Israel’s National Security: Myths And Reality

by Alon Ben-Meir

A noted journalist and author, Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is professor of international relations and Middle East studies at the Center for Global Affairs at New York University. Ben-Meir holds a masters degree in philosophy and a doctorate in international relations from Oxford University. His exceptional knowledge and insight, the result of more than 20 years of direct involvement in foreign affairs, with a focus on the Middle East, has allowed Dr. Ben-Meir to offer a uniquely invaluable perspective on the nature of world terrorism, conflict resolution and international negotiations. Fluent in Arabic and Hebrew, Ben-Meir's frequent travels to the Middle East and meetings with highly placed officials and academics in many Middle Eastern countries including Egypt, Israel, Jordan, the Palestinian territories, Syria and Turkey provide him with an exceptionally nuanced level of awareness and insight into the developments surrounding breaking news. Ben-Meir often articulates

Israel’s national security has, and for good reason, continues to be of prime concerns not only to its citizens but to world Jewry and many of its friends and allies around the globe. Israel has every reason to be weary of its enemies, who have time and again demonstrated that they are not worthy of trust and remain committed to Israel’s destruction both in word and deeds. For this reason, many Israelis have become increasingly more pessimistic and skeptical about the prospect of peace and for that matter, its durability even when achieved. This argument, however cogent it may be, has lost much of its significance as time and circumstances have changed. To be sure, although Israel’s military power remains central to its national security, no territorial depth or continued military buildup provides Israel the ultimate security it needs. In the final analysis, Israel’s security rests on peace with the Arab states, and its formidable military prowess must now be used to secure that peace, however elusive it may seem.

There are those who suggest that Israel’s withdrawal from the West Bank will make Israel vulnerable to rocket attacks from the mountains overlooking Israel’s population and industrial centers in the coastal strip below, rendering the country indefensible. As one critic wrote citing an American military expert, “’modern weapon systems, most of them with components which require line-of-sight emplacement, if deployed in the [Judean and Samarian] mountains…’ [Israel’s] present width in the central sector of the country would be reduced from 40-55 miles to 9-16 miles… [which] would render the country indefensible.” To support this argument there are those who simply take at face value the statements made by right-wing Israeli officials who link territorial depth to national security without examining the real relevance between the two, especially in the context of the West Bank and the territorial depth involved.

Against the one “American military expert” there are hundreds of Israeli military experts who disagree with this argument. No one is suggesting that a peace agreement, in and of itself, provides Israel instant security. Indeed, any peace accord will have to be implemented in stages that would entail quid-pro-quo requiring both sides to fully adhere to all provisions of the agreement, especially on the matter of national security concerns to Israel. Thus, security measures will have to be in place including, for example, the stationing of an international peace force, led by the United States, stationed along the borders with Jordan replete with enforcement capabilities. More important, however, is Israel’s deterrence and its own military that has and can prevent any violation of an agreement with the Palestinians.

With today’s military technology and the proliferation of short and medium range rockets (ranging from three miles to three hundred) in the hands of Hamas and Hezbollah, “modern weapon systems,” regardless of where they are placed, can hit every population center in Israel. Therefore, whether the distance from the mountains of the West Bank is ‘40 to 55 miles or reduced to 9 to 16 miles’ will hardly make any difference. What will make, in the final analysis, a real difference are Israel’s retaliatory capabilities and the potential unacceptable damage that Israel can inflict that would persuade the enemy from provoking Israel.

Ask yourself, why have the Palestinians in the West Bank, Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon have refrained from provoking Israel in any serious manner since the Palestinians in the West Bank suffered from the Israeli onslaught in the wake of the Second Intifada in 2000, Hezbollah in 2006 and Hamas in 2009? Hamas and Hezbollah in particular have not as of yet recovered from the destruction they sustained, and for them to re-engage Israel militarily would be nothing short of suicide. This is the reason why the Palestinian Authority opted to forsake violence to achieve its political objectives by peaceful means and the reason behind the relative calm that has prevailed. If one adds to that the element of the peace agreement, the likelihood of a new conflagration will become increasingly less desirable.

The issue is not where the border is finally drawn. Successive Israeli governments have sold the myth to the Israeli public linking the borders to national security, when in fact building settlements, such as Ariel, deep into the West Bank is ideologically motivated and has little if anything to do with national security. Indeed, what makes the border between Israel and a future Palestinian state defensible is not as much where the final border is finally established, but continued Israeli deterrence and, in particular, on the establishment of a comprehensive peace and normal relations in which both sides develop, over time, a vested interest. Any claim to the contrary is baseless regardless of what the ultimate intentions of the Palestinians are, as many Israelis contend.

It is a common belief in Israel that the Arabs, especially the Palestinians, cannot be trusted. They further argue that even if an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement is achieved today the Palestinians will annul it as soon as they feel that its dissolution will work to their advantage. Many Israelis insist that the Palestinians are inherently committed to Israel’s destruction and that for the Palestinians, forging a peace agreement will amount to nothing more than a tactical move while waiting for a better day to realize their ultimate goal to bring about the destruction of Israel. The question is, however, who would make peace on the basis of trust alone? Trust can be cultivated only through a constructive and ongoing relationship that only peace can foster.

Let us assume for a moment that the lack of trust is the main obstacle to making peace. The question is, when will the day come when both sides begin to trust each other? Will it come after developing trade, commercial, cultural, scientific and diplomatic ties, or will it come when the occupation continues, the settlements expand, multiple checkpoints remain in place and thousands of Palestinian prisoners languish in Israeli jails ? Defying Israel today does not come from religious beliefs, albeit Hamas and others find it convenient to create such a link to convey their convictions. Indeed, notwithstanding the religious component of the conflict, the people, including the Palestinians want to live. They know that there is no virtue in dying in vain, especially when the prospect of destroying Israel is virtually non-existent, and more than anything else, when they have something to hold onto, like an independent state of their own.

Israel is and remains, for as far as the eye can see, a military power that no individual Arab state or combination of states can overwhelm militarily, and if they try they will do so at their peril. At no time in its history has Israel been stronger militarily. This mighty military prowess can and will be used to deter, defend or go on the offensive should Israel’s security be threatened. For this reason Israel cannot mortgage its security to a third party, it must remain vigilant, powerful and ready at all times to take any legitimate military action deemed necessary to ensure its survival.

Such a military power however can and indeed must also be used to reach out to the Palestinians and the rest of the Arab states from a position of strength. Otherwise, what is the point of such a military prowess if it does not advance peace? Israel will become increasingly more isolated, gradually evolving into a garrison state with ever diminishing friends and allies. As it is, there is not a single country in the whole world, including the US, that supports the occupation and calls on Israel to end it for its own sake.

Meanwhile Israel is gradually losing its soul and its resonance as it was envisioned by its founders. It is time for the Netanyahu government to be honest with the public and stop covering for the expansion and the building of new settlements in the name of national security.

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Added 12.07.2018
The cabinet members who resigned this week apparently feared that politics is taking May toward a “soft Brexit,” their worst of all possible worlds........“soft Brexit,” maintains the status quo, more or less, letting Europeans freely circulate into British labor markets and allowing European firms to operate easily in the UK. The problem with “soft Brexit” is that it raises questions about why the UK is leaving at all, since it will still have the same obligations to Europe as before, it just won’t have a voice when the remaining 27 members of the European Union meet to make decisions.
Added 12.07.2018
One study on the 2010 World Cup found that there was a 37.5% rise in admission rates across 15 accident and emergency departments on England match days........Examining reports of domestic abuse in Lancashire (a county of approximately 1.5m people in Northern England), across the 2002, 2006 and 2010 World Cup tournaments, we discovered a 26% increase in reports of domestic abuse when England won or drew, and a 38% increase when England lost. Reports were also more frequent on weekends, and reached their peak when England exited the tournament.
Added 10.07.2018
If, back in the 1980s and 1990s, the US government, rather than arguing for Chinese economic opening, had prohibited any US company from investing there, China’s rise would have been significantly delayed, though not permanently prevented. Because that did not happen, China’s rise is now self-sustaining. A huge and increasingly affluent domestic market will make exports less vital to growth.
Added 10.07.2018
Comparing today’s demagogues with Adolf Hitler is almost always unwise. Such alarmism tends to trivialize the actual horrors of the Nazi regime, and distracts attention from our own political problems. But if alarmism is counterproductive, the question remains: At what point are democracies truly in danger? What was unimaginable only a few years ago – a US president insulting democratic allies and praising dictators, or calling the free press “enemies of the people,” or locking up refugees and taking away their children – has become almost normal now. When will it be too late to sound the alarm?
Added 09.07.2018
In view of such actions, expectations for Trump’s behavior at the upcoming summit have gone from prickly to dangerous. The sense of foreboding has been heightened by the announcement that, just four days after the summit ends, Trump will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin, in Helsinki. The nightmare scenario is easy to imagine: Trump lays bare NATO’s fractures, including by questioning mutual defense, before selling his allies down the river by publicly embracing Putin. But this does not need to be the outcome.
Added 09.07.2018
After 2027 (or maybe even 2025, only 7 years from now), the number of EVs will rapidly accelerate, as virtually all new vehicles bought will be electric (an effect of rapidly falling battery and other component costs and of the fuel for electric cars being essentially free; you can power one off your rooftop solar array).
Added 03.07.2018
Most pundits interpret Trump’s outbursts as playing to his political base, or preening for the cameras, or blustering for the sake of striking future deals. We take a different view. In line with many of America’s renowned mental-health experts, we believe that Trump suffers from several psychological pathologies that render him a clear and present danger to the world.
Added 03.07.2018
In the United Kingdom, Brexit looms large, with everyone from government ministers to tabloid newspapers frothing daily about the deal that will be struck with the European Union and the effects that it will have. But the EU faces too many pressing challenges to be obsessing about Britain. The UK’s concern is understandable: evidence is mounting of the likely damage a departure from the single market and customs union will do to the UK economy. According to new research from the Centre for European Reform, the UK economy is already 2.1% smaller than it would have been had voters chosen to remain. The hit to public finances totals £440 million ($579 million) per week.
Added 26.06.2018
Nowadays, Britain’s words and actions on the world stage are so at odds with its values that one must wonder what has happened to the country. Since the June 2016 Brexit referendum, British foreign policy seems to have all but collapsed – and even to have disowned its past and its governing ideas. Worse, this has coincided with the emergence of US President Donald Trump’s erratic administration, which is pursuing goals that are completely detached from those of Britain – and of Europe generally. 
Added 26.06.2018
With each passing day, it becomes increasingly evident that US President Donald Trump’s administration cares less about economics and more about the aggressive exercise of political power. This is obviously a source of enormous frustration for those of us who practice the art and science of economics. But by now, the verdict is self-evident: Trump and his team continue to flaunt virtually every principle of conventional economics.
Added 26.06.2018
The sights and sounds of Central American children being ripped from their parents by US Border Patrol officers have, by now, spread across the globe. The experience has been traumatizing to its victims and deeply painful to watch. It has also done incalculable damage to the very idea of America. This is June when we are supposed to be celebrating "Immigrant Heritage Month". Each year, I have taken this opportunity to recall my family's immigrant story - the opportunity and freedom they sought, the hardships they endured, and the remarkable progress they made in just one generation. 
Added 24.06.2018
State terrorism comes in many forms, but one of its most cruel and revolting expressions is when it is aimed at children. Even though U.S. President Donald Trump backed down in the face of a scathing political and public outcry and ended his administration’s policy of separating migrant children from their parents, make no mistake: His actions were and remain a form of terrorism.
Added 22.06.2018
It is now clear that the twenty-first century is ushering in a new world order. As uncertainty and instability associated with that process spread around the globe, the West has responded with either timidity or nostalgia for older forms of nationalism that failed in the past and certainly will not work now. Even to the most inveterate optimist, the G7 summit in Quebec earlier this month was proof that the geopolitical West is breaking up and losing its global significance, and that the great destroyer of that American-created and American-led order is none other than the US president. To be sure, Donald Trump is more a symptom than a cause of the West’s disintegration. But he is accelerating the process dramatically.
Added 20.06.2018
Sessions quoted a line written by the apostle Paul to a small community of Christians living in Rome around 55AD to defend the Department of Justice’s approach. He said: "I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order." Sessions used the Bible because one of the most vocal opponents of the crackdown on asylum cases has been the Catholic Church. It’s no surprise that Sessions appealed to Romans chapter 13 verse 1 in response: not only did he hope to undermine Catholic authority by using the Bible against them, he cited a statement so broad that one might use it to defend anything a government does, good or bad. Picture below St Paul writing his epistles, by Valentin de Boulogne, via Wikimedia Commons.
Added 19.06.2018
 

I find it exceptionally irritating when I hear liberals worry about whether Israel will be able to remain a "Jewish and Democratic State" if it retains control of occupied Palestinian lands.

Added 18.06.2018
Daniel Wagner: "My prediction Korean War will be formally ended, the peninsula will be denuclearised, and a lasting peace will be the result."
Added 14.06.2018
Extract: PiS [ the ruling Law and Justice party] has established the most significant addition to the Polish social safety net since 1989: the Family 500+ program. Launched in 2016, Family 500+ embodies the nationalism, traditional family values, and social consciousness that the PiS seeks to promote. The program pays families 500 złoty ($144) per month to provide care for a second or subsequent child...........The program has been enormously popular. Some 2.4 million families took advantage of it in the first two years. The benefit, equivalent to 40% of the minimum wage, has almost wiped out extreme poverty for children in Poland, reducing it by an estimated 70-80%........... Liberal pro-European politicians and policymakers are not convinced. They complain that such a generous family benefit will weaken work incentives and blow up the government budget. But initial evidence suggests that Family 500+ has actually increased economic activity. It has also reversed the post-communist decline in fertility, increased wages (particularly for women), and enabled families to buy school materials, take vacations, buy more clothes for their kids, and rely less on high-priced credit for basic household needs. And, thanks to rapid economic growth, the government deficit has steadily fallen, not grown.
Added 12.06.2018
The depths of hypocrisy of the Republican Party in supporting Trump’s meeting with the North Korean dictator in Singapore are hard to plumb. This is a party whose leading members adopted the Ostrich Foreign Policy Principle for decades. If you don’t like a country’s government or political and economic system, pretend it does not exist.
Added 12.06.2018
US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has spoken out against China’s strategy of “intimidation and coercion” in the South China Sea, including the deployment of anti-ship missiles, surface-to-air missiles, and electronic jammers, and, more recently, the landing of nuclear-capable bomber aircraft at Woody Island. There are, Mattis warned, “consequences to China ignoring the international community.” But what consequences?
Added 12.06.2018
With a general election approaching in September, Swedish voters are being warned that now it’s their turn to be targeted by Russian interference in the democratic process. According to Sweden’s Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB), which is leading the country’s efforts to counter foreign-influence operations, such interference is very likely, and citizens should be on the lookout for disinformation and fake news.