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The Truth About Israel’s National Security

There can be no safety without a peace deal.

Credit: ChameleonsEye Shutterstock.com

Takeaways


  • Without peace, all security measures, however coercive, cannot guarantee Israel’s national security.
  • Seven carefully planned phases can disentangle Israel from Palestine and bring peace.
  • The region’s turmoil makes it necessary for Israel to resolve at last its backyard vulnerability.

Israel’s historical experiences, coupled with decades of violent confrontations with Arab states and the Palestinians, have embedded a major psychological barrier in the psyche of every Israeli.

It has placed Israel’s legitimate national security concerns at the center of its domestic and foreign policy.

That said, no military might or even the expropriation of the entire West Bank will guarantee Israel’s security. Nothing short of a sustainable Israeli-Palestinian peace can.

The Netanyahu government’s linking of national security to the so-called “defensive borders” is disingenuous and misleading. It is designed to provide a cover for his and his cabinet’s continued intoxication with seizing Palestinian territories.

In the age of rockets and precision missile technology, territorial depth can no longer guarantee Israel’s core security. Hamas has been able to rain thousands of rockets on Israel, some of which have reached Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

The current “knife Intifada” also reveals the absurdity of the argument that borders, any border, can provide airtight security.

The occupation and the continuing expansion of the settlements are behind these violent and low-tech outbursts. As long as the occupation persists, Israel will not know a day of rest.

The limits of power without peace

In December 2012, Gabi Ashkenazi, the former Chief of Staff of the Israeli army, reconfirmed the sentiments of many of his colleagues when he said: “Israel must recognize the limits of its power and cooperate with forces that support Israeli interests.”

This was aptly expressed by another top Israeli military commander, Shaul Arieli, who said, “We believe that peace will provide better security than anything else.”

Without peace, all security measures, however coercive, elaborate and sophisticated, cannot guarantee Israel’s national security.

As a master tactician who uses fear to rally public support, Mr. Netanyahu is quick to point to the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza to suggest that the Palestinians cannot be trusted.

Hamas has indeed been using the strip ever since as a launching pad for rockets, instead of building the foundation of its state. Sadly, many Israelis bought into this dishonest argument based on its surface validity.

Only when one carefully examines how the withdrawal from Gaza was conducted would one understand the absurdity of the argument.

Why the Gaza withdrawal failed

The withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 was precipitous and unilateral. Then Prime Minister Sharon knew that Hamas was by far more powerful than the security forces of the Palestinian Authority (PA). Hamas was poised to take over.

Mr. Sharon’s main objective, however, was to rid Israel of the economic and security burdens that Gaza posed. If his actions would divide the Palestinians by a power struggle in Gaza, so much the better.

Mr. Netanyahu knows only too well that any peace agreement must be based on certain provisions, mechanisms, logistics, and a timeline designed to ensure compliance based on reciprocity while nurturing trust in the process.

This would allow for mutual mitigation of biases and selective perceptions over each other’s intentions as they implement all the provisions of the agreement.

The pullout from much of the West Bank must therefore entail a number of specific unilateral, bilateral and multi-lateral measures. These can, in contrast to the Gaza withdrawal, sustain and strengthen peace.

Had Sharon put such measures in place, the result would have been entirely different today. The question now is how to withdraw from the West Bank. These careful and timed measures include:

Phased Withdrawal and Reciprocity

To prevent a repeat of Gaza, the pullout from the West Bank must be implemented in phases over a period of five to eight years.

These must occur along an established timeframe between each phase, based on specific reciprocal and confidence-building measures.

During this period, both sides must develop people-to-people relations, including economic, cultural and scientific ties. This can mitigate the psychological security hang-ups between the two sides.

By virtue of the Israelis’ and the Palestinians’ past experiences, full security cooperation between the two sides remains a prerequisite.

Progress made between Israel and the PA demonstrates that effective security cooperation is possible, even in an atmosphere of tension.

The success of this cooperation was made possible by the PA’s commitment to peace, as well as by Israel’s willingness to fully collaborate with the PA’s internal security and improve intelligence cooperation.

A Demilitarized Palestinian State

The newly-established Palestinian state should be demilitarized, with its external security assured by the United States.

Regardless of their military prowess, the Palestinians will never be in a position to challenge Israel militarily, nor will they be threatened as long as they are at peace with their neighbors.

Instead of wasting hundreds of millions of dollars on military hardware, future Palestinian governments should invest in economic development, education, health care and infrastructure, while maintaining strong economic relations with Israel. Both sides can greatly benefit from this.

Preserving Credible Deterrence

Israel will maintain a credible military deterrence, which will dissuade current and future enemies from threatening it. If they do so, it will be at their own peril.

For Israelis, “Never Again” is not just a slogan. They are bent, and rightly so, on doing whatever necessary to prevent history from repeating itself.

In this regard, Israel and the United States can ensure that no single state or combination of states is able to overwhelm Israel militarily, by maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge.

Reviving the Arab Peace Initiative

In the context of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, Israel should accept the principles of the Arab Peace Initiative (API), which was proposed in 2002. Israel should agree to convene with representatives of the Arab League to discuss the proposal’s merits.

This would open the door for negotiating a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace agreement, beginning normal relations with the Arab states and by extension with all Muslim states.

As the former head of Mossad, Meir Dagan, stated in June 2011, “We must adopt the Saudi Initiative, we have no other way, and not because the Palestinians are my top priority but because I am concerned about Israel’s well being and I want to do what I can to ensure Israel’s existence.”

An International Peacekeeping Force

Israel’s demand for the preservation of residual forces along the Jordan River to prevent the smuggling of weapons and the infiltration of terrorists from the Jordan Valley is valid.

However, such a force cannot be made of Israelis alone. Otherwise it would be seen as a continuation of occupation, only in a different form.

Instead, an international peacekeeping force (including Israeli and Palestinian participation) will have to be stationed there for a mutually agreed upon period of time.

The force should be assembled from specific countries that have a vested interest in maintaining peace, including Jordan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia, and EU nations like Britain, France, and Germany, operating under the command of the United States.

A Regional Security Umbrella

Once a peace agreement is achieved and all security measures are in place, the United States could offer a security umbrella.

This would be along the lines of what former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton proposed in June 2009. All nations in the region who are at peace with Israel (and with each other) could belong under it, to deter outside adversaries.

Why now, amid the region’s chaos?

Those who claim that this would be the wrong time for Israel to make such a move, given the Middle East’s sweeping turmoil, are wrong.

This is precisely the right time. Israel does not need a fire in its backyard or a fifth column at a time when it must focus on threats from Iran and ISIS, as well as the potential disintegration of Syria.

The time has come for the Israelis to reject the scare tactics and false claims of the Netanyahu government.

The usurpation of Palestinian land and unabated settlement growth not only delegitimizes Israel’s legitimate national security requirements, but endangers its very existence.

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About Alon Ben-Meir

Senior Fellow at New York University’s Center for Global Affairs and Senior Fellow at the World Policy Institute [United States]

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