Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Israel’s Critical Requirements for Defensible Borders
The Foundation for a Secure Peace
While there has been significant public discussion about Palestinian demands in the peace process, there has been little in-depth analysis of Israel’s rights and requirements.
This study is intended to fill that vacuum, presenting a comprehensive assessment of Israel’s critical security requirements, particularly the need for defensible borders that was enshrined in UN Security Council Resolution 242 and endorsed by past U.S. administrations. The study also details the key elements of a demilitarized Palestinian state, as was proposed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shortly after taking office in 2009.
The vital importance of Israel’s control over West Bank airspace is also carefully considered, as are the risks to Israel of deploying international forces there.
Historically, every peace accord the State of Israel has reached with its neighbors has been challenged by other Middle Eastern states across the region or by international terrorist organizations. Given that experience, the only peace that will last over time is a peace that Israel can defend.
Top IDF Generals Outline Israel’s Security Needs
In the study, a number of retired IDF generals explain the philosophy behind the concept of defensible borders.
Maj.-Gen. Moshe Ya’alon (ret.), a former IDF chief of staff who currently serves as Israeli minister of defense, has emphasized the importance of a security-first approach to Israeli-Palestinian negotiations – an approach, he said, that is “firmly rooted in Israel’s longstanding commitment to defend itself by itself.”
Israel’s vital security requirements, Ya’alon wrote, include “defensible borders, a demilitarized Palestinian entity, control of a unified airspace within Judea and Samaria, electromagnetic communications frequency security and other guarantees.”
The Importance of the Jordan Valley
Maj.-Gen. (ret.) Uzi Dayan, former IDF deputy chief of staff, has written a detailed analysis of Israel’s security requirements. He focused on the importance of Israel retaining the Jordan Valley, a natural physical barrier that can be defended with relative ease.
“In the eastern theater, there is no substitute for the Jordan Valley; its location and unique topographical features make it the only feasible eastern border for the State of Israel,” Dayan wrote.
It is not only Israel that should be concerned, Dayan noted, but also the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. If the IDF evacuates the Jordan Valley, the main effort for the prevention of smuggling will fall on the Jordanian army. Once it is widely known that Israel is no longer present to seal off the West Bank from the east, Dayan said, regional terrorist groups will seek forward positions within Jordan.
The Risks of Foreign Peacekeeping Forces
Israel has a history of bad experiences with international peacekeeping forces. Many top former IDF generals have rejected the option of relying on foreign forces in the Jordan Valley as part of an Israeli-Palestinian agreement.
Maj.-Gen. (ret.) Yaakov Amidror, former national security advisor to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has highlighted Israel’s experiences with unreliable international peacekeepers and explained how foreign forces would constrain Israel’s ability to protect itself without outside help.
“Israel takes great pride in the fact that it has never asked Western soldiers – including American troops – to risk their lives in its defense,” Amidror wrote.

Additional Key Principles
Maj.-Gen. (ret.) Aharon Ze’evi Farkash, former head of IDF intelligence, has articulated the key principles of a demilitarized Palestinian state, which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he supported in his 2009 speech at Bar-Ilan University.
“Israel’s definition of demilitarization is that no security threat develop either within or by way of Palestinian territory,” Farkash wrote.
In addition, Brig.-Gen (ret.) Udi Dekel, former head of the IDF Strategic Planning Division, has focused on the need for Israel to retain control of the territorial airspace and electromagnetic spectrum.
“Israel must guarantee that the Palestinians do not exploit their topographical advantage to block or neutralize Israel’s communication systems, or to gather intelligence on their own behalf or on behalf of hostile states,” Dekel wrote.
Finally, Ambassador Meir Rosenne explains UN Security Council Resolution 242 and Ambassador Dore Gold recounts the history of the U.S. position on the pre-1967 lines, while analyst Dan Diker discusses Israel’s return to security-based diplomacy.

Map 1 – Israel and the Middle East
Israel’s vital security requirements and a conditional endorsement of a Palestinian state were laid out by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in his first major policy speech at Bar-Ilan University, just two months after he took office in April 2009. Though at first glance it may appear as though Netanyahu articulated a major shift in Israel’s policy, the ideas he endorsed represent a restoration of Israel’s traditional security-based approach to achieving a lasting peace. This policy has been based on the government’s understanding of the strategic environment in the Middle East and the nature of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. That is, since the beginning of the conflict, even before the founding of the state and all the way through the Oslo Accords, the readiness of the Zionist leadership to reach an historic compromise has failed to convince the Palestinians to forgo their commitment to “armed struggle” and other forms of opposition to the right of the Jewish people to live peacefully in a nation-state of their own in their historic home, the Land of Israel.
This background supports this urgently needed policy study, Israel’s Critical Requirements for Defensible Borders: The Foundation for a Secure Peace. Israel’s security requirements in any agreement with the Palestinians are presented here by some of Israel’s best military minds, who have experienced first-hand the dangers the Jewish state faces on all fronts, particularly in Gaza and Judea and Samaria (the West Bank), and from groups and regimes sponsored by Iran.
Throughout my military career, that included the Oslo “peace process” in the 1990s, I dealt with Palestinian and radical Islamic terror as an IDF officer in a variety of posts. I served as head of Military Intelligence, Deputy Chief of Staff, and then as Chief of Staff of the IDF during operations against the Palestinian Authority’s paramilitary forces, Fatah militias, and Hamas forces in Gaza and Judea and Samaria from 2000 to 2005. The hard reality of these experiences taught me the importance of confronting security threats, ensuring the appropriate security protection systems, and not succumbing to wishful thinking about Israel’s enemies.
Today, the relative calm on Israel’s borders and in Judea and Samaria should not be misinterpreted. Notwithstanding security improvements by the Palestinian National Security Forces trained by Lt.-Gen. Keith Dayton under the U.S.-backed security reform program, the IDF has been working around the clock to uproot the terror infrastructure in many Palestinian areas, while Iranian-backed Hamas has rebuilt its military capabilities in Gaza, as has Iran’s Hizbullah proxy throughout Lebanon. It is with these considerations in mind that Israel must approach the establishment of a prospective Palestinian state.
This study is a corrective to the widely-held view that peace requires Israel to withdraw to the perilous 1949 armistice lines. These lines would invite war by denying the Jewish state strategic depth and topographical protection.
This study is a corrective to the widely-held view in many international quarters and even in limited circles in Israel about the “need” and even the “inevitability” that peace requires Israel to withdraw to the perilous 1949 armistice lines (erroneously called the 1967 “borders”). These borders would not achieve peace – they would weaken Israel and invite war by denying the Jewish state strategic depth and topographical protection against Palestinian rocket and other attacks. The 1949 armistice lines enabled Israel’s enemies to deploy and operate in dangerously close proximity to Israel’s main population centers to such an extent that they constituted an existential threat to Israel.
Brief Historical Context
Israeli policy immediately following the Six-Day War in 1967, and up to the Oslo Accords in 1993, centered on finding a formula that would enable Israel to avoid ruling over the Palestinians, without returning to the unstable pre-war ‘67 lines. It was on this basis that Israel did not annex Judea, Samaria and Gaza, yet at the same time did not speak of a Palestinian state within those territories. In fact, nothing that Israel did or said in those years – including at the 1978 Camp David Accords between Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, which called for “autonomy for the Palestinian people,” and later, in 1993, when Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin entered into the Oslo Accords – constituted intent or consent to establish a Palestinian state within the pre-war ‘67 lines. Those Israeli leaders understood that these lines were indefensible.
What Rabin envisioned for Judea and Samaria was something along the lines of the “Allon Plan,” originally drafted by Yigal Allon, Rabin’s former commander in the pre-state Palmach, and former foreign minister under Rabin. Drafted shortly after the Six-Day War, the Allon Plan called for Israel to retain sovereignty in some of the territories it came to control in Judea and Samaria, but not to settle in areas with large Arab populations. The plan delineated a security border extending from the Jordan Valley up the steep eastern slopes of the Judea-Samaria mountain ridge and retained sovereignty over Jerusalem as Israel’s united capital. The Allon Plan served as the security reference point for Israeli governments from 1967 until far into the 1990s.
Rabin was very clear on the need to provide Palestinian autonomy, yet maintain defensible borders for Israel. In his speech before the Knesset on October 5, 1995, on the ratification of the Israel-Palestinian Interim Agreement – a month before he was assassinated – he stated: “We would like this to be an entity which is less than a state, and which will independently run the lives of the Palestinians under its authority. The borders of the State of Israel, during the permanent solution, will be beyond the lines which existed before the Six-Day War. We will not return to the 4 June 1967 line.” In the same speech Rabin emphasized that “The security border of the State of Israel will be located in the Jordan Valley, in the broadest meaning of that term.”1 He added that Jerusalem would remain Israel’s united capital.
Map 2 – Israel within the 1949 Armistice Lines (pre-67 lines)

The erosion of the concept of defensible borders began in 2000 when Prime Minister Ehud Barak went to the Camp David summit with PA Chairman Yasser Arafat and U.S. President Bill Clinton to negotiate an end to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Sensing that the Israeli public was ripe for substantial concessions in exchange for a peace agreement, Barak decided to put the Palestinians to the test. He did this by abandoning defensible borders and waiting to see whether Arafat would accept Israel’s unprecedented peace offer, and if not, “expose his true colors.” The result was the latter.
However, in doing so, Israel paid a heavy price – one that it continues to pay today. Barak inaugurated a new land-for-peace paradigm that was not rooted in UN Security Council Resolution 242 of 1967, which had governed all Arab-Israeli peace initiatives since the Six-Day War. Instead, from that point on, Israel was expected to live within the curtailed borders that Barak had proposed. Even more far-reaching, the Palestinian leadership succeeded in establishing in the minds of Western policy makers the idea that the “1967 lines” –that is, the 1949 armistice lines – should be the new frame of reference for all future negotiations, as opposed to the notion of “secure and recognized boundaries” which had been unanimously approved by the UN Security Council after the Six-Day War. In the aftermath of Arafat’s rejection of Ehud Barak’s peace offer, the Palestinian suicide bombing war that followed, Ariel Sharon’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, the Second Lebanon War, the failed Annapolis talks, and the 2008-9 war in Gaza, the Netanyahu government is readopting the notion that safeguarding Israel’s vital security requirements is the only path to a viable and durable peace with our Palestinian neighbors. This includes defensible borders, a demilitarized Palestinian entity, control of a unified airspace with Judea and Samaria, electromagnetic communications frequency security, and other guarantees. This marks a shift away from the previously held misperception that territorial withdrawals would make room for a peace deal, and that such a deal would bring security. Prime Minister Netanyahu is articulating a broad Israeli consensus that has been forged in the trauma of recent events for a security-first approach as the only avenue to real peace.
The return to a security-first approach is firmly rooted in Israel’s longstanding commitment to defend itself by itself. Israel has never asked any foreign power to endanger its troops in its defense.
Perhaps the most important element of a viable security framework is the requirement that the Palestinians at all levels of society inculcate in their people a culture of peace that forswears indoctrination and incitement to violence and terror, and accepts the Jewish people’s 3,300-year connection to the Land of Israel and its right to live in Israel – the Jewish nation-state – in peace and security.
The return to a security-first approach is firmly rooted in Israel’s longstanding commitment to defend itself without reliance on foreign forces. Israel has never asked any foreign power to endanger its troops in its defense. Israel’s insistence on defensible borders, which was a central guarantee of the exchange of letters between President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in 2004, will ensure that Israel will be able to defend itself in the future.
The Implosion of the Land for Peace Formula and its Consequences
The idea of “land for peace” began a rapid deterioration during the Oslo years, in the mid-1990s, when the territory that was placed under Palestinian control was used to create terrorist cadres for attacks against Israel – a phenomenon which culminated in the outbreak of the suicide-bombing war commonly known as the Second (or Al-Aksa) Intifada. “Land for peace” was dealt another blow when Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005 and was repaid with a Hamas takeover of the territory and a dramatic escalation of rocket attacks on Israeli cities.
The lessons learned in both cases is that the Palestinians have adhered to their historical narrative of armed struggle that denies Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish nation-state, regardless of signed agreements or unilateral Israeli withdrawals. In short, the Palestinians have interpreted Israeli territorial withdrawals as signs of weakness and retreat that have energized their struggle to force additional Israeli territorial concessions.
Rejecting the failed, concession-based formulas of previous governments is not the only about-face in Israeli strategy that the Netanyahu government has undertaken. Another element involves the expectations of Palestinian society. Until now, the Palestinians have only been asked for a “top-down” peace process, throughout which their leaders have held meetings, shaken hands, attended peace conferences, and even signed agreements with Israeli leaders. But none of this was supported from the “bottom-up.”
When a peace process does not sprout from the grassroots of a society, it is both pointless and useless. Indeed, until three-year-old children in Ramallah stop being taught to idolize “martyrs” who blow themselves up for jihad against Israelis and Jews, ideas which are also broadcast on Palestinian television, radio and the Internet, there will only be a “peace process” in the imaginations of the self-deluded.
Had Israel’s experience with the Palestinians been different – had Oslo led to peace instead of suicide bombers; had disengagement led to a flourishing society within Gaza rather than a launching site for Hamas rockets and a destination for Iranian weapons – the Israeli government’s considerations on how to reach a compromise on the borders of a Palestinian state would be different. As the situation stands today, Israel’s security depends on its retaining defensible borders. This means maintaining control over key areas of Judea and Samaria and certainly over an undivided Jerusalem. Any division of Israel’s capital city will invite sniper attacks, and mortar and rocket fire on the country’s capital from the surrounding high ground. In the event that the Palestinians obtain full sovereignty in Judea and Samaria, those areas – as Gaza before them – may be quickly taken over by Hamas and become staging grounds for attacks on Israel. This would pose a particularly serious threat due to the topography of the territory, which includes high ground from which even relatively primitive rockets – and even mortars – could easily strike Ben-Gurion International Airport.
Defensible Borders in the Age of Rocket Terror
The debate over defensible borders is primarily a debate about Judea and Samaria and the calamities that would befall Israel should this territory be captured by radical Fatah factions or, like Gaza, by Hamas. Maintaining defensible borders is primarily a strategy for ensuring that such events never take place – and that if they do, Israel can respond swiftly to the threat. There are several specific threats that defensible borders can help prevent. The first is that of rockets. Today, Hamas possesses rockets with a range of more than 75 kilometers. If launched from the Judea-Samaria mountain ridge, these rockets could strike the center of Israel where more than 70 percent of the population resides. This is also why it is crucial for Israel to control the strategically vital Jordan Valley. If it does not do so, the situation along the Jordan border may become similar to that of the Gaza-Egyptian border, where weapons, terrorists and other forms of support were easily smuggled to Hamas until the Egyptian army crackdown on the smuggling tunnels in 2013-14.
The second major threat that defensible borders helps reduce are possible attempts by radical Islamic elements to destabilize Jordan or exploit its territory as a launching pad for terror attacks and military operations against Israel via Palestinian territory. Israel’s peace treaty with the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is a cornerstone of Israel’s security, making Jordan’s security of great importance to Israel.
For the sake of Israeli and Jordanian security – and indeed for the protection of moderate factions inside the Palestinian Authority – it is vital that the Jordan border retain an Israeli security presence.
If the IDF were withdrawn to the 1949 lines, the conquest of Judea and Samaria would become easier and therefore assume even greater strategic value to Hamas and its Iranian patron, which would surely pour new resources into accomplishing this task. Much of this effort would concentrate on creating terror networks and hospitable conditions for arms smuggling on the Jordanian side of the border. Israel and the Hashemite Kingdom would thus both be threatened by the attempt to develop a “Hamastan” in Judea and Samaria.
Israel is prepared to negotiate the parameters of demilitarized Palestinian statehood with the Palestinian Authority. But Israel must take into account the reality that a Palestinian state could end up being ruled by hostile forces, such as one of the militant factions of Fatah or its Hamas adversaries. The threat is not just theoretical, particularly in view of the ongoing incitement and indoctrination to terror that takes place under the Palestinian Authority.
For the sake of Israeli and Jordanian security – and indeed for the protection of moderate factions inside the Palestinian Authority – it is vital that the Jordan border retain an Israeli security presence.
Strategic Vulnerabilities
Israel’s situation prior to 1967 made it a “sitting duck” for enemy attack. Today, with all the new weaponry and technological developments available to its enemies – and with Hamas located approximately 70 km. from Tel Aviv – for Israel to revert to having a 14-km. waistline (the distance from Tulkarem to Netanya) would make it not only more vulnerable and inviting of attack, but virtually indefensible. Israel must be able to prevent hostile military forces and terror groups emanating from within and via a prospective Palestinian state from attacking Israel’s narrow waistline, especially during a crisis that draws a large proportion of the IDF away from Israeli territory, such as into Lebanon or Syria.
It must be emphasized that there are many unknowns when it comes to the future security of the Middle East and the stability of the regimes bordering Israel. This will become an especially grave concern should Iran achieve a nuclear weapons capability. Such a dramatic shift in the regional balance of power could destabilize Sunni regimes or compel them to cut deals with their new masters in Tehran that would compel them to join Iran in support of terror organizations. The terror groups themselves will be emboldened by their new nuclear patron and will speak about having acquired a protective nuclear umbrella for their attacks. Meanwhile, Hizbullah and Hamas are acquiring weapons with increasing range and lethality.
These terror groups are already penetrating land and sea barriers that had previously prevented states like Iran and Syria from transferring sophisticated weaponry. Israel must have robust borders in order to meet these possible challenges, including the threat of non-conventional attack, which cannot be ruled out. Israel is not alone in confronting these dangers, either currently or historically. The United States risked nuclear war to prevent the Soviet Union from deploying nuclear missiles 90 miles from its southern shore.
Israel’s retaining control over its borders will make it more difficult for terror groups to use the territory of Israel’s neighbors as a staging area for attacks. This will not only enhance Israel’s security, but also the stability of neighboring governments and even distant Sunni regimes in the region. It is in the interest of all these actors for Israel to maintain defensible borders.
This brings us to an additional necessary condition for the establishment of a Palestinian state: that it be demilitarized.
Israel’s past experience with peacemaking has been marked by failure and double-dealing. When Yasser Arafat first passed through the Rafah crossing into the Gaza Strip in May 1994 as part of the “Gaza and Jericho First” agreement with Israel, he violated the Oslo Accords from the first moment of his return by hiding prohibited weapons and a terrorist in his vehicle. From that moment to this day, the PA has established a track record of failure and bad faith that should make Israel reluctant to accept its promises at face value. The decline in Palestinian violence is not a generous response to Israeli gestures. Rather, greater calm has been accomplished largely because of the construction of the security barrier, ongoing IDF operations in Judea and Samaria that keep terrorists on the run, the rivalry between Fatah and Hamas, and a growing realization that Palestinian terror doesn’t pay.
A militarized Palestinian state would actually be a standing invitation for terrorist groups to meddle and attack: on top of the hope of taking control of the territory would be the prospect of seizing valuable stockpiles of weapons that could be used against Israel. Moreover, in a militarized state, there would be few reliable safeguards preventing the transfer or shared use of weapons between legitimate Palestinian security forces and terror groups and militias, which today and in the past have had many shared members.
It is thus unsafe and unwise to place our hopes in the belief that future Israeli peace overtures and concessions will meet with different results – at least not until Palestinian society reforms itself from within and embraces peaceful coexistence. Since this has not yet happened, Israel must insist on preventing the prospective Palestinian state from acquiring any arms or maintaining forces other than those necessary for internal Palestinian security and preventing terror attacks on Israel.
But even a demilitarized Palestinian entity does not mean that Israel can afford to fully relinquish security control. In fact, as Prime Minister Netanyahu has said publicly on a number of occasions, there will have to be a permanent IDF presence controlling the border crossings, particularly on the eastern side of any future Palestinian state, as well as the right of the IDF to enter the Palestinian entity when warranted.2
Territorial Withdrawals Encourage Israel’s Enemies
As for further evacuations of Jewish communities, similar to those of Gush Katif in Gaza and northern Samaria in 2005, this, too, has to be considered in a broader context – even beyond immediate security concerns relating to the Palestinians. The fact is that the mere discussion of removing Israeli settlements encourages jihadists across the globe. Their stated aim, after all, is not to establish a Palestinian state but to “wipe Israel off the map.” Radical Islamist groups, even those whose ability to harm Israel is small, nevertheless envision the destruction of the Jewish state in stages: first Gaza, then Judea and Samaria, and after that, Tel Aviv. This is not mere semantics, but rather a strategic objective. We have learned from bitter experience that territorial withdrawals do not alleviate grievances; they indicate weakness and convince Israel’s enemies that victory is possible.
With this in mind, Israel’s counter-strategy must be based on strength. Instead of projecting that it is a country in a constant state of retreat, Israel must present itself as a country that stands up for itself and knows how to retaliate, so that its enemies will think twice before attacking.
The Danger of International Forces
In this policy study, Maj.-Gen. (res.) Yaakov Amidror, former head of IDF intelligence assessment, addresses the proposed deployment of an international force as part of a peace agreement involving an Israeli withdrawal from further territories. Here, too, Israel’s experience has been calamitous. This is not due to ill will on the part of such forces, but rather to the impossibility of their task of preventing and combating hostile activities along Israel’s borders.
There are many reasons why international peacekeeping forces have such a prominent track record of inefficacy. UNIFIL, to take but one example, operates under a Chapter 6 UN mandate, which means that it cannot take an independent stance against Hizbullah; it must receive permission from the Lebanese government, in which Hizbullah is heavily represented. International peacekeepers tend not to be militarily equipped or organized to deal with the threats they face. Their bureaucratic incentives orient them toward cautious, risk-averse behavior – the exact opposite of the motives that drive a nation-state’s military forces. These incentives also encourage the downplaying of threats and problems and an overestimation of the effectiveness of the peacekeeping forces. This is fine for the peacekeepers, but it endangers those whose lives hang in the balance of the peacekeepers’ competence.
Peacekeepers are not strong or capable enough to prevent terrorist groups, which intentionally conceal their activities, from arming and organizing themselves – but they are enough of a presence to become a dangerous obstruction on the battlefield when war breaks out. This has been a great detriment to the IDF’s ability to carry out crucial missions, since it has encountered friction with UNIFIL soldiers, rather than focusing solely on engaging the enemy. So as not to antagonize the terrorist groups they fear, even when UN forces have intercepted weapons smugglers or uncovered terrorist cells, the most they have done is detain them temporarily, then release them and return their weapons. There was even a case of EU monitors stationed at the Rafah crossing in Gaza who fled the area as soon as the security situation there began to deteriorate even before Hamas’ violent takeover in June 2007.
It is for these reasons that Israel cannot and should not agree to the presence of foreign troops on its soil or the soil of a prospective demilitarized Palestinian state.
Israel cannot and should not agree to the presence of foreign troops on its soil or the soil of a prospective demilitarized Palestinian state.
Another change in Israeli strategy that the Netanyahu government considers critical is combating the incessant delegitimization of Israel that has become a major feature of the strategy to weaken and destroy the Jewish state. The notoriously biased, misleading, and vicious UN-sanctioned Goldstone Report on the Gaza War in 2008-9 proves the dangers that Israel and other liberal democracies face when forced to combat terror, particularly in heavily populated areas such as Gaza, where terrorist forces can operate easily from among civilians.
Israel’s National and Historical Rights
The final element that characterizes Israel’s current policy is the emphasis it places on the national and historic rights of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel. Without this component, arguments over security and borders have no context. One of the central challenges Israel has to confront is its successful “asymmetrical” battle in the international court of public opinion. This battlefield is characterized by the presence of a massive propaganda machine that attempts to convince the world of Israel’s illegitimacy and that advocates its diplomatic and economic isolation.
Israel, for its part, has been so preoccupied with peace, on the one hand, and security, on the other, that it has failed to remind itself and the world of the reason for its establishment in the first place – a reason other than the Holocaust. That Israel has been the Jewish homeland since time immemorial is not only clear from the yearning of Jews throughout history, expressed in the phrase repeated during Passover and as the last words said on Yom Kippur, “Next year in Jerusalem,” it is also substantiated by the ongoing archaeological discoveries proving the existence of Jewish national life in Israel going back more than three thousand years. It is further substantiated by the fact that there has always been a Jewish presence in Israel – sometimes smaller, sometimes larger, dwindling in the past because of persecution and expulsion – but always there. These facts are ignored or denied by the delegitimizers. Now is the time to put these axioms of Jewish rights and history at the forefront of the debate and use them as an integral part of Israel’s security strategy.
2. “Netanyahu Demands Israeli Presence in West Bank,” AP, Jerusalem Post, January 20, 2010.
Libyan jihadist with SA-7 shoulder-fired, anti-aircraft missile. These missiles from the Libyan arsenal proliferated
across the Middle East and reached the Gaza Strip.

Israel’s long-standing diplomatic goal of obtaining defensible borders in any future peace settlement has become even more compelling in recent years. Historically, since the 1967 Six-Day War, Israeli governments have repeatedly insisted that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) would not withdraw to the pre-war lines with the West Bank, from which Israel was attacked. In any case, these were formally only armistice lines from 1949, designating where the armies stopped in Israel’s War of Independence, so that any new international political boundary, it was felt, still needed to be negotiated.
Moreover, according to the carefully drafted language of UN Security Council Resolution 242, which was adopted five months after the Six-Day War, Israel was not expected to fully pull out from all the territories it captured. Basing themselves on Israel’s legal rights, the architects of Israeli national security doctrine, from Yigal Allon and Moshe Dayan to Yitzhak Rabin and Ariel Sharon, insisted that Israel needed defensible borders in the West Bank to protect itself against the plethora of threats it faced in the Middle East.
Pulling back to the 1967 lines would strip Israel of the territorial defenses that have provided for its security for over forty years and leave it only nine miles wide at one point on the map, leaving the Jewish state in a far more precarious position. This applied particularly to the loss of its formidable eastern barrier in the Jordan Valley, which to this day is viewed by Israel’s security establishment as the front line for its defense in the east.
This traditional Israeli position has acquired new salience against the background of three important recent developments. First, there was Israel’s disengagement from the Gaza Strip in 2005. It left in its wake an enormous military buildup on the part of Hamas and other Islamist groups, which benefited from their ability to fully exploit the Sinai-Gaza boundary area through which they smuggled far larger quantities of rockets and other weaponry. As a result, these groups could significantly escalate the rate of rocket fire, as well as its range, against Israeli population centers. Clearly, this has raised the question of how to avert the same process from repeating itself in the West Bank, in the event of any further Israeli withdrawals.
Second, what was initially called the Arab Spring – and later labeled the Islamist Winter – has erased much of the certainty that once existed about the stability of the Arab regimes that were part of Israel’s strategic environment. The Arab-Israeli peace process had been predicated upon Israel assuming risks by its withdrawal from territories it captured in the 1967 Six-Day War, while being able to rely on neighboring regimes to assume responsibility for security in any area that Israel vacated.
Now it is no longer clear to what extent the new regimes emerging in the Middle East will either have the will or the capacity to play this role in the future. Indeed, vast tracts of land in Libya, Syria, and Iraq appeared to be beyond the reach of their central governments, creating a vacuum that al-Qaeda affiliates were prepared to fill.
Third, despite the growth of these Israeli concerns, the U.S. and its European allies have increasingly made known their view that another effort to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should be attempted, in which the territorial dimension be addressed up front. As a result, this has placed pressure on Israel to accept the notion of a withdrawal based on the 1967 lines. Israel has had to counter this with a position that would allow for a peace settlement that would be defensible – allowing Israel to defend itself by itself – but at the same time provide some diplomatic flexibility that could bring the parties closer to an agreement. Under these circumstances, the concept of defensible borders has become more important than ever.
The Impact of Gaza Disengagement
Israel’s decision to unilaterally withdraw from the Gaza Strip in September 2005 resulted in far-reaching military developments that have come to serve as a warning of what could happen in the West Bank if appropriate security arrangements and defensible borders are not in place. There are those who argued that the Gaza pullout could not serve as an example for a withdrawal from the West Bank, since the Gaza withdrawal was strictly unilateral, while any future withdrawal from West Bank territory would be the result of an agreement in which Palestinian security responsibilities would be spelled out.
But that distinction ignores the fact that Israel coordinated its Gaza withdrawal with the Palestinian Authority. The PA president, Mahmoud Abbas, actually dispatched a close military aide, Gen. Nasser Yusuf, to oversee the Israeli withdrawal in order to assure that it would not be interrupted by Palestinian rocket fire.
Israeli planners might have expected that the rate of Palestinian rocket fire from the Gaza Strip would diminish after Israel’s withdrawal. After all, by pulling out its civilian settlement presence as well as its army positions, Israel was removing one of the principal grievances raised by Palestinian spokesmen.
There had been a steady escalation of Palestinian rocket attacks on Israeli targets since 2001, when four short-range Kassam rockets were fired on Israel. This number increased to 179 attacks in 2005 – the year of the Gaza disengagement. But in 2006, in the aftermath of Israel’s withdrawal, the number of rocket attacks did not go down, as might have been expected, but actually went up dramatically: there were 946 rockets launched at Israel, amounting to a more than 500 percent increase in the rate of rocket fire (see chart above).1
Another dimension of the post-Gaza withdrawal environment that stood out was the qualitative improvement of Palestinian rockets, especially with respect to their range. Prior to 2005, Palestinian organizations were using a domestically-produced rocket, the Kassam, that had a range of only seven kilometers. But in the aftermath of the Israeli withdrawal, the Palestinians began attacking a much wider belt around Gaza, striking the city of Ashkelon for the first time on March 28, 2006. During November 14-21, 2012, Palestinians fired 1,506 rockets at Israel, nearly reaching Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
Newly imported rockets were entering the arsenals of Hamas and other organizations including the 120 mm Grad rocket, supplied by Iran, which came in different versions that had ranges of between 20 and 40 kilometers. Eventually, the Iranians exported the Fajr-5rocket (range 75 kilometers or 46.8 miles) to the Gaza Strip.
Other significant weapons systems were easily smuggled into the Gaza Strip after the Gaza disengagement. Russian armor-piercing missiles like the “Konkurs” also entered the Hamas arsenal. In 2011, Hamas fired a Russian-manufactured “Kornet,” an advanced laser-guided, anti-tank missile, at a yellow Israeli school bus in southern Israel, killing a 16-year-old boy.
Finally, shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles like the SA-7 “Strella” were also smuggled into the Gaza Strip, which now had to be taken into account by Israeli pilots flying within Israeli airspace adjacent to Gaza. A new wave of shoulder-fired missiles came into Gaza through the smuggling tunnels in 2011 from Libya, after the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi. In the meantime, many Hamas operatives also exited the Gaza Strip though the tunnel system, reaching Egypt and then flying to Syria and on to Iran for advanced military training.
The key to understanding these developments in the weaponry deployed by Hamas and other organizations is to look at what happened on the outer perimeter of the Gaza Strip along its border with Egyptian Sinai. The original Gaza-Jericho Agreement between Israel and the PLO that was signed in 1994 as the first implementation agreement under the Oslo Accords created a very narrow strip along the border area that continued to be under Israeli military control. It was formally designated on the maps as the “Military Installation Area,” but was code named by the IDF as the “Philadelphi Route.”
When Palestinian organizations began to dig smuggling tunnels underneath the Philadelphi Route, the IDF waged a difficult counter-insurgency campaign along this strip of land in order to identify the location of the tunnels and eliminate them. Palestinians and Egyptians with no other livelihood also had a strong economic incentive to support the tunnel industry, beyond the ideological motivation of the organizations that used the smuggled arms to wage war on Israel.
After the Gaza disengagement in 2005, Israel was no longer able to send in forces to try to close down the tunnels, so their number mushroomed. Hundreds of smuggling tunnels were opened and the amount of weaponry reaching Gaza increased accordingly. As a result,Israel was forced to conduct military campaigns like Operation Cast Lead (December 27, 2008-January 18, 2009) and Operation Pillar of Defense (November 14-21, 2012) to suppress Hamas rocket fire, while Hamas maintained an external line of supply for new weaponry through the tunnels along Gaza’s outer perimeter. In this period, Hamas also developed a domestic production capability for longer-range rockets as well.
In contrast, when Israel conducted Operation Defensive Shield (March 29-May 3, 2002) in the West Bank to halt a wave of suicide bombing attacks on its cities, it was able to seal off the territory from any external reinforcement, leading to a far more decisive result than in the case of Gaza. Shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles may have entered the Gaza Strip, but no such weaponry reached the West Bank, where the strategic consequences of their arrival would be enormous, given the proximity of Ben-Gurion International Airport to the pre-1967 line.
When Israel conducted Operation Defensive Shield (March 29-May 3, 2002) in the West Bank to halt a wave of suicide bombing attacks on its cities, it was able to seal the territory from any external reinforcement, leading to a far more decisive result than in the case of Gaza. Shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles may have entered the Gaza Strip, but no such weaponry reached the West Bank.
Jordan has acted responsibly to prevent smuggling into Israel or the West Bank from its territory. But it, too, faces a growing smuggling challenge which it has openly admitted. In December 2013, the commander of the Jordanian Border Guard, Brig.-Gen. Hussein Zayoud, disclosed that smuggling over the Syrian-Jordanian border had more than tripled during 2013.2 At some point, when the situation within Syria stabilizes, this smuggling industry could be re-directed westward and involve itself in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Thus, Israeli concerns with the Egyptian scenario replicating itself along the Jordan-West Bank border are no exaggeration.
The lesson for Israel in planning West Bank security was clear. The equivalent of the Philadelphi Route in the West Bank was the Jordan Valley. Beyond the utility of the Jordan Valley as a strategic barrier in the event that Israel was drawn into conventional warfare, the area has acquired new importance in Israel’s public debate, since no one wanted to replicate the errors of the Gaza disengagement on a much greater scale in the West Bank. Continuing to seal the West Bank from external reinforcement remained critical, and Israel could only trust it own forces – rather than international troops – to carry out that task.
An additional major lesson from the Gaza disengagement had to do with how costly it would be for Israel to try to correct any errors from any failures emanating from a poorly executed withdrawal. In 1993, in presenting the Oslo Accords to his Labor Party faction in the Knesset, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin remarked that if it all goes wrong, “there is always the IDF.” An underlying assumption from the unilateral Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000 was that, after having pulled out, Israel would have far more international legitimacy if it was required to use force in the future. Undoubtedly, a similar calculus existed with the Gaza disengagement five years later.
But when this thesis was tested, it turned out to be terribly wrong. Thus, even though Israeli civilian population centers had been repeatedly struck by escalating rocket attacks by Hamas, the moment Israel used its armed forces and re-invaded large parts of the Gaza Strip during Operation Cast Lead, it faced severe international condemnation, including a well-publicized investigation of its military actions by the UN Human Right Council, the results of which came to be known as the Goldstone Report.
As a result, while Israel possessed the military power to re-invade territory from which it withdrew, if severe threats to its security reappeared, the price of doing so made reliance on this option largely prohibitive. What made more sense was to make sure Israel had defensible borders, through which it could prevent any territory it evacuated from turning into a base for attacking the people of Israel.
The Arab Spring and the Fragmentation of the Arab State System
One underlying assumption of the Arab-Israeli peace process since 1967 was that if Israel withdrew from any territory it captured in the Six-Day War, there would be a responsible Arab government on the other side to assure the security of the vacated area out of its own self-interest. Even in the separate case of southern Lebanon, which saw IDF ground action in 1978 for the first time, UN Resolution 425, which Israel came to support, specifically called for the restoration of the authority of the Lebanese government as part of any future Israeli withdrawal.
However, the Arab Spring beginning in 2011 presented new factors in the Arab world that will have to become part of Israel’s calculus in the future if it contemplates withdrawal from any part of the West Bank. First, the central governments of many Arab states have been badly weakened, if not entirely replaced. That meant that they were in no position to exert control over large parts of their sovereign territory.
For example, in Libya, the central government in Tripoli lost control over the western part of the Libyan state, known as Cyrenaica. In Egypt, the Sinai Peninsula increasingly appeared to be beyond the control of the Egyptian government in Cairo. In Syria, by 2013 there were large portions of the Syrian state that were no longer governed by the Assad regime from Damascus as a result of the armed rebellion against it. This fragmentation was fueled by sectarianism, like the region-wide struggle between Sunni and Shiite Muslims, as well as tribalism in other cases.
Notably, Jordan remained an island of stability a midst this regional turmoil. Perhaps its internal situation had been strengthened by what was transpiring around it; after all, who in Jordan would want to import the bloodbath in Syria or Egypt into the kingdom, after its population had witnessed on their television screens the scale of the disaster that was occurring among their neighbors.
What did this region-wide trend mean for Israel? There were those who greeted the disintegration of these Arab nation-states as a security windfall for Israel. True, with the collapse of the Arab states, it would become extremely difficult for them to maintain the kinds of large force structures that were so prevalent for much of the Cold War. Israel originally conceived of defensible borders as a strategy that would allow its relatively small standing army to withstand and contain quantitatively superior Arab armies until the IDF completed its reserve mobilization and reached full strength. That scenario did not appear to be relevant in a Middle East enmeshed in internal revolts, leading some to suggest that Israel was facing a more benign strategic environment. Yet that sort of conclusion was mistaken.
Long-term planning cannot be based on a snapshot of reality in a given year, but has to take into account different possible ways the military balance in the Middle East can evolve over time.
Israel will be operating in the years ahead with a large degree of uncertainty. As a result, long-term planning cannot be based on a snapshot of reality in a given year, but has to take into account different possible ways the military balance in the Middle East can evolve over time. Unquestionably, some of the Arab states will inevitably rearm after they become more stable. Iraq has already begun the long road to rebuild its ground forces with the acquisition of U.S. M1A1 Abrams tanks, as well as older Soviet military hardware like the T-72 main battle tank with which the Iraqis are more familiar. Armor remains a significant component of overall military power for many Middle Eastern states.
Certainly external powers will have a strong interest in making arms sales, not only to help sustain their defense industries, but also to retain influence in the Middle East. For the Middle Eastern states themselves, rebuilding their ground forces will be a prerequisite for acquiring the capability to hold together multi-ethnic states with rebellious provinces. In short, the eventual recovery of Arab armies must be taken into account and the security dilemmas that Israel faced in the past can easily return.
Moreover, in the near term, the conventional military threat was being superseded by a new global jihadist challenge. Across the Middle East, the vacuum within the Arab states was being filled by jihadist movements that do not recognize the international borders of the Middle East state system. In Egyptian Sinai, these include organizations like Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, which made war against Israel one of their main goals and took credit for Grad rocket attacks on Eilat from Egyptian Sinai. In early 2014, Ansar Beit al-Maqdis took credit for bombing attacks on Egyptian security headquarters in the Nile Delta and in the heart of Cairo. While the group appeared to be an al-Qaeda affiliate, Egypt’s Interior Ministry charged that they sought the support of Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
The Syrian organization Jabhat al-Nusra was another al-Qaeda affiliate whose power grew with the rebellion against the Assad regime. It published a book outlining its plan of action, stressing that “Syria is the key to change in the Levant, including in occupied Palestine.” Another Syrian jihadi group, the Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham (the Levant) or ISIS, operated in both the Sunni-populated areas of Syria as well as Iraq, where they seized cities like Ramadi and Fallujah in 2014.
The revival of al-Qaeda in Iraq was indicative of the fact that the jihadist organizations demonstrated a robust ability to recover, even if they were defeated at a certain point. After all, Iraqi al-Qaeda appeared to have been destroyed as a result of the surge of U.S.forces there in 2007. Across the Middle East, the jihadist threat followed a pattern of ebb and flow along with its battlefield fortunes.
In July 2013, the head of IDF military intelligence, Maj.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi, warned that in the “immediate future” the dangers to Israel were increasing. He focused on the al-Qaeda presence in Syria:
Syria is the most disturbing example, drawing thousands of global jihad activists and radical Islamists from the region and beyond. They are establishing themselves in Syria, not only to oust Assad, but to promote their vision of a Sharia state. In plain sight, on our doorstep, a global jihad stronghold of great magnitude is being established. This reality could potentially affect not only Syria and the border with Israel but Lebanon, Jordan, Sinai and the entire region as well.3
The head of IDF operations, Maj.-Gen. Yoav Har-Even, noted in early 2014 that the jihadi presence in Syria was becoming more consolidated and they had a broader mission: “The moment they finish dealing with Assad, we’re next in line. They are not coming only to fight in Syria.”4 He added: “They are already in the southern Golan Heights, in the area of Dar’a, and this deeply disturbs us, the Americans and the Jordanians.” It was notable that at this time, al-Qaeda was also seeking to gain a foothold in the West Bank. Clearly, the stability of all of Israel’s neighbors could be put at risk if this phenomenon were to grow.
The rise of these international terrorist organizations along Israel’s borders is becoming much more militarily significant than in the past. Prior to the 1990s, the threat of terrorist organizations was usually seen in Israel as tactical, while the threat of conventional armies was perceived as strategic. Yet these distinctions no longer make sense. International terrorist organizations are proving to be far more militarily potent than in the past with the introduction of more advanced military technologies. Already in 1983, a militant Shiite cell in Lebanon used a truck bomb against the barracks of the U.S. Marines in Beirut, in what was called the largest non-nuclear explosion since the Second World War. By 2006, the Shiite militia Hizbullah had acquired from Iran more long-range rockets than most states possess.
The robust capabilities of jihadist forces in combating conventional armies were also demonstrated by al-Qaeda’s offshoots in the Middle East. Al-Qaeda in Iraq extensively used improvised explosive devices (IEDs) against coalition forces in Iraq; in 2007, the Washington Post reported that 63 percent of U.S. combat deaths had been caused by IEDs.5 Islamist insurgents in Syria succeeded in defeating entire units of the Syrian army and effectively used anti-tank weapons against Syrian armor.
The robust capabilities of jihadist forces in combating conventional armies were demonstrated by al-Qaeda’s offshoots in the Middle East. Islamist insurgents in Syria succeeded in defeating entire units of the Syrian army and effectively used anti-tank weapons against Syrian armor.
Jihadists demonstrate capability to subdue Syrian conventional units. Pictured here is a captured Syrian T-72V-AT
tank (with reactive armor) flying the Jabhat al-Nusra flag.

It was well known that al-Qaeda’s leadership in Afghanistan back in 2001 was actively seeking out Pakistani atomic scientists, which meant that the organization and its affiliates were thinking about posing a far greater terror threat in the future than the world had previously witnessed. The stakes involved in thwarting terrorist smuggling efforts are growing, as are the costs of failing to do so.6
Another consideration that must be taken into account with the revival of al-Qaeda affiliates to Israel’s east is the implications of their presence for any peacekeeping forces that the West is considering to deploy in support of an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. Presumably, a NATO force in the Jordan Valley would be more acceptable to the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, than a continuing Israeli presence.7
But from the Islamists’ perspective a Western force is no less troubling. Indeed, from its inception, al-Qaeda established the goal of evicting the West from the Arabian Peninsula and the Middle East more generally. A revived al-Qaeda would undoubtedly seek to attack any peacekeeping force that would be a lightening rod for the jihadists in surrounding countries. Therefore, a robust al-Qaeda presence in Syria or Iraq not only poses a threat to Israel, but also (and even to a greater degree) to a Western force conceived to be an integral part of any security arrangements to which the parties might be asked to agree.
Finally, Iran was becoming a new and uncertain factor along Israel’s eastern front, largely due to its role in Iraq, which behaves increasingly like an Iranian satellite state. Despite Washington’s repeated requests that Iraq not persist with this behavior, Baghdad permitted Iranian aircraft to use its air space in order to ship reinforcements to President Bashar al-Assad’s embattled regime in Damascus. The Iraqi regime also supplied Iraqi Shiite militia forces to fight alongside those of Lebanese Hizbullah in Syria against the rebel Sunni forces fighting Assad.
The weakness of the Arab state system has allowed Iran to intervene in a host of internal conflicts, from Yemen to Bahrain, Iraq, and Syria. For over a decade, Iranian weapons deliveries bound for Lebanon or the Gaza Strip have been repeatedly thwarted by the Israeli Navy, in ships like the Karine A (January 3, 2002), the Francop (November 4, 2009), or the Klos C (March 5, 2014). Iranian smugglers, backed by the Qods Force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, have been active in shipping weapons to aid the pro-Shiite insurgency in Yemen as well.
In December 2013, Bahrain intercepted yet another Iranian weapons ship bringing explosives and weapons to Shiite insurgents. Unfortunately, much of the international community has become accustomed to the deployment of Iranian forces in various combat zones, like Syria. Assuming that Iran invests in upgrading its armed forces, Israel might very well witness the regular deployment of Iranian units in parts of Iraq or Syria in the future, thereby reviving, in part, Israel’s eastern front.
This would allow Iran to project its military power towards Jordan, Israel’s immediate neighbor to the east. Iran has made multiple efforts to build a bridgehead to the Hashemite Kingdom. Since 2012, Iran has sought to reach an agreement with Jordan allowing it to vastly expand Shiite tourism to shrines that are regarded as sacred to Iranian religious pilgrims, particularly near al-Karak in southern Jordan. Today, there is also a substantial Iraqi Shiite refugee population in Jordan. Though not known for religious extremism, this population nevertheless may be targeted by Iranian propaganda. Finally, radical Palestinian organizations like Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which have been allied with Tehran, might be used to build up centers of influence for Iran in the Jordanian state. Israel’s policy of regarding any foreign invasion of Jordan as a “red line” that would trigger its own intervention has provided a certain degree of security for Jordan in the past and has effectively deterred expansionist powers. Were Israel to concede the Jordan Valley and withdraw its forces, then its ability to play this role in regional stability would be much more constrained precisely at a time at which Iranian activism is expected to increase.8
The Revival of Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations and the Question of the 1967 Lines
Just as the signs of growing regional chaos began to spread across the Middle East in what was initially called the Arab Spring, the Western powers undertook another initiative to re-launch Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Israel had agreed to a ten-month settlement freeze in 2009-10, which was intended to set the stage for the Palestinian side to agree to new negotiations, but that effort had not worked. Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president, began to speak about going to the UN to gain admission for a Palestinian state or to upgrade the PLO observer mission.
In this environment, Britain’s foreign secretary, William Hague, stated in a March 2011 address at Chatham House that the UK, France, and Germany were pressing the U.S. and the Middle East Quartet (the U.S., Russia, the EU, and the UN Secretariat) to set out clear principles for negotiations that would presumably draw the Palestinians back to the table and avert their turning to the UN. The territorial component of this European proposal called for a solution based “on the 1967 borders with equivalent land swaps.”
It was Britain that helped draft UN Security Council Resolution 242 in the aftermath of the Six-Day War. In fact, the British ambassador to the UN in 1967, Lord Caradon, admitted on PBS:“We did not say there should be a withdrawal to the ‘67 line….We all knew – the boundaries of ‘67 were not drawn as permanent frontiers.”
There was a certain irony in Hague’s proposal. It was Britain that helped draft UN Security Council Resolution 242 in the aftermath of the Six-Day War, when Israel captured the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. According to its famous territorial clause, Israel was not expected to fully withdraw from all the territory that it captured, but rather was entitled to new, secure boundaries instead.
In fact, the British ambassador to the UN in 1967, Lord Caradon, admitted on PBS:“We did not say there should be a withdrawal to the ‘67 line….We all knew – the boundaries of ‘67 were not drawn as permanent frontiers.” Resolution 242 became the basis for all Arab-Israeli agreements with Egypt, Jordan, and even the PLO. It was also the basis of the invitation issued by the U.S. and the Soviet Union to the participants in the 1991 Madrid Peace Conference.
Israel has multiple difficulties with proposals for making the 1967 lines – even with the caveat of land swaps – the basis for negotiations. The very idea of using the 1967 lines as a basis prejudged the outcome of any future negotiations. It used the Palestinian goal of the outcome of negotiations as the price Israel needed to pay for entering the negotiating room.
Land swaps were not even mentioned in the original terms of reference for the peace process, like Resolution 242. They later became an innovation introduced in academic channels between Israel and the Palestinians. Finally, the size of the land swap that Mahmoud Abbas was actually willing to consider involved only 1.9 percent of the West Bank, according to a 2011 interview, which meant that the land swap idea did not vary considerably from the 1967 lines.9
At first, Israelis were surprised when President Obama appeared to be adopting a similar position on the 1967 lines. On May 19, 2011, Obama delivered an address on the Arab Spring at the State Department at the end of which he stated: “The borders of Israel andPalestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed land swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states.” This language appeared to be at variance with the content of the April 14, 2004, letter of assurances that Israel received from the previous Bush administration – with the backing of Congress – which stated: “It is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949.”
Two days later, on May 21, 2011, President Obama clarified in greater detail what his new position meant: “It means that the parties themselves – Israelis and Palestinians – will negotiate a border that is different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967.” Obama added that the parties would have to take into account changes that had occurred since 1967, “including the new demographic realities on the ground.” This addition was interpreted in Israel to mean that Obama believed that new borders would have to take into account the existence of settlement blocs in the West Bank, where there was a significant concentration of Israelis that could not be ignored. President Obama’s formulation created more flexibility than the British position articulated by Foreign Secretary Hague.
Obama was less explicit when it came to how security considerations would influence the designation of new borders. Significantly, Obama established the principle: “Every state has the right to self-defense, and Israel must be able to defend itself – by itself – against any threat.” Whether he envisioned that this principle was linked to borders was unclear. The same was true for another point he explained: “Provisions must also be robust enough to prevent a resurgence of terrorism, to stop the infiltration of weapons, and to provide effective border security.” This goal could either be accomplished by border modifications or by extra-territorial security arrangements.
During his address to a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress in May 2011, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated that Israel could not withdraw to the 1967 lines: “Israel will not return to the indefensible lines of 1967.” He laid out Israeli security needs beyond those lines, stressing the importance of the Jordan Valley, in particular: “It is vital that Israel maintain a long-term military presence along the Jordan River.” He also included in the strategic map he was outlining “places of critical strategic and national importance.”Immediately following his address, Netanyahu was interviewed on Fox News by Sean Hannity and further amplified his position, explaining that Israel had been only nine miles wide in 1967. He added that there was “agreement between Israel and the U.S. that Israel must have defensible borders.”
Negotiating Defensible Borders
Since 1967, the traditional view in Israel on how it should negotiate its final boundaries has been based on the idea that where Israel has vital security interests in the West Bank, it should seek sovereignty over those areas in order to safeguard them. Yigal Allon, who was known as one of Israel’s greatest military minds, commanded the Palmach strike force of the Haganah during Israel’s War of Independence when he served as a mentor to one of his senior officers, Yitzhak Rabin. During the 1967 Six-Day War, Allon was Israel’s deputy prime minister and in its aftermath he proposed a plan for “territorial compromise” in the West Bank based on Israel retaining 700 square miles (out of 2,100 square miles).
This involved the largely arid eastern zone in the Jordan Valley that would not add any substantial Palestinian population to Israel. By revising the pre-war boundaries this way, Allon concluded that Israel would obtain “defensible borders” at the end of the day. Heunveiled the Allon Plan in Foreign Affairs in 1976, in his capacity as Prime Minister Rabin’s foreign minister.10 Allon explained that any part of the West Bank from which Israel withdrew would have to be demilitarized. The only way to guarantee demilitarization was for Israel to extend its sovereignty to the Jordan Valley.
An alternative way of implementing defensible borders is to insist that an Israeli military presence be maintained in those specific areas in which Israel has vital interests, even if they are not under formal Israeli sovereignty. In a forthcoming concession to the Palestinian side, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has only demanded Israeli forces along the Jordan River, rather than stating up front that the area on which they are to be deployed must be annexed by Israel.
Presumably, the security arrangements model would be easier for the Palestinian side to accept in negotiations as opposed to outright Israeli annexation of the area. However, Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian leadership were vocally resistant to this model as well, preferring international forces over any Israeli military presence. At the end of the day, Israel will have to seek arrangements for the Jordan Valley that best protect its vital security interests.
Regardless of the question of sovereignty, in the Jordan Valley, Israel must obtain exclusive security control over a specified area, which will allow it to operate effectively against the threats that are likely to emerge in that area. Israel has always based its security in the Jordan Valley on preserving a right of reinforcement in the event that a new scale of threat emerges to the east. This requires that Israel hold on to deployment areas which it may need in the event that those scenarios occur. In an address to the Knesset in October 1995, just before he was assassinated, Rabin stressed that the security border of Israel should be in the Jordan Valley, “in the widest sense of that term.”
One of the main questions posed to Israel, if it is only seeking a military presence but not Israeli sovereignty, is: How long will it need this military presence in the Jordan Valley – three years, ten years, or forty years? The answer to this question is not a function of time but rather of performance. First, there is the question of the Palestinian security forces and whether they will fulfill their commitments as outlined in any agreement.
Second, West Bank security is not only a function of what the Palestinians do, but also what is happening in the surrounding states: Syria, Jordan, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia. Will these states continue to be afflicted with jihadi movements seeking to join their counterparts on the West Bank, or not? Will revived military forces in these areas remain focused elsewhere, or will they coalesce to challenge Israel?
Israel has always based its security in the Jordan Valley on preserving a right of reinforcement in the event that a new scale of threat emerges to the east. This requires that Israel hold on to deployment areas which it may need in the event that those scenarios occur.
Jordan is a special factor in Israeli considerations. Any negotiation over the sensitive Jordan Valley requires close consultation with the Jordanian leadership. In the past, there was a concern in Amman with Palestinian irredentism, which could lead to Palestinian claims to Jordan itself from a West Bank Palestinian state. Moreover, the Sinai precedent must be uppermost in the minds of Jordanian planners. When it became clear that the outer perimeter of the Gaza Strip was completely open through the Philadelphi Route, hosts of jihadi movements relocated to Egyptian Sinai, creating a direct security threat to Egypt itself. Some of the most lethal al-Qaeda affiliates in Sinai relied on Gaza connections.
Ironically, Israeli vulnerability undermined the internal security of Israel’s largest Arab neighbor. That is a process that Israel cannot allow again in the Jordanian case. For that reason, Israel’s continuing control of the Jordan Valley is not only important for its security, but for regional security more broadly.

1. “Terrorism from the Gaza Strip Since Operation Cast Lead: Data, Type and Trends,” The Meir Amit Intelligence and -Terrorism Information Center, March 17, 2011.
2. Mohamed Al-Daameh, “Arms Smuggling Along Syria-Jordan Border Triples: Jordanian Official,” Asharq Al-Awsat, December 7, 2013.
3. IDF Blog, July 23, 2013.
4. Alex Fishman, “IDF: ‘The Moment They Finish Dealing with Assad, Israel Is Next in Line,’” Yediot Ahronot (Hebrew), January 3, 2014.
6. Graham Allison, Nuclear Terrorism: The Ultimate Preventable Catastrophe (New York: Holt Paperbacks, 2005).
7. Jodi Rudoren, “Palestinian Leader Sees NATO Force in Future State,” New York Times, February 2, 2014.
8. Khalid Sindawi, “Jordan’s Encounter with Shiism,” Current Trends in Islamist Ideology, Vol. 10, August 2013, pp.102-114, http://mail.currenttrends.org/research/detail/jordans-encounter-with-shiism; Osama Al Sharif, “Jordan- Iran Ties May Show Early Signs of Thaw,” Al-Monitor, January 19, 2014, http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/ar/originals/2014/01/jordan-iran-foreign-minister-zarif-visit.html; Ron Tira, “The Status of the Jordan Valley in an Israeli-Palestinian Peace Agreement” (in Hebrew), Strategic Update, Vol. 17, No. 1, April 2014, pp. 27-38.
9. Bernard Avishai, “A Plan for Peace that Still Could Be,” New York Times Magazine, February 7, 2011.
10. Yigal Allon, “Israel: The Case for Defensible Borders,” Foreign Affairs, October 1976.

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