestinian rockets to the Israeli heartland. If a Palestinian state were created, there would be the very real possibility of Palestinian rocket fire unless there was a significant shift in Hamas’ view of Israel or Fatah increased its power in the West Bank and was in a position to defeat Hamas and other rejectionist movements. This would be the heart of the Palestinian threat if there were a return to the borders established after the initial war.

The shape of Israel’s borders doesn’t really have an effect on the threat posed by CBRN weapons. While some chemical artillery rockets could be fired from closer borders, the geography leaves Israel inherently vulnerable to this threat, regardless of where the precise boundary is drawn, and they can already be fired from Lebanon or Gaza. The main threat discussed, a CBRN warhead fitted to an Iranian medium-range ballistic missile launched from a thousand miles away, has little to do with precisely where a line in the Levant is drawn.

When we look at conventional warfare, I would argue that the main issue Israel has is not its borders but its dependence on outside powers for its national security. Any country that creates a national security policy based on the willingness of another country to come to its assistance has a fundamental flaw that will, at some point, be mortal. The precise borders should be those that a) can be defended and b) do not create barriers to aid when that aid is most needed. In 1973, U.S. President Richard Nixon withheld resupply for some days, pressing Israel to the edge. U.S. interests were not those of Israel’s. This is the mortal danger to Israel — a national security requirement that outstrips its ability to underwrite it.

Israel’s borders will not protect it against Iranian missiles, and rockets from Gaza are painful but do not threaten Israel’s existence. In case the artillery rocket threat expands beyond this point, Israel must retain the ability to reoccupy and re-engage, but given the threat of asymmetric war, perpetual occupation would seem to place Israel at a perpetual disadvantage. Clearly, the rocket threat from Hamas represents the best argument for strategic depth.

Israel’s Borders and National Security
(click here to enlarge image)

The best argument for returning to the pre-1967 borders is that Israel was more capable of fighting well on these borders. The war of independence, the 1956 war and the 1967 war all went far better than any of the wars that came after. Most important, if Israel is incapable of generating a national defense industry that can provide all the necessary munitions and equipment without having to depend on its allies, then it has no choice but to consider what its allies want. With the pre-1967 borders there is a greater chance of maintaining critical alliances. More to the point, the pre-1967 borders require a smaller industrial base because they do not require troops for occupation and they improve Israel’s ability to conduct conventional operations in a time of crisis.

There is a strong case to be made for not returning to the 1949 lines, but it is difficult to make that case from a military point of view. Strategic depth is merely one element of a rational strategy. Given that Israel’s military security depends on its relations with third parties, the shape of its borders and diplomatic reality are, as always, at the heart of Israeli military strategy.

In warfare, the greatest enemy of victory is wishful thinking. The assumption that Israel will always have an outside power prepared to rush munitions to the battlefield or help create costly defense systems like Iron Dome is simply wishful thinking. There is no reason to believe this will always be the case. Therefore, since this is the heart of Israeli strategy, the strategy rests on wishful thinking. The question of borders must be viewed in the context of synchronizing Israeli national security policy with Israeli national means.

There is an argument prevalent among Israelis and their supporters that the Arabs will never make a lasting peace with Israel. From this flows the assumption that the safest course is to continue to hold all territory. My argument assumes the worst case, which is not only that the Palestinians will not agree to a genuine peace but also that the United States cannot be counted on indefinitely. All military planning must begin with the worst case.

However, I draw a different conclusion from these facts than the Israelis do. If the worst-case scenario is the basis for planning, then Israel must reduce its risk and restructure its geography along the more favorable lines that existed between 1949 and 1967, when Israel was unambiguously victorious in its wars, rather than the borders and policies after 1967, when Israel has been less successful. The idea that the largest possible territory provides the greatest possible security is not supportable in military history. As Frederick the Great once said, he who defends everything defends nothing.

May 25, 2011

The Palestinians Could Recognize a Jewish State – They Don’t Think They’ll Have To

by Gedalyah Reback

Both Israel and the Palestinians have a precondition for negotiations to continue. The Palestinians want construction in the settlements to stop and the Israelis want the Palestinian Authority to recognize Israel as a “Jewish” state.

The fact that these are the two things that the two governments have to declare publicly demonstrates neither side wants to restart peace talks.

On the Palestinian side, Mahmoud Abbas wants to maximize Palestinian leverage over Israel. Both Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas have rejected genuinely serious offers from Ehud Barak in 2000, then Ehud Olmert in 2008. Israel now faces the diplomatic wrath of the world with only the United States and a smattering of other countries behind her.

Israel has both Netanyahu guarding his political coalition and its psychological insecurity about the physical security of the country adjacent to a territory over which it would not have military control.

As for whether or not Netanyahu’s or Abbas’ government constitutes a “partner for peace,” that depends on whether or not the two sides actually want to negotiate. At that point, either both sides are so-called “partners” or neither is. History would say either side would eventually cave to negotiate, but the Palestinians have never had this much leverage before and they seem set on using it.

May 22, 2011

by Gedalyah Reback

Originally Posted on New Voices


One would think that you cannot surrender your moral high ground in the Middle East. To do so is suicide so the thinking goes. It would be a display of weakness. And so no country owns up to its mistakes, much less its crimes. The Arab World that admits it created the Israel they whine about – the one military machine that has learned to rely on the gun rather than the spoken word – is the Arab World I never anticipate seeing.

But Israel has the same attitude. There might be solid arguments for hundreds or even thousands of those killed during Israel’s wars, but the dead remain silent and gone from the lives of those they left behind. Hence, resentment is still rife, no matter how many people Israel convinces their actions were justified in Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon or anywhere else the IDF might find itself.

Israel’s position in the Middle East will depend on some flexibility and expressed regret over its past at some point. Not necessarily the Nakba, but the massive collateral damage its offensives have caused. I have supported every war over the last ten years, but that does not mean we cannot soften our hearts when we have to. When Israel takes a peace initiative to Lebanon or Syria or the Palestinians, it will have to express some remorse. The same, for sure, goes for the Arab World. The Holocaust, the expulsion of Jews from the Arab World and indisputable aggression against Israeli civilians are stains on Arab honor. Too bad I think we are some distance from that sort of reciprocity.

Middle Easterners argue as if they were primitive tribesmen rather than articulate debaters. Politics in this place seems to be based on trying to delegitimize the opponent. Israel’s trials over it are well known, but Israelis are sucked into the temptation to delegitimize the predicaments of their enemies as well. It is not just about winning a war or defeating terrorism, but undermining their peoples’ narratives also.

Very soon, Israel will have to acknowledge the past to make headway with Lebanese and Syrians, all the more so Palestinians refugees. I am not comfortable with some of it, but we are going to have to lay our pride down about it. The Arab Spring represents both an opportunity and a responsibility to the Arab World. There will be far fewer excuses for the countries that achieve representative democracy. The idea of freedom is not merely the liberation of one tribe at the expense of the other. Jews, Alawites, Shiites and Sunnis – among others – will be tested to reach out to each other under insecure circumstances in the very near future.

May 17, 2011

Mahmoud Abbas’ Blatant Contradiction in the New York Times: Whose Fault is the Nakba?

by Gedalyah Reback

Mahmoud Abbas claimed today Israel was solely responsible for the Palestinian exodus of 1948. That is not what he has said in the past.

As if Mahmoud Abbas were looking for more ways to risk Palestinian public relations after the coalition deal with Hamas, Abbas remarked today in his editorial for the New York Times that Israel generally expelled 700,000 Palestinians in 1948:

“In November 1947, the General Assembly made its recommendation and answered in the affirmative. Shortly thereafter, Zionist forces expelled Palestinian Arabs to ensure a decisive Jewish majority in the future state of Israel, and Arab armies intervened.”

But he did not say that in 1976, when he explicitly blamed the Arab World (and its “armies”) for forcingPalestinians to leave their homes:

“The Arab armies entered Palestine to protect the Palestinians from the Zionist tyranny but, instead, they abandoned them, forced them to emigrate and to leave their homeland, and threw them into prisons similar to the ghettos in which the Jews used to live.” (Strangers in the Land: Blacks, Jews, post-Holocaust America. Eric J. Sundquist. pp. 325)

In the midst of emotional politics, even someone at the top of the world can royally screw up.

His words, plus Netanyahu’s for that matter, are getting sharper. Violence might be unavoidable this September and onward for a number of reasons. As things develop, everyone should keep their eyes peeled for politicians doing what they do best: contradiction, incitement and lying.

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