Ex-IDF officer: Israel should hold West Bank but refrain from undermining future Palestinian state

Former intelligence and special ops officer Ron Tira: "Israel needs a policy that is based on what is achievable, not one dictated by any particular ideology."

December 16, 2014 06:15
4 minute read.
Ron Tira

Ron Tira. (photo credit: Courtesy)


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Israel’s best bet for a successful policy for dealing with the Palestinians is to ensure that the military does not withdraw from the West Bank at this time, but that the government doesn't take any steps to undermine a future two-state agreement either, a former intelligence and special operations officer told The Jerusalem Post on Monday.

Lt.-Col. Ron Tira, a reservist at the Israel Air Force’s Campaign Planning Department, is a former fighter pilot with over 30 years of experience in intelligence and special operations.

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In a recently published paper for the Tel Aviv-based Institute for National Security Studies, Tira said that recent events, such as Operation Protective Edge, underscore the need for Israel to articulate a final objective regarding the Palestinian Authority.

He proposed returning to the idea of the “administered territories presented immediately after the Six Day War.”

According to this idea, Israel holds the territories in temporary but long-term “occupation until the security and political reality allows otherwise, and without operating according to any type of ideological basis liable to undermine future agreements.”

“Rolling along without clear objectives may be possible for a while, perhaps under the rationale of conflict management (as opposed to conflict resolution), but it is unclear how sustainable it is in the long run,” Tira wrote.

He told the Post that Israel cannot now relinquish security control over Judea and Samaria, cannot realistically annex it, and that Israel can’t currently reach a sustainable peace deal that leans on stable strategic ground.

Seeking a policy that is based on “what is achievable and feasible rather than dictated by any particular ideology,” Tira noted that, given international diplomatic constraints on the one hand, and strategic security constraints on the other, Israel’s consequent feasible policy spectrum is very narrow.”

The international community and Israel’s allies “balk at the expansion of settlements that undermines the feasibility of a future negotiated settlement with the Palestinians.

Indeed, such expansion threatens to turn the political conflict between Israel and the Palestinians into a religious one,” Tira said.

“The settlement enterprise, at least its ideological component, is liable to become Israel’s overstretching point. Should Israel have to pay dearly for its relations with its partners around the world, it could be justified on the basis of defense of vital security interests, but not on the basis of defending an ideology plagued by questions of legitimacy,” he continued.

On the other hand, “If Israel ends its military presence in the West Bank, Hamas, enjoying military superiority over Fatah, is liable to seize the reins of government,” he warned.

Fatah’s rule of the West Bank is enabled in no small part by the IDF’s presence there, he added.

“The notion that one can ignore the storms of the ‘Arab winter’ that have dismantled Arab nation states throughout the region, from Iraq to Libya and from Yemen to Syria, and ‘package’ Fatah, Hamas, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad into a new, coherent, stable, peace-seeking state framework is more wishful thinking than the result of any realpolitik and strategic analysis,” Tira argued.

“Moreover, past experience lends weight to the assertion that even in peacetime, Israel must maintain its self-defense capabilities, including a military presence in the Jordan Valley and military freedom in the West Bank, to foil and preempt the emergence of threats,” he added.

“The experience of Operation Protective Edge (with regard to the tunnels and high trajectory weapons) validates previous analyses that there are military threats that, once emerged, cannot be uprooted at a reasonable price,” he said.

As a result, any practical Israeli policy must include, among others, the presentation of “the long-term political objective for a sustainable Palestinian state in significant portions of the West Bank and all of the Gaza Strip,” and “recognition that the objective of the long-term policy cannot be realized immediately in the current reality of the Palestinian and regional arenas.”

A practical policy must also include the “insistence that for several decades to come, even in peacetime, Israel must maintain its military presence in the Jordan Valley and preserve its military freedom in the entire expanse between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, to foil the emergence of threats.”

Asked how he thought the PA would respond to such a policy, Tira said there is a gap between its diplomatic stances and its “real strategic vector.”

“Palestinian diplomacy will, of course, object to this, possibly vehemently. But it is also clear to Abu Mazen what would happen if the IDF exited the territories, and stops its actions to thwart Hamas from seizing control in the West Bank. The IDF defends both Israel and Abu Mazen from the same threats,” he said.

Currently, the Middle East is suffering from a level of instability that has no parallel, Tira added. It will take a long time before the region begins to stabilize, he said.

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