Viewpoint: The Case for Defensible Borders

A critical examination of Israel's current borders and the country's need to defend itself.

Borders (photo credit: Courtesy)
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Dr. Gadi Taub, a representative of the Zionist Left, which seeks to combine dovishness with combating the post-Zionist drift, argues in his book, “The Settlers” that it is intellectually dishonest for a settler like myself to invoke the security argument since my primary motivations for keeping Judea and Samaria under Israeli sovereignty are religious and historical.
And therefore, before arguing that the 1949 armistice lines do not provide defensible boundaries for Israel, I must first rebut the specious argument that Taub, who teaches communications at Hebrew University, has advanced.
Why would my desire to stay in my home in Tekoa in the West Bank for religious reasons somehow disqualify me from injecting the fact that Tekoa is a mere 10-minute drive from Jerusalem, our national capital? This is tantamount to saying that a person who rejects a sales proposition for the Brooklyn Bridge as fraudulent is barred from claiming that the proposition is exorbitant and unfeasible.
Yes, I do agree that it is a mistake to predicate Israel’s case exclusively on security grounds. Sovereignty will always trump security in any battle between them. For example, in the years between the two World Wars, French foreign and security policy rested on the demilitarization of the Rhineland. When the crucial test occurred, in 1936, French security folded in the face of Nazi Germany’s assertion of sovereignty and the Rhineland was remilitarized.
The Rhineland example also anticipates the argument that demilitarization agreements constitute an effective substitute for possession. By withdrawing from Judea and Samaria, the cradle of Jewish history, Israel will be undermining its own legitimacy. And make no mistake: Legitimacy and religion are the crux of the Arab-Israeli conflict. By withdrawing from territories liberated in 1967 following the attempts by the Arabs to exterminate its existence, Israel would be reassuring its enemies that aggression entails little cost and that they will always recoup their losses eventually.
These arguments and the defensible borders argument are not mutually exclusive but mutually supportive. In 1967, UN Security Council Resolution 242 called for secure and recognized boundaries, implicitly recognizing that the 1949 armistice lines were not secure. The US Joint Chiefs of Staff study during the Johnson administration of Israel’s defense needs following the Six Day War called for boundaries that included the Jordan Rift Valley, perhaps up to the mountain ridge. If anything has changed since 1967, it makes the case for defensible boundaries more compelling.
Few believe that peace in the region will elevate Israel’s borders to the same serenity as the Franco-Swiss border. Despite generous and even irresponsible offers from Israel, the Palestinians have resisted closure and adhered to their strategy of stages for Israel’s liquidation. The much touted Israel-Egyptian peace has been reduced to a substandard, non-aggression pact as even the insincere attempts to halt weapons smuggling to Gaza from Egypt have been halted. Turbulence in Iraq and the unstable situation in Jordan mean that a reconstituted eastern front cannot be precluded.
In the event of a conventional war, missile arsenals do not nullify the need for defensible borders – quite the contrary. Israel’s small standing army is expected to hold out till the reserves have been mobilized. With missiles striking mobilization centers and traffic arteries, the reserves will be delayed. The Israel Air Force will be preoccupied by the missile threats and will be unable to provide support for ground operations. Deprived of the breathing space afforded by defensible borders, Israel will have to either expand its standing army or interpret any enemy troop movements in the worst possible light and immediately preempt to avoid a surprise similar to the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
I am old enough to remember Israel before 1967. On my first visit to divided Jerusalem we were told not to make any sudden movements in observation points overlooking the Old City that could trigger a response from Jordanian snipers. The 1967 borders leave most of Israel’s infrastructure – power stations, gas farms and the transnational highway – vulnerable to terrorist organizations or the lone wolf pack. In 1967 the shoulder- launched missiles that can bring down any airliner on takeoff from or landing at Ben-Gurion Airport did not exist. But they do now, and when traffic is interdicted from the overlooking hills of Samaria, how many of this year’s 3.4 million tourists will risk a return visit?
When the first airliner is downed or when a school bus is incinerated, Israel will receive a profusion of sympathy coupled with calls for restraint. An official Palestinian condemnation in English of the Abu Whoever Brigade responsible for the atrocity may be forthcoming while the populace exchanges congratulatory sweets. An Israeli attempt to take out the threat will arouse the same criticisms of disproportionality heaped upon Israel after Operation Cast Lead was initiated to halt the missile barrage from Gaza.
It was suggested in a recent issue of The Report that an American peacekeeping force on the Jordan could serve as a substitute for an Israeli military presence. This suggestion again reinforced the fact that an Israeli military presence on non-Israeli territory is not viable and one cannot divorce security from sovereignty. Such a suggestion, however, runs counter to the prevalent trend in the US and Western Europe to downsize their military forces and avoid overstretch in foreign countries.
Secondly, peacekeeping forces can function effectively when both sides have an interest in preserving the peace. When that is not the case, as in Lebanon, these forces will come under fire and absorb casualties, if they attempt to enforce their mandate. Casualties will then create an outcry for their withdrawal. The peacekeepers are at best useless – at worst they can cause friction between Israel and the countries deploying the soldiers.
As with democracy itself, the territorial status quo may have its problems but it is vastly superior to all currently proposed alternatives.