Feb 6th 2016

The Truth About 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

Israel’s historical experiences, coupled with decades of violent confrontations with Arab states and the Palestinians, have created a major psychological barrier embedded in the psyche of every Israeli, placing Israel’s legitimate national security concerns at the center of its domestic and foreign policy. That said, no military might or even the expropriation of the entire West Bank will guarantee Israel’s security, short of a sustainable Israeli-Palestinian peace.

The Netanyahu government’s linking of national security to the so-called “defensive borders” is disingenuous and misleading, designed to provide a cover for his and his cabinet’s continued intoxication with seizing Palestinian territories.

In the age of rockets and precision missile technology, territorial depth can no longer guarantee Israel’s security, as Hamas has been able to rain thousands of rockets on Israel, some of which have reached Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

The current ‘knife Intifada’ also reveals the absurdity of the argument that borders, any border, can provide air tight security. It is the occupation and the continuing expansion of the settlements that are behind these violent outbursts, and as long as the occupation persists, Israel will not know a day of rest.

In December 2012, Gabi Ashkenazi, the former Chief of Staff of the Israeli army,reconfirmed the sentiments of many of his colleagues when he said: “Israel must recognize the limits of its power and cooperate with forces that support Israeli interests.”

This was aptly expressed by another top Israeli military commander, Shaul Arieli, who said, “We believe that peace will provide better security than anything else.” Otherwise, all security measures, however coercive, elaborate, and sophisticated, cannot guarantee Israel’s national security.

As a master tactician who uses fear to rally public support, Netanyahu is quick to point to the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza to suggest that the Palestinians cannot be trusted, as Hamas has been using the strip ever since as a launching pad for rockets, instead of building the foundation of their state.

Sadly, many Israelis bought into this dishonest argument, even though it may appear to be valid on the surface. Only when one carefully examines how the withdrawal from Gaza was conducted would one understand the absurdity of this argument.

The withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 was precipitous and unilateral. Then-Prime Minister Sharon knew that Hamas was by far more powerful than the security forces of the Palestinian Authority, and poised to take over. Sharon’s main objective, however, was to rid Israel of the economic and security burdens that Gaza posed, and if his actions would divide the Palestinians, so much the better.

Netanyahu knows only too well that any peace agreement must be based on certain provisions, mechanisms, logistics, and a timeline designed to ensure compliance based on reciprocity while nurturing trust in the process. This would allow for mutual mitigation of biases and selective perceptions over each other’s intentions as they implement all the provisions of the agreement.

The pullout from much of the West Bank must therefore entail a number of specific unilateral, bilateral, and multi-lateral measures that can, in contrast to the Gaza withdrawal, sustain and strengthen peace. Had Sharon put such measures in place, the result would have been entirely different today. These measures include:

Phased Withdrawal and Reciprocity 
To prevent a repeat of Gaza, the pullout from the West Bank must be implemented in phases over a period of five to eight years with an established timeframe between each phase based on specific reciprocal and confidence-building measures.

During this period, both sides must develop people-to-people relations, including economic, cultural, and scientific ties, which can mitigate the psychological security hang-ups between the two sides.

Maintaining Full Security Cooperation 
By virtue of the Israelis’ and the Palestinians’ past experiences, full security cooperation between the two sides remains a prerequisite. Progress made between Israel and the PA demonstrates that effective security cooperation is possible, even in an atmosphere of tension. The success of this cooperation was made possible by the PA’s commitment to peace as well as Israel’s willingness to fully collaborate with the PA’s internal security and improve intelligence cooperation.

A Demilitarized Palestinian State 
The newly-established Palestinian state should be demilitarized, with its security assured by the US. Regardless of their military prowess, the Palestinians will never be in a position to challenge Israel militarily, nor will they be threatened as long as they are at peace with their neighbors.

Instead of wasting hundreds of millions of dollars on military hardware, future Palestinian governments should invest in economic development, education, health care, and infrastructure, while maintaining strong economic relations with Israel from which both sides can greatly benefit.

Preserving Credible Deterrence 
Israel will maintain a credible military deterrence that will dissuade current and future enemies from threatening it; if they do so, it will be at their own peril. For Israelis, “Never Again” is not just a slogan; they are bent, and rightly so, on doing whatever necessary to prevent history from repeating itself.

In this regard, Israel and the United States can ensure that no single state or combination of states is able to overwhelm Israel militarily by maintaining a qualitative military edge.

Reviving the Arab Peace Initiative 
In the context of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, Israel should accept the principles of the Arab Peace Initiative (API), which was proposed in 2002, and agree to convene with representatives of the Arab League to discuss its merits. This would open the door for negotiating a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace agreement, beginning normal relations with the Arab states and by extension with all Muslim states.

As the former head of the Mossad, Meir Dagan, stated in June 2011, “We must adopt the Saudi Initiative, we have no other way, and not because the Palestinians are my top priority but because I am concerned about Israel’s wellbeing and I want to do what I can to ensure Israel’s existence.”

An International Peacekeeping Force 
Israel’s demand to keep residual forces along the Jordan River to prevent the smuggling of weapons and the infiltration of terrorists from the Jordan Valley is valid. However, such a force cannot be made of Israelis alone in order to prevent it from being seen as a continuation of occupation, only in a different form. Instead, an international peacekeeping force (with Israeli and Palestinian participation) will have to be stationed there for a mutually agreed-upon period of time.

The force should be assembled from specific countries that have a vested interest in maintaining peace, including Jordan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia, and EU nations like Britain, France, and Germany, operating under the command of the United States.

A Regional Security Umbrella 
Once a peace agreement is achieved and all security measures are in place, the United States could offer a security umbrella along the lines of what former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton proposed in June 2009, under which all nations in the region who are at peace with Israel (and with each other) could belong, to deter outside adversaries.

Those who claim that this would be the wrong time for Israel to make such a move, given the Middle East’s sweeping turmoil, are wrong. This is precisely the right time—Israel does not need a fire in its backyard or a fifth column at a time when it must focus on threats from Iran and ISIS, as well as the potential disintegration of Syria.

The time has come for the Israelis to reject the scare tactics and false claims of the Netanyahu government. The usurpation of Palestinian land and unabated settlement growth not only delegitimizes Israel’s legitimate national security requirements, but endangers its very existence.

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Dec 5th 2019
EXTRACT: "Europe must fend for itself for the first time since the end of World War II. Yet after so many years of strategic dependence the US, Europe is unprepared – not just materially but psychologically – for today’s harsh geopolitical realities. Nowhere is this truer than in Germany."
Nov 23rd 2019
Extdact: "The kind of gratitude expressed by Vindman and my grandfather is not something that would naturally occur to a person who can take his or her nationality for granted, or whose nationality is beyond questioning by others. Some who have never felt the sharp end of discrimination might even find it mildly offensive. Why should anyone be grateful for belonging to a particular nation? Pride, perhaps, but gratitude? In fact, patriotism based on gratitude might be the strongest form there is."
Nov 20th 2019
Extract: "Moody’s, one of the big three credit rating agencies, is not upbeat about the prospects for the world’s debt in 2020 – to put it mildly. If we were to try to capture the agency’s view of where we are heading on a palette of colours, we would be pointing at black – pitch black."
Nov 17th 2019
Extract: "Digital money is already a key battleground in finance, with technology firms, payment processing companies, and banks all vying to become the gateway into the burgeoning platform-based economy. The prizes that await the winners could be huge. In China, Alipay and WeChat Pay already control more than 90% of all mobile payments. And in the last three years, the four largest listed payment firms – Visa, Mastercard, Amex, and PayPal – have increased in value by more than the FAANGs (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, and Google)."
Nov 14th 2019
Extract: "Trump, who understands almost nothing about governing, made a major mistake in attacking career public officials from the outset of his presidency. He underestimated – or just couldn’t fathom – the honor of people who could earn more in the private sector but believe in public service. And he made matters worse for himself as well as for the government by creating a shadow group – headed by the strangely out-of-control Rudy Giuliani, once a much-admired mayor of New York City, and now a freelance troublemaker serving as Trump’s personal attorney – to impose the president’s Ukraine policy over that of “the bureaucrats.” "
Nov 4th 2019
Extract: "Trump displays repeated and persistent behaviours consistent with narcissistic personality disorder and antisocial personality disorder. These behaviours include craving for adulation, lack of empathy, aggression and vindictiveness towards opponents, addiction to lying, and blatant disregard for rules and conventions, among others." The concern is that leaders with these two disorders may be incapable of putting the interests of the country ahead of their own personal interests. Their compulsive lying may make rational action impossible and their impulsiveness may make them incapable of the forethought and planning necessary to lead the country. They lack empathy and are often motivated by rage and revenge, and could make quick decisions that could have profoundly dangerous consequences for democracy.
Oct 31st 2019
EXTRACT: "......let’s see what happens when we have less money for all the things we want to do as a country and as individuals. Promises and predictions regarding Brexit will soon be tested against reality. When they are, I wouldn’t want to be one of Johnson’s Brexiteers."
Oct 21st 2019
EXTRACT: "Were Israel to be attacked with the same precision and sophistication as the strike on Saudi Arabia, the Middle East would be plunged into war on a scale beyond anything it has experienced so far. Sadly (but happily for Russian President Vladimir Putin), that is the reality of a world in which the US has abandoned any pretense of global leadership."
Oct 20th 2019
EXTRACT: "Europe also stands to lose from Trump’s abandonment of the Kurds. If, in the ongoing chaos, the thousands of ISIS prisoners held by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces escape – as some already have – America’s estranged European allies will suffer. Yet Trump is unconcerned. “Well, they are going to be escaping to Europe, that’s where they want to go,” he remarked casually at a press conference. “They want to go back to their homes." "
Oct 15th 2019
EXTRACT: "Assuming the House ultimately votes to impeach Trump, the fact remains that there are far fewer votes in the Senate than will be needed to convict him and remove him from office. But the willingness of Congress – including the Senate – to continue tolerating his dangerous conduct in office, including threats to US national security, is now truly in question."
Oct 7th 2019
EXTRACT: "The problem didn't start with the election of Donald Trump. Nor did it begin with the Democrats launching an impeachment inquiry against Trump. This is a developing crisis that has been growing like a cancer within our polity for at least the past 25 years. Its main symptoms are a lack of civility in our political discourse, a "take no prisoners" mindset, and a denial of the very legitimacy of "the other side." Trump didn't create this crisis; he was the result of it.   When Newt Gingrich took the helm of Congress in 1995, unlike previous Republican leaders, he embarked on a campaign not only to obstruct the efforts of then President Clinton, but to destroy him. Congress launched a series of investigations accusing Clinton of everything from corruption to obstruction of justice – with hints of even more nefarious plots to assassinate those who might pose a problem to his presidency.  "
Oct 4th 2019
EXTRACT: "As the story spreads, it grows darker. Meanwhile, Trump is trying to learn the identity of the whistleblower (who is protected by law), which could expose that person to great danger. And he is accusing some people – including Adam Schiff, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee – of treason. My sense is that Trump fears the tough, focused Schiff. Trump has ominously noted that traitors used to be shot or hanged. And he hasn’t helped himself with members of either party by declaring, in one of his hundreds of febrile tweets, that forcing him from office could lead to a “civil war.” Trump has taken the United States somewhere it’s never been before. His presidency may not survive it."
Sep 24th 2019
EXTRACT: "But regardless of whether the Ukraine scandal remains front-page news, it will haunt the US intelligence community, which has been Trump’s bête noire since the day he took office. Trump has relentlessly attacked US intelligence agencies, cozied up to Russian President Vladimir Putin, and divulged secrets to foreign officials, potentially burning high-value sources. This behavior had already raised serious concerns about whether Trump can be trusted to receive sensitive intelligence at all. Now, intelligence leaders must ask themselves how far they are willing to go in toeing the White House line."
Sep 21st 2019
EXTRACT: "As Lobaczewski pointed out, pathological leaders tend to attract other people with psychological disorders. At the same time, empathetic and fair-minded people gradually fall away. They are either ostracised or step aside voluntarily, appalled by the growing pathology around them.......As a result, over time pathocracies become more entrenched and extreme. You can see this process in the Nazi takeover of the German government in the 1930s, when Germany moved from democracy to pathocracy in less than two years.......In the US, there has clearly been a movement towards pathocracy under Trump. As Lobaczewski’s theory predicts, the old guard of more moderate White House officials – the “adults in the room” – has fallen away. The president is now surrounded by individuals who share his authoritarian tendencies and lack of empathy and morality. Fortunately, to some extent, the democratic institutions of the US have managed to provide some push back."
Sep 16th 2019
EXTRACT: "If the Supreme Court does agree with the Divisional Court that the question is political rather than legal, it will take the UK constitution into quite peculiar territory. Prime ministers will be the new kings and queens. They will be free to suspend parliament at will, and for as long as they wish, without any judicial interference. Parliament will meet not out of constitutional necessity but in the service of the government’s interests – namely, to pass its legislation and to maintain appearances, rather than to hold it to account."
Sep 12th 2019
Extract: "The Republican Party has lashed its fate to an increasingly unhinged leader. Though three other presidential hopefuls for 2020 now stand in Trump’s way, none can defeat him. But they can damage his reelection effort, which is why the Republican Party has been scrapping some primaries and caucuses. How well Trump does in November next year may well depend on how his fragile ego withstands the coming months."
Sep 2nd 2019
EXTRACTS: "Most people think of revolutions as sudden earthquakes or volcanic eruptions that come without warning and sweep away an entire political system. But historians, political scientists, and even the odd politician know that the reality is very different: revolutions happen when systems hollow themselves out, or simply rot from within. Revolutionaries can then brush aside established norms of behavior, or even of truth, as trivialities that should not impede the popular will............ Only time will tell whether we are currently witnessing the hollowing out of British democracy. But Prime Minister Boris Johnson may well have crossed some invisible Rubicon by.......... Whatever happens now, British parliamentary democracy may never be the same again. It will certainly never again be the model that so many people around the world once admired."
Aug 29th 2019
EXTRACT: "Events such as prorogations and dissolutions happen when countries face difficult times. Therefore, because of the disastrous effects of Brexit: sterling in freefall; a recession looming on the horizon and Britain’s international standing at its lowest ebb since Suez, it is no surprise that the country is in this position now. The worrying thing is that using the monarchical power of prorogation does not solve problems – it has a history of turning them into frightening and often violent crises. There is a worrying relationship between the use of such powers and a complete breakdown in government."
Aug 28th 2019
EXTRACT: "Reminiscent of Don Quixote, Trump is tilting at windmills. His administration is flailing at antiquated perceptions of the Old China that only compound the problems it claims to be addressing. Financial markets are starting to get a sense that something is awry. So, too, is the Federal Reserve. Meanwhile, the global economy is fraying at the edges. The US has never been an oasis in such treacherous periods. I doubt if this time is any different. 
Aug 24th 2019
EXTRACT: "In fact, with firms in the US, Europe, China, and other parts of Asia having reined in capital expenditures, the global tech, manufacturing, and industrial sector is already in a recession. The only reason why that hasn’t yet translated into a global slump is that private consumption has remained strong. Should the price of imported goods rise further as a result of any of these negative supply shocks, real (inflation-adjusted) disposable household income growth would take a hit, as would consumer confidence, likely tipping the global economy into a recession."