Thursday, August 22, 2013

Dore Gold: Have the Fundamentals of Israel's Strategic Environment Inextricably Changed?

Have the Fundamentals of Israel's Strategic Environment Inextricably Changed?

Dore Gold, President Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs

Dore Gold
Dore Gold

Here is the executive summary of the complete article:

  • There is a view that developments since the advent of the Arab Spring have completely altered the way Israel should look at its national security needs for many decades to come. The old strategic assumptions that guided Israeli thinking, according to this thesis, are not going to become relevant again. In order to evaluate this idea, it is necessary to keep in mind that there are certain constants in Israel's security predicament that are not going to be altered even with the developments the Middle East is witnessing.
  • For Israel remains a small state surrounded by states that have a combined population of 300 million, in territories that are hundreds of times the size of Israel. As a result, Israel's military assets may be seen as geographically concentrated in a limited area, while neighboring Arab states have been able to disperse launch sites, weapons depots, and military bases across a vast expanse of territory.

  • While some neighboring armies have been badly degraded by internal conflicts, it would be a cardinal error to base national planning on a temporary snapshot of reality. For example, Iraq is planning to modernize its ground forces and convert its army from a counterinsurgency force to a force with maneuver warfare capabilities based on new armored and mechanized formations. There are estimates that it will have over 2,000 main battle tanks by the middle of the next decade.

  • The Gaza Strip has been flooded with Iranian and Libyan weapons. In the West Bank, where Israel holds on to the outer perimeter of the territory in the Jordan Valley, the same weaponry has not reached terrorist organizations. Global jihadists have been unable to reach the West Bank in order to reinforce their Islamist compatriots, as they did in Syria, Iraq, and Libya. Thus, territorial considerations remain applicable to the new threats.

  • The present wave of anti-regime rebellions is loosening central government control over large parts of several Arab states. This has created a vacuum that is being filled by regional terrorist organizations like al-Qaeda and its affiliates. This process has become accentuated in Egypt, especially in the Sinai Peninsula. Countering terrorist organizations by simply deterring the governments of the countries in which they are situated is likely to prove an inadequate strategy.

  • The pressures Israel faces at this time to agree to a full withdrawal from the West Bank and to acquiesce to the loss of defensible borders pose unacceptable risks for the Jewish state. They also stand in contradiction to the international commitments given to Israel in the past.
Read the complete article.

On the issue of territorial considerations, Gold expands on this point in the article, noting how the Goldstone Report -- more so than any new threat -- led to the further priority given to secure borders by the way it undercut Israel's military:
In its wars in territories from which the IDF withdrew, particularly in South Lebanon and Gaza, Israel found itself unfairly accused of using disproportional force, although its operations were not much different from those of Western forces in Iraq or Afghanistan. When the UN Human Rights Council appointed the Goldstone Commission, it accused Israel of deliberately targeting civilians, a charge Justice Richard Goldstone subsequently rejected. While the commission’s initial findings were discredited, Israeli strategy had to adapt to a new reality in which its military operations would be increasingly under an international magnifying glass, further challenging its freedom of action to deal with terrorist threats.

What this meant in practical terms was that future Israeli governments could not simply withdraw from territories under the assumption that if terrorist organizations subsequently took control over them, the IDF could easily re-enter them and eliminate the threat they posed. In other words, it remains necessary to have a defensible border so that Israel can physically prevent an unacceptable threat against its interior from developing, rather than assume that the IDF can conduct raids into those territories in order to uproot any hostile forces there.

Former Israeli UN Ambassador Dore Gold is the President of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

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