The recent round of terrorist attacks from Gaza again begs the question of whether Israel can rely on international (NATO) forces, as was proposed for areas in the West Bank. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s insistence that there not be Israeli security forces in the Jordan Valley is unviable as the proposal falls far short of Israel’s primary responsibility of protecting the nation’s citizens.
At first glance, a NATO force in the West Bank has several tempting elements, chief among them the idea of security for Israel without having to keep Israeli forces in the West Bank, thus not infringing on future Palestinian sovereignty there. While perhaps a seemingly sound compromise in theory, however, its implementation is very problematic.
The unfortunate truth of the matter is that the odds are extremely slim that a NATO peacekeeping force, or any other international force for that matter, will be able to guarantee Israeli security, and thus allay Israel’s security concerns. For proof, one need only look back at the events of the past few decades.
Consider the history of international peacekeeping missions. Israel experienced firsthand the lack of security provided by international peacekeepers in 1967. Abdel Nasser of Egypt ordered UN peacekeepers out of the Sinai as he began amassing his army on Israel’s border, poised to attack. The peacekeepers left obediently, leaving Israel alone to face the Egyptian army.
UNIFIL, the peacekeeping force in Lebanon, did not prevent any of the rockets Hezbollah fired into Israel, nor Hezbollah’s kidnapping of three Israeli soldiers, both of which led up to the 2006 Israel- Lebanon War. Peacekeepers also retreated from their missions in Somalia and Rwanda, failing to prevent the genocides and mass murders that ensued. The Bosnian civil war paints another dubious picture for international peacekeeping.
As genocide raged, the UN guaranteed the town of Srebrenica as a safe haven for refugees and those seeking protection from the onslaught. In 1995, the 400-strong peacekeeping force stood by as thousands of Bosniaks in Srebrenica were killed.
All of this is not to say that a security agreement involving the UN and NATO cannot work, but that the task is enormous.
The West Bank and Jordan Valley are kept secure by Israeli deterrence and preemption capabilities of the Israel Defense Forces. It also includes tens of thousands of Israeli soldiers, many of which comprise undercover units and special anti-terror forces known to be the best in their field. There is no NATO or UN force that would have the necessary mandate, expertise, or the commitment of Israeli troops. If the tragedies such as Srebrenica have shown anything, it is the difficulty in calling upon foreign powers to treat the security of others as if it were their own.
Israel is kept safe because Hamas, Syria, and Hezbollah all know Israel will not hesitate to send soldiers to the front lines, or conduct raids in light of suspicious activity, nor will it hesitate to fire back when fired upon. Can NATO truly guarantee that if things heat up in Jenin, or on the border of Syrian, it will do all that is necessary to keep Israel secure? Or will it more likely be a hindrance? To make matters worse, if Israel were to leave the West Bank as part of a peace agreement without leaving a military presence, there would almost certainly be an inpouring of terrorist groups. We have already seen Hamas seizing power in Gaza after Israel withdrew in 2005, and we have already seen al-Qaida enter the Sinai, despite the presence of the multinational force stationed there. Israel cannot afford for the same to happen in the West Bank, a few short miles from our major cities.
As the breakup of Syria makes the region a magnet for global jihad terror groups like al-Qaida, Israel risks inviting the same problems through the Kerry- brokered peace agreement it hopes to sign with the Palestinians. The Israeli disengagement from Gaza, the aftermath of the Iraq war, and the Syrian civil war are all instructive models that teach us that terrorist cells will converge on any power vacuum and establish a foothold on any acre of land left unguarded.
Lastly, just as the BDS movement currently compromises Israel’s image among her friends in Europe and America, putting NATO forces in harm’s way will do the same and complicate diplomatic relations with all her allies. This will become much more than a public relations nightmare, affecting political and economic policies toward Israel.
The world longs for a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, but just as important as reaching an agreement will be the agreement’s durability.
Israel’s security should be maintained only by Israeli troops as long as terror groups and dangerous, extreme ideologies still remain such persistent foes in Israel’s backyard. This will not only ensure Israel’s security, but also the permanence and longevity of the peace agreement for which we have all waited so long.
The author is The Rennert Family Visiting Professor at Yeshiva University. He was Israel’s ambassador to the United States 2002- 2006, and deputy foreign minister of Israel 2009-2013.