To John Kerry
United States Secretary of State
A Secure Israel is a Condition for Peace
December 16, 2013 | Eli E. Hertz
Objectively, how vulnerable is Israel? To say that Israel is a tiny nation does not begin to describe the state’s predicament. Slightly larger than the Canary Islands, more or less the size of the state of New Jersey, Israel fits into Lake Michigan with room to spare.
Israel’s pre-1967 borders – the borders Palestinian Arabs want Israel to pull back to – lacked rhyme or reason and reflect the deployment of Israeli and Arab forces when the 1948 armistice agreement was signed. This pre-1967 frontier with the West Bank is known as the Green Line simply because a green pencil was used to draw the map showing the armistice line in 1948, a demarcation that is neither ‘sanctified’ nor a border.
At one of the narrowest points in central Israel, the entire width of the state from the Mediterranean coastal town of Netanya to the Green Line is a mere nine miles – just about three times the length of John F. Kennedy Airport’s runway (14,570 feet or 4,441 meters). Not surprisingly, proximity has made Netanya, nearby Hadera and other Israeli communities along the narrow Sharon coastal plain just north of Tel Aviv, popular targets where Palestinian handlers drop off suicide bombers. If Israel would relinquish the foothills on the east side of the Green Line to Palestinian control, Ben-Gurion International Airport would be within range of shoulder-fired ground-to-air missiles, Katyusha rockets and mortars. The heart of Tel Aviv, Israel’s New York City, is merely 11 miles from the West Bank.
The West Bank juts into Israel like two clenched fists. No major Israeli city is more than 22 miles from a former Arab border. Until the Six-Day War, the Golan Heights escarpment – once bristling with Syrian gun emplacements and minefields – towered above Israelis living in the upper Galilee. In an interview with the German newspaper Der Spiegel in November 1969, the late Israeli diplomat Abba Eban, a lifelong dove, described Israel’s pre-Six-Day War borders as ‘Auschwitz’ lines’ that threaten Israel’s survivability. IDF Major General (res.) Yaakov Amidror puts Eban’s ‘Auschwitz’ metaphor in operational terms in regard to the West Bank. In a 2005 analysis of what ‘defensible borders for a lasting peace’ entail, Amidror explained that even from a technical standpoint, the Green Line lacks minimum ‘defensive depth’ – an overarching principle of military doctrine for all armies: There is insufficient battle space for a defensive force to redeploy after being attacked, there is no room for reserves to enter or counterattack and there is no minimal distance between the battle front and the strategic interior necessary for any army to function.
U.S. Generals on Israel’s Security after the Six-Day War
American military experts have recognized the importance of shoring up Israel’s borders to provide some territorial depth. In a study published immediately after the 1967 Six- Day War, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Earl Wheeler said that “the minimum required for Israel’s defense includes most of the West Bank and the whole of Gaza and the Golan Heights.” The need for territorial depth has not decreased over time. Lt. General (ret.) Tom Kelly, who served as Chief of Operations during the 1991 Gulf War, said in the wake of the Gulf War:
“I cannot defend this land (Israel) without that terrain (West Bank) … The West Bank Mountains, and especially their five approaches, are the critical terrain. If an enemy secures those passes, Jerusalem and Israel become uncovered. Without the West Bank, Israel is only eight miles wide at its narrowest point. That makes it indefensible.”
This sentiment was echoed in the assessment of the late Admiral James Wilson “Bud” Nance, who told Congress in 1991 that there was:
“No logical reason for Israel to give up one inch of the disputed areas. Quite to the contrary, I believe if Israel were to move out of the Golan Heights, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, it would increase instability and the possibility of war, increase the necessity for Israel to preempt in war and the possibility that nuclear weapons would be used to prevent an Israel loss, and increase the possibility that the U.S. would have to become involved in a war.”
The prospects of a new Arab state, a Palestinian state, on Israel’s border have raised concern by U.S. policymakers, as well. Writing in Commentary in 1997, Douglas Feith, U.S. Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, said such a state would give the Arab world “a much greater capacity than they now have to facilitate terrorism against Israel, conduct anti-Israel diplomacy, assist or join enemy armed forces in the event of war, and destabilize local states (such as Jordan and Egypt) that cooperate with Israel.”
U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was even more candid, remarking in a talk with Pentagon employees in August 2002:
“If you have a country that’s a sliver and you can see three sides of it from a high hotel building, you’ve got to be careful what you give away and to whom you give it.”
In the aftermath of the 1967 Six-Day War, after three Arab armies converged on Israel’s nightmarish borders, even the United Nations was forced to recognize that Israel’s pre-Six-Day War borders invite repeated aggression. Thus, UN Resolution 242 – which formed the conceptual foundation for a peace settlement — declares that all states in the region should be guaranteed “safe and secure borders.”
Czech author Milan Kundera once defined a small nation as “one whose very existence may be put in question at any moment; a small nation can disappear, and it knows it.” Israel is even smaller than Czechoslovakia was in 1939 before it was gobbled up by Germany.
Despite this, Israel has been willing to take great risks to make peace with the Palestinians and is prepared to reach a territorial compromise that settles for far less than what these leading American military experts view as the necessary minimum. In the wake of Hamas’ victory in the January 2006 elections, however, Douglas Fieth’s words about “a greater capacity to facilitate terrorism” and Admiral Nance’s warning of the “destabilizing effect” a Palestinian state could wrought and the ramifications of pressuring Israel to take ‘one risk too many’ seem almost prophetic.
A study done by the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff on June 29, 1967 under Gen. Earl Wheeler points to the minimum territory Israel required “in order to permit defense against possible conventional Arab attack …” The study content was considered so explosive and contrary to State Department policy, it was stamped ‘Top Secret’ until the Wall Street Journal revealed it in 1983.
The hostility of its neighbors goes beyond conflicting claims to territory and recognized borders, rivalry or regional domination. The object of Israel’s enemies is neither to dominate nor reach parity with Israel, it is to destroy Israel as a state and send surviving Jews back to where they came from. No other nation is the target of such a potentially genocidal threat.