With the chances of success in the Israeli-Palestinian talks “very small,” and as the Palestinians have a detailed Plan B for when the talks fail, Israel needs to be proactive and consider a “coordinated unilateral” withdrawal to lines it deems suitable, Amos Yadlin said Monday.
Yadlin, a former chief of Military Intelligence who today heads the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, said that although unilateralism got a “bad name” in Israel because of the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza and the 2000 withdrawal from Lebanon, “it is not necessarily a bad strategy” if done properly.
Speaking at a briefing marking his think tank’s publication of its 2013-2014 Strategic Survey for Israel, and a day prior to the organization’s annual two-day international conference, Yadlin said a unilateral step in the West Bank would not be Israel’s first option, and that it would prefer an agreement. But if this is not possible, Israel should consider withdrawing to the security barrier, leaving some 15 percent of the West Bank – including the Jordan Valley – in its hands.
He said one of the lessons learned from the Gaza withdrawal was that it was a mistake to withdraw from 100% of the territory, because then there is no incentive for the other side to continue to negotiate.
Yadlin said unilateral steps should only be taken after there is a genuine attempt to reach an agreement, including generous offers from Israel.
If the Palestinians push that off – which he believes they will do, since they are unlikely to approve an agreement that will end the conflict, forfeit Palestinian claims of a “right of return,” and take into consideration Israel’s security demands – then Israel should get the US, France, Germany and England behind the idea of unilateral Israeli steps toward a two-state solution.
Yadlin criticized the government for making tactical mistakes during the current negotiations – specifically allowing the settlements to be turned into a major international issue – ensuring that regardless of what the Palestinians do, if the talks break down, Israel will be blamed. “We are losing the blame game,” he said.
If the talks indeed collapse, Yadlin does not expect a “third intifada,” because the Palestinians realize that would not serve their interests.
Rather, he anticipates a “diplomatic intifada,” which will include taking their cause to the UN and the International Criminal Court, as well as encouraging steps to hurt Israel’s economy.
“That is something they think will get them a lot of support, and push Israel into a corner,” he said.
Regarding Iran, Yadlin said that just as there was a small likelihood that Israel and the Palestinians would reach an agreement, there was an equally small chance that Iran and the world powers, led by the US, would reach a long-term accord in the six months allocated under the interim agreement reached in Geneva in November.
He spelled out three possible scenarios.
The first is that an “acceptable” agreement would be reached, whereby the time that it would take for Iran to make a bomb after deciding to do so would be extended from several months to several years.
From Israel’s point of view, he said, this would be preferable to having to take military action against Iran.
The second scenario would be a “bad agreement,” or one whereby the interim agreement that has stopped Iran’s program, but not pushed it farther away from the break-out point, will turn into the final agreement.
And the third scenario is that talks would blow up, and the sides would return to where they were before the Geneva accord.
Yadlin said that both the complete breakdown of the talks, as well as a bad agreement, would necessitate a Plan B. That plan, he said, should be a return to a very harsh sanctions regime, including ratcheting up measures to include a boycott of Iran’s diplomats and possibly a naval blockade. “And at the end of the day, if they are running toward a bomb, the military option should be on the table,” he said.
Despite the Iranian and Palestinian situations, Yadlin said 2013 was a “very good year for Israel’s national security.” As a result, he said, Israel is in a position where it could take some calculated risks, as long as the country’s security interests are preserved.
He listed 12 reasons for Israel’s strong national security position, including:
• Israel’s borders were among the quietest they have ever been;
• The peace agreements with Jordan and Egypt held, despite concern they would be swept aside in the turmoil roiling the Arab world;
• The US-Israeli security cooperation, including $3 billion in US military aid, remains firmly intact;
• The Syrian army, for two decades Israel’s most worrisome conventional threat, has been significantly weakened;
• Hezbollah has been hurt, both militarily and in its status in the Arab world, because of its backing of Syrian President Bashar Assad; • Hamas has been weakened, having first lost Iranian and Syrian backing, and now Egyptian and even Turkish backing, and to a lesser extent, Qatari backing;
• The sanctions on Iran have forced Tehran to enter negotiations aimed at reaching an agreement, and not just buy more time, because Iran is very keen on ending the sanctions regime that is badly hurting its economy;
• Israel and the Persian Gulf states – Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Qatar – have a striking similarity of interest regarding Iran, Syria and Egypt;
• Sinai and the Golan Heights did not, contrary to some expectations, turn into staging grounds for attacks against Israel by Islamic Jihadists;
• There was movement toward ending the crisis with Turkey, as Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s domestic troubles lessens the enmity between the two countries – because it was driven to a large degree by Erdogan; and
• The beginning of the flow of Israeli natural gas has far-reaching geopolitical potential for Israel.