Defending ‘red lines’ and ‘green lines’

The world from here: Israel’s determination to enforce its red lines and “defend itself by itself” also extends to Judea Samaria/West Bank and Israel’s eastern front.

Palestinian with flag W. Bank370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Mohamed Torokman)
Palestinian with flag W. Bank370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Mohamed Torokman)
Several hours after the Israel Air Force reportedly destroyed advanced Iranian “Fatah 110” longrange missiles parked in Syria and headed for Hezbollah in Lebanon, former IDF military intelligence chief Major-General (res.) Amos Yadlin said that “Iran is testing Israel’s and the US’s determination to uphold ‘red lines.’ And what it is seeing in Syria is that at least some of the actors take red lines seriously.”
Yadlin’s thinly veiled criticism of US reticence to respond to the Syrian regime’s use – according to Israeli, French, and British intelligence – of chemical weapons was also a firm declaration backed by concrete action that had been taken twice in the previous 48 hours; Israel would act decisively against the nuclearizing Iranian regime’s determination destroy the Jewish state.
What Yadlin left unsaid was that President Barack Obama was supporting Israel’s enforcement of its own “red lines” and its right to “defend itself by itself,” that has characterized the Jewish state’s security doctrine for decades. Obama told Spanish television after the latest attacks against Iranian missiles that “The Israelis, justifiably, have to guard against the transfer of advanced weaponry to terrorist organizations like Hezbollah.”
He affirmed US backing of Israel’s defense doctrine during his recent visit to Israel saying, “We will help to preserve Israel’s qualitative military edge so that Israel can defend itself by itself.” This US commitment was repeated by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel during his April 2013 trip to Israel and emphasized most recently by British Foreign Secretary William Hague.
It’s true that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s and Obama’s “red lines” with regard to the Iranian nuclear weapons program differ.
However, a May 6 report in the Israeli daily Ynet indicated that the two leaders have found common ground over when Israel might need to defend its own “red lines” militarily and receive full US backing. Netanyahu praised Obama for US support, saying, “Mr. President, I want to thank you once again for always making clear that Israel must be able to defend itself by itself against any threats.”
Israel’s determination to enforce its red lines and “defend itself by itself” also extends to Judea Samaria/West Bank and Israel’s eastern front, where ever-evolving threats can be as perilous as current dangers posed from Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Gaza and Sinai.
Israel’s defense of its security “red lines” in the contested Judea and Samaria/West Bank are particularly salient in view of Iran’s regime’s increasing controlled destabilization of Iraq, intensifying security challenges to Jordan, Palestinian jihadi groups in the West Bank and the risks Israel will be asked to assume in line with American efforts to help restart a diplomatic process with the Palestinian Authority.
This is where Israel’s territorial “red lines” will need to be respected. Prime Minister Netanyahu, Defense Minister and former IDF Chief of Staff Moshe Ya’alon and National Security Adviser and former Head of IDF Intelligence Assessment Major-General (res.) Ya’akov Amidror have each assessed that an Israeli territorial withdrawal to the June 4, 1967 “Green Line” would render Israel indefensible against a range of threats including terror group infiltrations, conventional army attack and ballistic missile and rocket fire that could cut Israel in half behind curtailed nine milewide borders.
That is why Israel’s prime minister, defense minister and the national security adviser, who is also head of Israel’s National Security Council, have separately insisted that Israel maintain defensible borders in the strategically vital West Bank, particularly retaining territory in the 1,200 foot sub-sea level Jordan Rift Valley whose 3,000 foot mountain ridge serves as a natural wall protecting Israel’s major population centers along its western coastal plain while simultaneously helping protect neighboring Jordan from possible subversive action by radical Islamic groups.
Ya’alon has defined the impossibility of Israel’s withdrawing to the 1949 armistice lines (the 1967 “borders”). He has noted that “these borders would not achieve peace, they would weaken Israel and invite war by denying the Jewish state the strategic depth and topographical protection against Palestinian rockets and other attacks,” adding that the ‘67 lines enabled Israel’s enemies to deploy and operate in dangerously close proximity to Israel’s main population centers constituting an existential threat.”
Ya’alon was referring to terrorist cells, rockets and missiles such as the ones destroyed recently in Syria that could easily be fired from the 3,000 foot West Bank hilltops that overhang Ben-Gurion airport, national highways, infrastructures and major cities along the Mediterranean coast where 70 percent of Israel’s population resides.
Amidror has assessed that “...within the 1967 borders Israel loses the ability to defend itself” against various threats including infiltrating terror cells, conventional and unconventional ballistic missiles, short range rocket and mortar fire, and conventional attacks by enemy armies.
Netanyahu has addressed these critical vulnerabilities in setting forth security red lines requiring at a minimum an IDF presence along the Jordan River. In his 2009 Bar- Ilan speech Netanyahu acceded to a demilitarized Palestinian state while demanding other security conditions such as defensible borders, security control in the Jordan Valley, airspace and electromagnetic security control and the acceptance of the principle that Israel would defend itself by itself without interference from third party forces.
Unfortunately, Israel’s security challenges in the West Bank have been understood by some in Washington and other western capitals as primarily solvable through a diplomatic process leading to peace agreement with the Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority as opposed to first addressing Israel’s security “red lines” that enable Israel to defend itself by itself. Only a “security first peace policy,” as Defense Minister Ya’alon has coined the phrase, would create a stable and secure framework for both sides to negotiate all claims and demands.
Israel has vigorously enforced its “red lines” with American support opposite Iranian regime proxies and protectorates in Syria, Lebanon, Gaza as well as al- Qaeda cells in Egyptian Sinai.
Washington’s backing is also needed by Israel if and when it establishes protective and enforceable red lines in the disputed territories in the context of prospective peace negotiations with the PA in a violently unstable Middle East.
The author is a Foreign Policy Fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. From 2010 to 2013, he served as strategic affairs director and then secretary- general of the World Jewish Congress.