Savir's Corner: National security

We need a better framework of regional cooperation in the areas of shared infrastructure, water, energy, environment and tourism, and also security and anti-terrorism.

Israeli security officers 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Israeli security officers 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
US Secretary of State John Kerry has in recent weeks surprised Israelis and Palestinians with his stirring determination and dynamic diplomatic activism in favor of achieving progress toward a viable and realistic Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Kerry, it seems, is going to break frequent flyer mileage records on the Washington-Tel Aviv line.
The values he stands for are those of his democratic predecessors – Hillary Clinton, Madeleine Albright and Warren Christopher – and his style is reminiscent of Republican secretaries of state Henry Kissinger and James Baker – a potent combination.
Kerry defined his aim as creating the appropriate conditions and framework for direct negotiations, in other words, reaching agreement on certain guiding principles that will be conducive to real and serious negotiations, replacing the traditional flight of the parties from difficult decisions.
He believes that a bridge must be created between Israel’s legitimate interests for security and the Palestinian’s legitimate interests for a viable, independent state. He said, before leaving the region recently, that all sides need to prepare their homework, including the United States. We are therefore witnessing for the first time in years an American mediation effort and not just facilitation, which means that the Americans will also present their own positions and bridging proposals.
And yet with the best of American intentions, the onus for progress is on the parties. And they, much more than their “tutor,” must do their homework.
When it comes to our own government, the time has come to define the significance of our most important interest – security – and to adjust the definition to the modern age. How Israel guarantees its security for decades to come, in a volatile Middle East and a changing world, is a topic not just for our defense establishment, but rather a wider policy challenge of strategic significance.
Security is about protection of the lives and the security of the citizens of the state. This has always been the case, yet the ways to achieve it have changed. In the past, security, including Israel’s, was based on a balance of power. Deterrence out of a power relationship does not suffice anymore.
The United States, with the most powerful and modern military, could not withstand radical, primitive terrorists coming from ancient caves in Afghanistan, who attacked its modern bastion of power, Manhattan, on 9/11.
In an age where any country, militia or terror group can acquire ballistic weapons, even poor countries or individual organizations can inflict harm on powerful and wealthy societies. Ballistic and terrorist warfare are not deterred by big militaries or large territory. We have learned that lesson in Lebanon and Gaza.
Security in the modern age, as acknowledged by experts the world over, has to be redefined in its broader strategic significance on the basis of fundamental changes in international relations:
• The national security and strength of countries is now based on more than military might. The elements of modern power today include economic development level, social cohesion and motivation, level of democracy, technological and scientific advances, level of education etc.
Japan, Norway and Switzerland are all cases in point.
• Countries cannot develop their power and security in isolation. No country, even the United States since the Vietnam War, is strong enough to protect its security interests on its own. It is not anymore merely a matter of crude power, but of the legitimacy needed to use power. The United States, in all recent wars, has acted within international coalitions; France had to galvanize African countries in support for its campaign in Mali. Military coalitions result from diplomatic coalition-building. We live in a “diplomacy first” world.
• A country’s security depends to a large degree on the security of its region. Within a region, one country’s security cannot generally come at the expense of another as their economies are interdependent. The European Union is the best case in point.
• If in the past countries maintained security through a balance of forces and military deterrence, today this has become impossible. The weakest and poorest of countries do not fear the might of greater powers as they have the ability to inflict harm through the activation of terror groups and easily acquired missiles as well as non-conventional weapons. As the capacity to inflict damage is today potentially in the hands of all, what matters now is the degree of motivation to use weapons. Poor and frustrated countries that have little to lose, such as North Korea, will be inclined to go to war. Therefore the balance of power has to be coupled with a new balance of motivation – a motivation for coexistence and cooperation.
• These fundamental transitions do not mean, however, that military technological and defense capacity have become obsolete; in conflict regions they are necessary but not sufficient conditions for security.
These elements of modern security are relevant also for Israel and our region. It is on the basis of these transformations that we have to redefine our national security.
The IDF and our other security forces remain an essential basis of our national security. Our technological edge has to be maintained, through American assistance and our own brain power. The high motivation of our soldiers within the Israeli democracy is also an important part of our defense capacity. Our intelligence services must give the political leadership an accurate picture of a world and region in transition.
Yet the notion and premise of “let the IDF win” is false and outdated.
Indeed, Israel’s traditional security doctrine is outdated.
It has saved the country in many wars, but in recent years it has proved insufficient. It is based on the notion that we must depend solely on ourselves and that the overwhelming power of the IDF will suffice to deter our neighbors. Security cooperation within the region is taboo. Moreover, our security doctrine is based on a view of our neighborhood mainly through the lens of the gun – that on the other side of the border are only armies and terrorists, not neighbors; that they can be deterred if we have enough control of information about their intentions and of territory.
This may be partly true for achieving short-term tactical gains, but not for our strategic long-term interests and security.
We need to reform our defense outlook. North, south and east of our borders live societies that to a large degree are hostile to Israel, yet they are mostly moved by self-preservation and by the wish of their societies to live a better life. The Arab Spring was not an outburst of pacifism, but an expression of the young generation for a better society and economy. They know that these only can be achieved in peacetime and in connection with the world.
We have to understand that Israel in the long run has to live and coexist in this neighborhood – that we have to develop cooperative relations with our neighbors, out of strength, but also out of wisdom. Our military power is put to work best if translated into a political relationship in the region, not if used.
We also need to internalize that good relations based on mutual self-interest are more important than the control of land; that the control of the lives of another people is impossible, not only immoral; that with this people – the Palestinians – we also must and can develop a better relationship if it is based on equality.
For these fundamental interests, our strategic relationship with the United States is of utmost importance and can be applied within a necessary peace process.
On the basis of a reformed security doctrine, we have to aspire to new, sustainable goals and policies that will ensure Israel’s independence, now at 65, and our well-being:
• First and foremost our national security in the modern age is mainly a function of a democratic and advanced Israel. Powerful countries are pluralistic countries. The underlying values of Israel are most relevant to our national strength, as America’s Declaration of Independence is the source of its force, more than its armed forces.
We must ensure and strengthen our democratic institutions and invest in education and technology as a first priority. A highly educated youth contributes to both economy and defense.
• We need secure borders. For now, to the east we have no borders at all. A two-state solution is essential not only for our democracy but also for our security.
Historically no power in the world was able to sustain the domination of another people; we should be the first to understand this.
Peace with Palestine is a matter of a courageous decision – it must be based on the 1967 lines with mutual land swaps and security arrangements. We are strong enough to persuade the Palestinians to enter into partnership by offering a fair compromise. A reasonable neighborly relationship with an independent Palestinian state is the best prescription for security; occupation, the worst.
• A deal with the Palestinians must and will open parts of the Arab world to us. A better relationship with Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, the Maghreb and the Gulf (most of these latter countries have hardly any army to speak of) is something we need to insist on as part of a peace deal with the Palestinians. The Saudi Peace Plan acknowledges this parallelism and so does Washington.
We need improved bilateral relations with these countries and a better framework of regional cooperation in the areas of shared infrastructure, water, energy, environment and tourism, and also security and anti-terrorism. Security in today’s world order is also regional security.
As part of this regional framework, we need to see security arrangements in the West Bank. The Palestinian state will be demilitarized; this must be true for Gaza as well. Ensuring and monitoring security arrangements is done best by a regional and international framework, as security is not anymore just of a national nature.
A regional force should be established by the United States which will include Israelis, Palestinians and Jordanians together with NATO forces, to monitor the permanent border, the Jordan Valley and international passages; a kind of “partnership for peace” in the Middle East, similar to the “partnership for peace” in Eastern Europe.
The decision to lead in these directions, and to a twostate solution, is ours. In Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) we have a peace partner, as Barack Obama found out in Ramallah.
The architecture for the necessary regional framework must be American – the American strategic interest is to see a peaceful Middle East with a secure and strong Israel, within a two-state solution, a framework of regional cooperation and normalization of relations.
President Obama and Secretary Kerry have been preaching this on their visits. Our leaders responded: Security first. A political peace settlement, a regional framework and security arrangements under American guidance are security.
The writer is president of the Peres Center for Peace and served as Israel’s chief negotiator for the Oslo Accords. This piece was edited by Barbara Hurwitz.