Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

Israel: Why Land Matters, Part I

May 15, 2012 2:49 pm 0 comments

DF Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, visiting the Judea Regional Brigade in the Judea & Samaria Division. Photo: wiki commons.

In the years that followed the 1967 Six Day War a prevailing conventional wisdom developed among Western policy makers – especially in Washington — that simultaneously contends that a “strong and secure Israel” should have, as per UN Resolution 242, “secure and recognized boundaries” or simply “defensible borders,” yet nonetheless calls on Israel to make unilateral territorial concessions (today’s PC term is a return to the pre-’67 lines with “mutually agreed land swaps”) as part of an ultimate peace settlement with its Arab neighbors.

Strangely few perceive the inherent contradiction between the call for a “strong and secure Israel” and the call to give up the very territory that would at minimum, comprise said strength and security.

This was the case with Egypt, for example. More than 30 years ago, Israel gave up the entire Sinai Peninsula, including its vast strategic depths and bottleneck passes as well as the Abu Rodeis oil fields, which supplied Israel more than half its energy needs and would have made Israel energy independent within a few short years. And this is also the case today with the Palestinian Arabs. As long as there are Palestinian Arabs willing to take territory from Israel even without any quid pro quo from their side, Israel is expected to unilaterally give up its most strategically critical territory.

Israel, without the administered territories, is a strategically crippled country. These areas, known historically as Judea and Samaria and labeled “the West Bank” following the Jordanian occupation of said territories in 1949, are the key to Israel’s strategic strength against any attack from the east (Jordan, Syria, Iraq, Iran, et al.). An Israel with control of these territories is a strategic asset to the West in defense against radical Islamic expansionism no less, if not more, than during the Cold War period when Israel was the West’s reliable bulwark against Soviet expansionism in the Middle East.

Up until the late 1980s, following the outbreak of the so-called “Palestinian uprising” or “first intifada,” everyone viewed the security threat to Israel to be solely by conventional Arab armies who, to quote the late Egyptian President Nasser, wished to “drive the Jews into the sea.” In the following two decades, with the vast increase of terrorist attacks and the introduction to the missile age, it appeared that conventional war no longer threatened Israel’s existence per se. And if the threat was primarily terrorism and missiles fired from afar, territory with its high ground and strategic depth no longer seemed as important. From the standpoint of Israel’s national security, however, this is a misconception. Territory is not only still vital for national defense, it is even more so than previously.

There is a basic premise: Israel‘s security can be discussed only in terms of national survival. It is necessary to understand the price Israel pays if she unilaterally gives up more of these territories and what she benefits by their retention.

Given the three potential threats of missile attacks, terrorism, and conventional warfare, Israel must retain a safety zone with the aforementioned high ground and strategic depth to deal with any potential future threats — even if political agreements are signed with its Arab neighbors. Israel cannot afford to bet its survival on signed agreements while giving up critical, tangible, physical, and strategic assets. Israel needs to maintain the ability to defend itself under any and all possible circumstances. (Given the Muslim/Arab history for not keeping agreements with non-Muslims, this is not mere whimsy.)

The key question Israeli policy makers must ask themselves: If Israel were attacked by a combination of a conventional Arab army, ballistic missiles, and terrorist bands, would a truncated border with its lack of strategic depth be sufficient for the IDF’s small standing army to successfully repel the invaders and do so with minor damage to Israel’s national infrastructure? Or to be blunt: Could Israel survive such an attack in the event of an all-out war?

Let’s review the potential threats. First, the recent upheaval in the Arab countries that surround Israel – both the inside and outside strategic circles – has brought back the high potential of conventional warfare involving armored units, mobile artillery, and fighter/bomber planes. (Witness for example, the recent IDF emergency reserve call-ups to deal with potential incursions from Egypt and Syria.) Second, either separately or as an extension of said conventional warfare, the threat of long-range missiles – with both conventional and non-conventional warheads. And third, the expansion of terrorist attacks, including suicide bombers, shoulder-launched missiles, and ground-to-ground fire (mortars, short-range rockets and medium-range missiles) that use a steep trajectory (meaning it is fired from beyond and over a border defensive line towards internal targets – e.g. from inside Lebanon to hit Haifa).

It must be understood that the determination of what are “strong and secure” or simply “defensible borders” is predicated on what potential long-term strategic threats Israel faces. And even though the last 20 years have seen an expansion of missiles and non-conventional weapons by Israel’s Arab neighbors, they also continued procurement of conventional weapons for their armies.

Some of those who want Israel to give up parts or all of Judea and Samaria attempt to neutralize the still existent threat of conventional Arab invasion forces by proffering “advanced technology” as a strategic solution to lack of territory with its commensurate strategic advantages. They claim that the IDF can employ advanced technological capabilities, including precision-guided weapons systems, to replace any loss of territorial superiority by Israel after conceding control of the aforementioned administered territories.

The fallacy in that argument is the fact that Israel’s enemies will inevitably also equip themselves with similarly advanced technological capabilities. Moreover, topography is directly relevant for the use of precision-guided weapons systems that require ground-based laser indicators. The old infantry saying regarding the importance of holding the high ground in battle – “it is easier to shoot down than to shoot up” – is even more critical in regards to the employment of high-tech weaponry.

The concept of strategic depth is not an advantage to national defense; it is imperative, and as weapons systems improve, it becomes even more so. With the advent of new military technologies the range of effective fire has increased considerably. US Army planners, for example, have doubled the distance of their definition of required minimal defensive depth. In Germany, during the Cold War, NATO planners defined their required defensive depth to be 125 miles (or three times what Israel has even with Judea and Samaria included). In a defensive battle, this distance would allow an area for retreat, permitting a line of containment to be stabilized closer to the border.

Israel’s post-disengagement-from-Gaza experience has established that the terrorists’ weapons of choice for attacking Israel from their own territory are weapons with curved-trajectory fire (mortars, rockets, etc.). Why? Because it is impossible to stop the attacks without Israeli forces striking the territory from where the terrorists’ weapons were fired. So the only limiting factor preventing significant harm to Israeli population centers is sufficient distance – or strategic depth. And if a terrorist has penetrated a security fence, the greater the distance he has to cover before carrying out his intended attack, the greater the chances of stopping him.

This article first appeared in FrontPage Magazine.

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition. Comments written in all caps will be deleted.

Current day month ye@r *


  • Arts and Culture Features Opinion Playwrite Iddo Netanyahu: ‘Hitler Always Talked About Peace’ (INTERVIEW)

    Playwrite Iddo Netanyahu: ‘Hitler Always Talked About Peace’ (INTERVIEW)

    Late Friday night, on November 13, I was headed for bed when an ominous news bulletin flashed across my computer screen – something about a shooting in Paris. It wasn’t long before the “small number” of shootings and casualties began to double and triple and quadruple. The locations of attacks seemed crazily disorganized, and the tweets and videos became more and more horrifying. It was a long night for many stunned observers. We tried to understand what was happening, and […]

    Read more →
  • Israel Theater BDS Gives Belgian-Jewish Actress New Lease on Life in Tel Aviv

    BDS Gives Belgian-Jewish Actress New Lease on Life in Tel Aviv

    In an interview with the Israeli site nrg on Wednesday, Belgian-Jewish stage actress Noemi Schlosser recounted immigrating to Israel after her career in Europe was destroyed by BDS. Schlosser said she had enjoyed success in Belgium and international acclaim until she was targeted by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement for her pro-Israel stance during Operation Protective Edge — last summer’s war against Hamas in Gaza. She described watching the theaters where she performed go from packed to nearly empty over a short period of […]

    Read more →
  • Israel Sports In Israel for Champions League Soccer Match, Chelsea Manager Says Team Not Worried About Security Situation

    In Israel for Champions League Soccer Match, Chelsea Manager Says Team Not Worried About Security Situation

    The manager of the Chelsea Football Club said on Monday that he is looking forward to playing in Israel this week against Maccabi Tel Aviv, in spite of the security situation, Israeli news site nrg reported. Jose Murinho, who is already in Israel with his team to compete against Maccabi in the Champions League soccer match, was  asked whether he was worried about the current wave of Palestinian violence sweeping the country. “I have no worries at all regarding the security situation, and neither do […]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Opinion In the Middle East, ‘The Tail Wags the Dog’ (REVIEW)

    In the Middle East, ‘The Tail Wags the Dog’ (REVIEW)

    Blaming the West has become the most pervasive method of teaching for many Middle East studies departments, which are becoming the heart of pop-culture academia. Efraim Karsh, a distinguished professor of Middle Eastern studies at Bar-Ilan University and professor emeritus at King’s College London, in his latest book The Tail Wags the Dog: International Politics and the Middle East, dispels this myth. “Britain’s ‘original sin,’ if such was indeed committed, lay not in the breaking up of Middle Eastern unity but […]

    Read more →
  • Features Spirituality/Tradition With Popularity and Sales up, ‘Mensch on a Bench’ Has Much to Smile About

    With Popularity and Sales up, ‘Mensch on a Bench’ Has Much to Smile About – The Mensch on a Bench is so much happier now than he was a year ago. Look carefully and you will notice that, whereas the previous Mensch had a decidedly worried look, this latest version of the popular Hanukkah toy is flashing an exuberant grin. Is the erstwhile Mensch smiling because he expects to be in some 100,000 homes by year’s end? In truth, the change in visage was suggested last year by the “sharks” on ABC’s Shark Tank […]

    Read more →
  • Music US & Canada Adam Sandler Updates Famous ‘Chanukah Song,’ Includes Hulk Hogan, David Beckham and Scarlett Johansson in Latest Version

    Adam Sandler Updates Famous ‘Chanukah Song,’ Includes Hulk Hogan, David Beckham and Scarlett Johansson in Latest Version

    Actor Adam Sandler unveiled a new version of his famous “Chanukah Song” on Saturday, adding a slew of Jewish celebrities to the ditty’s updated lyrics. The comedian — who released the original song about being Jewish during Christmas in 1996 — performed the latest version of the comedic track during the New York Comedy Festival at Carnegie Hall. Marvel Comics creator Stan Lee, actor Jake Gyllenhaal and “the two guys who founded Google” are among the famous Jewish celebrities now in the line up. Sandler also included lyrics about Star Wars‘ Princess […]

    Read more →
  • Music US & Canada Famed Israeli Violinist Itzhak Perlman to Receive Presidential Medal of Freedom

    Famed Israeli Violinist Itzhak Perlman to Receive Presidential Medal of Freedom – Famed Israeli violinist Itzhak Perlman will be among the 17 recipients of America’s Presidential Medal of Freedom next week. He is the fourth Israeli to receive the highest civilian honor in the US. “A native of Israel, he came to the United States at a young age and was introduced to Americans broadly when he appeared on the ‘Ed Sullivan Show’ in 1958. Mr. Perlman made his Carnegie Hall debut in 1963 when he was 18,” a White House […]

    Read more →
  • Features Spirituality/Tradition Don’t Think Israel is a Luxury Destination? Check Out These 6 Spots

    Don’t Think Israel is a Luxury Destination? Check Out These 6 Spots – While Israel is a common destination for cultural and religious pilgrimages, travelers seeking the best hotels, fine dining, and upscale relaxation less often find themselves in the Holy Land. Yet in recent years, the country’s burgeoning tech scene has attracted a business crowd accustomed to ritzy accommodation. Besides, the permanent summer of Tel Aviv and Eilat makes them prime destinations for European vacationers. Israel’s populace managed to tame the swamps and irrigate the desert — so going luxury should […]

    Read more →