Mar 5th 2010

The Real Threat to Israel’s National Security

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

It is time for the Israeli government to be realistic with the changing political conditions in the Middle East. The national security paranoia that has defined its policy toward the Arab world is dated, and no longer helps Israel in dealing with its regional threats: in fact, this paranoia is serving only to obstruct what is left of a lagging peace process. The current conditions on theground are ripe for the establishment of a just and sustainable peace: The Arab League is endorsing renewed efforts by the United States to facilitate a peaceful two-state solution with normalization of relations with Israel through the Arab Peace Initiative, the Palestinian Authority's Salam Fayyad has begun implementing a non-violent plan to build successful state institutions in the West Bank, and the US and EU are both invested in a direct path toward a secure and viable two-state solution. These reasons, coupled with Israel's unquestioned military ability to defend itself in any future confrontation, make Israel's continued argument for national security less valid. Israel must sooner than later chose between either continued occupation, which is bound to explode time and again and paradoxically undermine Israel's national security interests for peace with security with the Arab states.

Whereas incessant Arab hostilities and violence from Palestinian militant groups has justified the occupation for many Israelis on the grounds of national security, the Arab states' position has dramatically changed in the past decade, a fact which is not reflected in current Israeli policy. Moreover, Israel has failed to demonstrate, especially since 2000, how the occupation has in any way enhanced its national security, when in fact it has promoted further enmity, instability and violence, not to mention the astronomical cost in treasure and blood. Despite the relative socio-economic and security improvements in the West Bank, recent low-level violent clashes between Israel and the Palestinians in East Jerusalem and Hebron are feared to constitute a forerunner of another major violent outbreak that could torpedo any prospect for a peaceful solution in the foreseeable future. For this reason, 43 years later, the international community recognizes no correlation between occupation and national security, and views Israel's continued occupation not only as a security liability for Israel but the single most serious impediment to peace and regional strife.

Immediately after the 1967 Six Day War, Israel offered to return the vast majority of the territories captured in exchange for peace but the answer from the Arab states was a resounding no: no peace, no recognition and no negotiations. While the Arab League has now come around to support in full a two-state solution, it is unrealistic to suggest that any Arab body will accept anything less than the land-for-peace deal that was offered more than four decades ago. In lieu of Arab rejection, almost immediately after the end of the war the Labor government decided to build settlements on the outskirts of Jerusalem to protect the city from all angles. In subsequent years, successive Israeli governments- especially those right-of-center-have propagated systematic entrenchment in the territories under the guise of national security, which has given rise to a powerful settlers' movement anchored in two extraordinary sentiments: reconstituting Jewish life in ancestral land (Judea and Samaria) at any cost and a movement based on socio-economic conditions and cheap cost of living. For these reasons, past and present Israeli governments have been hard pressed not to impede the growth of the settlements. But in recent years, these incentives counter the desire of the Israeli majority for peace and a Palestinian state, and the occupation has become nothing less than a liability. While many Israelis understand the repercussions of occupation, they are generally persuaded by the government rhetoric which uses the near daily Palestinian violent provocations as a proof for the need to sustain the occupation, rather than portraying the violence as a reaction to the occupation. After more than four decades and years of peace negotiations, one thing has become abundantly clear: the only remaining value to the occupation is that it can be used as a bargaining chip to secure a better peace deal with the Arab states, and subsequently with the rest of the Muslim world.

This is not to say that Israel doesn't have legitimate security concerns, which it faces daily. These national security concerns have been reinforced by decades of Arab enmity and violence that has exacted a heavy psychological toll on the Israelis. To protect its interests and sovereign rights, Israel has built over the past six decades one of the most powerful and sophisticated conventional military establishments in modern history that has and will continue to deter any Arab country or a combination of countries from attacking Israel. This military deterrence is further augmented by Israel's supposed nuclear deterrence, which will make it suicidal for any country, including Iran, to credibly threaten Israel as it maintains a second strike nuclear capability that could inflict unimaginable damage on any attacker. Surely this does not mean that extremist Arab groups such as Hamas, Hezbollah or Islamic Jihad will stop harassing the Israelis, but none can pose existential danger to Israel. The growing global perception since the Gaza war though is that instead of using its military might to make the necessary territorial compromises to make peace, Israel maintains such a capability in order to preserve the occupation, as neither the Palestinians nor the Syrians will dare to challenge Israel militarily to regain their territory by force. How else can Israel explain its insistence on continuing the building and the expansion of settlements?

Israel is justified to argue that it has in fact taken several such risks in the past. It evacuated territories in the West Bank in the late 1990's, it withdrew its forces from Lebanon in 2000 and it unilaterally relinquished the Gaza strip in 2005. Hamas, Fatah and Hezbollah, on the other hand, instead of building bridges for peace have used the evacuated territories as a staging ground to attack Israel. As a result of the second Intifada which erupted in 2000, Israel retook most of the areas from which it had withdrawn in the West Bank, waged war against Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2006 and against Hamas in 2008-2009, inflicting large-scale damage and causing tremendous economic dislocation and hardship as well as loss of life. What happened subsequent to the Israeli retaliations on all three fronts, however, offers instructive lessons that many Israelis have all but ignored. In the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority has officially committed itself to a non-violent strategy (the Fayyad Plan) to realize the Palestinian national objective of building the infrastructure of a state living side-by-side with Israel in peace. And since the end of the hostilities in Lebanon and Gaza in 2006 and 2009 respectively, there has been hardly any violent provocation against Israel coming from either Hezbollah or Hamas.

The Israeli message to the Palestinians and to Hezbollah was loud and clear: Israel has and will continue to have the capacity to enter any of the evacuated territories at will and only a total and permanent cessation of hostilities will end future Israeli incursions. Moreover, not withstanding international condemnation, Israel's future retaliations will inflict ever increasing devastation and loss of lives as long as violent resistance continues. But if Israel wants to avoid future international condemnations, should it be compelled, once again, to retaliate violently, it must first end the occupation. The argument that Israel does not occupy Gaza is only a technicality as Israel has full and total control over Gaza from the sea, land and air and continues to occupy much of the West bank. If Israel does not ease the burden of occupation and daily humiliation, and commit itself to ending the occupation under a calm atmosphere, which is prevalent now, why would the Palestinians continue to adhere to a non-violent resistance? The Palestinians are duty bound to continue to resist the occupation and Israel will never be able to claim the high moral ground as long as the occupation persists.

Finally, it must be clear that under any circumstances, there will always be certain risks that Israel must take to secure peace. Any nation that seeks to attain absolute security, as Henry Kissinger once observed, renders its enemies absolutely insecure. Under such a scenario very little progress can be made as the Palestinians and the Syrians for that matter, will never relinquish land they feel is inherently theirs and will attempt to regain it by whatever means and however long it may take. Moreover, the Arab states are ready to coalesce around Israel to deal with the Iranian nuclear threat; Israel must capitalize on this changing intra-Arab dynamic and look to the north to forge peace with Syria as well.

I trust that Prime Minister Netanyahu believes in and seeks peace, but he cannot lead a coalition government along with Israel Beiteinu and Shas, two extremist parties that tie his hands behind his back and then place blame for the current paralysis. He has an obligation and historic opportunity to answer the national call and forge a new coalition government with Kadima and Labor along with Likud, representing the left, center and right of center--a government with a solid majority that can rise above party politics which the Israeli public is yearning for. It is time to put an end to the self-delusional policies in support of the occupation that will not only undermine the peace process but severely backfire against Israel's core national security interests.

Now that Israel has fought and finally won the Arab states' acceptance, it too must come around and face, in the words of Yehoshafat Harkabi (former head of Israel's military intelligence between 1955-1959) its fateful hour: Israel must choose between becoming a garrison state with fences and walls and gradually isolating itself from the international community, or make the bold decision to end the occupation and secure its destiny as a free, strong and prosperous nation.


Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Sep 24th 2021
EXTRACTS: "We have found that 47 million American adults – nearly 1 in 5 – agree with the statement that “the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump and Joe Biden is an illegitimate president.” Of those, 21 million also agree that “use of force is justified to restore Donald J. Trump to the presidency.” Our survey found that many of these 21 million people with insurrectionist sentiments have the capacity for violent mobilization. At least 7 million of them already own a gun, and at least 3 million have served in the U.S. military and so have lethal skills. Of those 21 million, 6 million said they supported right-wing militias and extremist groups, and 1 million said they are themselves or personally know a member of such a group, including the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys." ----- "..... the Jan. 6 insurrection represents a far more mainstream movement than earlier instances of right-wing extremism across the country. Those events, mostly limited to white supremacist and militia groups, saw more than 100 individuals arrested from 2015 to 2020. But just 14% of those arrested for their actions on Jan. 6 are members of those groups. More than half are business owners or middle-aged white-collar professionals, and only 7% are unemployed."
Sep 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "That long path, though, has from the start had within it one fundamental flaw. If we are to make sense of wider global trends in insecurity, we have to recognise that in all the analysis around the 9/11 anniversary there lies the belief that the main security concern must be with an extreme version of Islam. It may seem a reasonable mistake, given the impact of the wars, but it still misses the point. The war on terror is better seen as one part of a global trend which goes well beyond a single religious tradition – a slow but steady move towards revolts from the margins."
Sep 11th 2021
EXTRACTS: "Is it not extraordinary that in a country that claims to be as enlightened and advanced as ours, the combined wealth of three individuals – Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, and investor Warren Buffett – exceeds the total wealth of the bottom half of Americans? One has to return to the days of the pharaohs of Egypt to find a parallel to the extreme wealth inequality that we see in in America today." ...... "The top tax rate remained above 90 percent through the 1950s and did not dip below 70 percent until 1981. At no point during the decades that saw America’s greatest economic growth did the tax on the wealthy drop below 70 percent. Today it is somewhere around 37 percent. President Biden’s American Families Plan would increase the top tax rate to 39.6 percent – a fairly modest alteration, albeit in the right direction. It is true that there was a time when the top marginal tax was even lower than it is today: in the years leading up to the Great Depression it hovered around 25 percent."
Sep 7th 2021
EXTRACT: "But Biden can’t be blamed for the rise of the Taliban, or the fragile state of a country that has seen far too many wars and invasions. The US should not have been there in the first place, but that is a lesson that great powers never seem to learn."
Sep 4th 2021
EXTRACT: "The world is only starting to grapple with how profound the artificial-intelligence revolution will be. AI technologies will create waves of progress in critical infrastructure, commerce, transportation, health, education, financial markets, food production, and environmental sustainability. Successful adoption of AI will drive economies, reshape societies, and determine which countries set the rules for the coming century." ----- "AI will reorganize the world and change the course of human history. The democratic world must lead that process."
Sep 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Although the Fed is considering tapering its quantitative easing (QE), it will likely remain dovish and behind the curve overall. Like most central banks, it has been lured into a “debt trap” by the surge in private and public liabilities (as a share of GDP) in recent years. Even if inflation stays higher than targeted, exiting QE too soon could cause bond, credit, and stock markets to crash. That would subject the economy to a hard landing, potentially forcing the Fed to reverse itself and resume QE." ---- "After all, that is what happened between the fourth quarter of 2018 and the first quarter of 2019, following the Fed’s previous attempt to raise rates and roll back QE."
Sep 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Today’s economic challenges are certainly solvable, and there is no reason why inflation should have to spike."
Aug 27th 2021
EXTRACT: "To be sure, they have focused on their agenda, which is totally misguided—not by our own account but by the account of the majority of the American population, who view the Republican party as one that has lost its moral footing to the detriment of America’s future generations, who must now inherit the ugly consequences of a party that ran asunder."
Aug 21st 2021
EXTRACTS: "Now that so many sad truths about Afghanistan are being spoken aloud, even in the major media – let me add one more: The war, from start to finish, was about politics, not in Afghanistan but in the United States. Afghanistan was always a sideshow."--- "....the 2001 invasion was fast and apparently decisive. And so it rescued George W. Bush’s tainted presidency,..." --- "Bush’s approval shot up to 90% and then steadily declined,..."
Aug 17th 2021
EXTRACT: "The Taliban’s virtually uncontested takeover over Afghanistan raises obvious questions about the wisdom of US President Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw US and coalition forces from the country. Paradoxically, however, the rapidity and ease of the Taliban’s advance only reaffirms that Biden made the right decision – and that he should not reverse course. ...... The ineffectiveness and collapse of Afghanistan’s military and governing institutions largely substantiates Biden’s skepticism that US-led efforts to prop up the government in Kabul would ever enable it to stand on its own feet. The international community has spent nearly 20 years, many thousands of lives, and trillions of dollars to do good by Afghanistan – taking down al-Qaeda; beating back the Taliban; supporting, advising, training, and equipping the Afghan military; bolstering governing institutions; and investing in the country’s civil society. .... Significant progress was made, but not enough." ....... "That is because the mission was fatally flawed from the outset. It was a fool’s errand to try to turn Afghanistan into a centralized, unitary state. "
Aug 6th 2021
EXTRACT: "But even in the US, which is more lenient than most countries, the principle cannot be absolute. Inciting imminent violence is not permitted. Donald Trump’s speech on January 6, urging the mob to storm the US Capitol, certainly came close to overstepping this boundary. It was a clear demonstration that language can be dangerous. What the internet media has done is raise the stakes; “fighting words” are spread around much faster and more widely than ever before. This will require a great deal of vigilance, to protect our freedom to express ourselves, while observing the social and legal bounds that stop words from turning into actual fighting. "
Jul 27th 2021
EXTRACT: "When it comes to the Chinese economy, I have been a congenital optimist for over 25 years. But now I have serious doubts. The Chinese government has taken dead aim at its dynamic technology sector, the engine of China’s New Economy. Its recent actions are symptomatic of a deeper problem: the state’s efforts to control the energy of animal spirits." ---- "... the Chinese economy, no less than others, still requires a foundation of trust – trust in the consistency of leadership priorities, in transparent governance, and in wise regulatory oversight – to flourish. --- Modern China lacks this foundation of trust ."
Jul 25th 2021
EXTRACT: "It seems that they are, as the last 18 months have seen a remarkable expansion of the central banks’ fields of activity, largely driven by their own ambitions. So they have moved into the climate change arena, arguing that financial stability may be put at risk by rising temperatures, and that central banks, as bond purchasers and as banking supervisors, can and should be proactive in raising the cost of credit for corporations without a credible transition plan. That is a promising new line of business, which is likely to grow. ---- Central banks are also trying to move into social engineering, specifically the policy response to rising income and wealth inequality, another hot button topic with high political salience."
Jul 25th 2021
EXTRACT: "The EU’s ambitious unilateral climate strategy will transform Europe into a trade fortress, encourage green protectionism worldwide, and give other regions the opportunity to develop using cheaper energy. And without China, India, and the United States on board, other countries will be careful not to follow the EU in its self-appointed role as the world’s green guinea pig. If Europe is not careful, it will risk finding itself in a climate club of one. "
Jul 9th 2021
EXTRACT: ".... ruminants belch and fart methane, an extremely potent greenhouse gas. As a result, rearing beef cattle brings about, on average, six times the contribution to global warming as non-ruminant animals (for example, pigs) producing the same quantity of protein. ..... if projected to 2050 [beef production], would use 87% of the total quantity of emissions that is compatible with the Paris climate agreement’s objective of staying below a 2° Celsius increase in temperature."
Jul 8th 2021
EXTRACT: " .... while China’s leaders never mention it, they are just as embittered over Russia’s theft of Chinese territory in the nineteenth century as they are over the West’s imperial predations. With Western imperialism having been largely rolled back, it is Russia’s continued occupation of historic Chinese territory that stands out the most to ordinary Chinese observers. For example, the city of Vladivostok, with its vast naval base, has been a part of Russia only since 1860, when the tsars built a military harbor there. Before that, the city was known by the Manchu name of Haishenwai." ---- "There is also a demographic argument for Putin to consider: the six million Russians spread along the Siberian border face 90 million Chinese on the other side. And many of these Chinese regularly cross the border into Russia to trade (and a good number to stay)."
Jul 7th 2021
EXTRACTS: "According to a new analysis by researchers at Brown University, America’s two-decade war in Afghanistan cost it nearly $2.3 trillion. Now, Afghanistan’s neighbors – Pakistan, Iran, China, India, and the Central Asian countries – are wondering just how much it will cost them to maintain security after the United States is gone." ----- "After clandestinely supporting the Taliban as a means to undermine the US war effort, Russia now fears broader destabilization in Central Asia and beyond." ---- "Similarly, after having made nice with the Taliban, China also now fears the greater regional instability that the US withdrawal may incite. In addition to disrupting Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Eurasia-spanning Belt and Road Initiative, a revitalized Taliban could re-energize the Islamist extremist threat in China’s western Xinjiang province."
Jul 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "When former Fed Chair Paul Volcker hiked rates to tackle inflation in 1980-82, the result was a severe double-dip recession in the United States and a debt crisis and lost decade for Latin America. But now that global debt ratios are almost three times higher than in the early 1970s, any anti-inflationary policy would lead to a depression, rather than a severe recession. ---- Under these conditions, central banks will be damned if they do and damned if they don’t, and many governments will be semi-insolvent and thus unable to bail out banks, corporations, and households. The doom loop of sovereigns and banks in the eurozone after the global financial crisis will be repeated worldwide, sucking in households, corporations, and shadow banks as well. ---- As matters stand, this slow-motion train wreck looks unavoidable."
Jun 19th 2021
EXTRACT: "Xi Jinping’s call for friendship gives us an opportunity to examine Chinese politics on both the domestic and international stage. On the face of it, it suggests the possibility of rapprochement between the rich liberal democracies represented by the G7 and the authoritarian Chinese state. However, despite appearances of a call for a closer relationship, there is more than one way of being friends – and Xi’s idea might be somewhat different to what many in countries attending the G7 might expect."
Jun 12th 2021
EXTRACT: "China’s recently published census, showing that its population has almost stopped growing, brought warnings of severe problems for the country. “Such numbers make grim reading for the party,” reported The Economist. This “could have a disastrous impact on the country,” wrote Huang Wenzheng, a fellow at the Center for China and Globalization in Beijing, in the Financial Times. But a comment posted on China’s Weibo was more insightful. “The declining fertility rate actually reflects the progress in the thinking of Chinese people – women are no longer a fertility tool.” "