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Yoram Ettinger: Israel’s Critical National Security Zone

Yoram Ettinger

 By Ambassador (ret.) Yoram Ettinger, “Second Thought: a US-Israel Initiative”
“Mida magazine”, July 10, 2020, https://bit.ly/2ZdJpi8

Israel’s pre-1967 waistline was shorter than the length of DFW Airport in Texas and the distance between RFK Stadium and Kennedy Center in Washington, DC; equal to the distance between JFK and La Guardia airports and between Columbia University and Wall Street in New York City.

National security requirements in the Middle East
National security requirements are a by-product of the geo-strategic environment.  The more predictable and peaceful the environment, the lower the security requirements. The more unpredictable and non-peaceful the environment, the higher the security requirements.

Thus, Israel’s national security requirements are determined, mostly, by the 1,400-year-old tectonic Middle East reality: unpredictability, instability, highly-implosive, violent intra-Arab intolerance, no intra-Arab peaceful coexistence, systematic intra-Arab terrorism and subversion, Islam-dominated societies and minority despotic regimes, which are as tenuous as are their policies and agreements.

Realistic Middle East national security requirements must be capable of overcoming worst case scenarios of surprise offensives, not good-case-scenarios, which are rare in the Middle East.

The transition from Middle East peace to war could be as precipitous as Middle East politics (e.g., the toppling Mubarak by the Muslim Brotherhood, which was toppled by A-Sisi) and intra-Arab relations (e.g., Jordan’s support of Saddam Hussein and availing its territory for anti-Israel Palestinian terrorism).

Today’s peaceful neighbor – such as Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia – could be erratically toppled, replaced by a rogue regime with no adherence to prior agreements. Any alternative to Jordan’s Hashemite regime would radicalize the entire region. Peace accords can rarely be more durable than the regimes which negotiate them.

Israel’s 300-mile-long border with Jordan – which is as vulnerable to implosion as are all Arab countries – is the closest border to Israel’s soft belly, demographically, economically, scientifically and technologically.

Israel’s giveaway of Judea and Samaria (West Bank) and the Jordan Valley would return the country back to its defenseless 7-15 mile waistline between the Mediterranean and the 2,000ft-high western mountain ridges of Samaria and Judea. The latter constitutes the “Golan Heights” towering over Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Ben Gurion Airport, 80% of Israel’s population, and most of the critical national infrastructure.

Therefore, the mountain ridges of Judea and Samaria and the Jordan Valley are essential for Israel’s existence. They constitute the most effective tank barrier (3,000 ft above the Jordan Valley), which provides the time (50 hours) to deploy Israel’s reservists (75% of Israel Defense Forces), in response to a surprise Arab offensive.

Israel’s control of the mountain ridges of Judea and Samaria, the Jordan Valley and the Golan Heights made it possible to fend off the surprise Egypt-Syria-Jordan offensive of 1973 and avoid annihilation.

The centrality of ground forces and ground barriers
According to the US Army Institute of Land Warfare’s Enduring Relevance of Land Power: “Land forces [are] the cornerstone of deterrence…. Precision air strikes [are] critical, but they neither annihilate opposition nor finish the enemy…. The air war creates the conditions for negotiations, but it is the ground forces that create the stability…. In 1995 Bosnia, the airpower threat did not deter Serbia.… In 1991, five weeks of strike operations did not achieve decision.  The four-day ground war led to Iraqi surrender….”

General (ret.) Al Gray, former Commandant, US Marine Corps: “….Missiles fly over any terrain feature, but they don’t negate the strategic significance of territorial depth. The key threat to Israel will remain the invasion and occupation by armored forces.  Military success requires more than a few hundred missiles.  To defeat Israel would require the Arabs to deploy armor, infantry and artillery into Israel and destroy the IDF on the ground.  That was true in 1948, 1967 and 1973, and it remains true in the era of modern missiles….”

The central role of ground forces was demonstrated during the India-Pakistan, Iran-Iraq, NATO-Libya, NATO-Serbia, Ethiopia-Eritrea, Egypt-Yemen, Morocco-Mauritania, US-Afghanistan and US-Iraq wars.  The limits to sophisticated missiles and air bombing have been reaffirmed in Israel’s wars against terror organizations in Lebanon (Hezbollah) and Gaza (Hamas).

The centrality of ground forces suggests the centrality of ground barriers, geographically and topographically.  Hence, the US military bases and installations in dozens of countries, along with 170,000 US military personnel.

The more advanced the Arab military, the faster a surprise attack and the more essential are Judea, Samaria and the Jordan Valley. Moreover, the high tech military of today may become the low tech tomorrow, but the high ground of today will always remain the high ground.

US experts on Israel’s national security requirements
Admiral Bud Nance, former Chief-of-Staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (Congressional Record – Senate, July 29, 1991, p. 20145): “If Israel were to move out of the Golan Heights, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, it would increase instability and the possibility of war, increase the necessity to preempt in war, and the possibility that nuclear weapons would be used to prevent an Israeli loss, and increase the possibility that the US would have to become involved in a war…. The entire state of Israel – including the West Bank, Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights – is smaller than the gunnery range at Nellis Air Force Base….A modern tank can traverse [Israel’s waistline] in about 15 minutes….”

Donald Rumsfeld while serving as Defense Secretary: “If you have a country that’s a sliver and you can see three sides of it from a high hotel building [in Tel Aviv], you’ve got to be careful what you give away and to whom you give it…. There is no question but that the Palestinian Authority have been involved with terrorists activities, so that makes it a difficult interlocutor. My feeling about the so-called occupied territories is that there was a war, Israel urged neighboring countries not to get involved in it once it started, but they all jumped in, and they lost a lot of real estate, because Israel prevailed….”

Lt. General (ret.) Tom Kelly, Chief of Operations in the 1991 Gulf War: “I cannot defend this land [Israel] without that terrain [West Bank]…. The West Bank mountains, and especially their five approaches, are the critical terrain.  If an enemy secures those passes, Jerusalem and Israel become uncovered.  Without the West Bank, Israel is only 8-mile-wide at its narrowest point.  That makes it indefensible…. (Jerusalem Post, Nov. 7, 1991).

100 retired Generals and Admirals (October 1988, Washington Times): “….Israel should not withdraw from the West Bank lest it fail to provide security to its people. It is impossible to demilitarize the West Bank effectively….”

Former President G.W. Bush: “….For a Texan, a first visit to Israel is an eye-opener.  At the narrowest point, it’s only 8 miles from the Mediterranean to the old Armistice line; that’s less than from the top to the bottom of Dallas-Ft. Worth Airport. The whole of pre-1967 Israel is only about six times the size of the King Ranch….”

Israel’s defensible borders
The Jordan Valley and the mountain ridges of Judea and Samaria have bolstered Israel’s posture of deterrence, transforming Israel’s borders from war-enticing (until 1967) to war-restraining.

It has also enhanced Israel’s stature as a force-multiplier for the US and the pro-US Arab countries.

Israel’s retreat from the Jordan Valley and the high ground of Judea and Samaria would pose a severe risk to Israel’s survival, adding fuel to the Middle East fire and undermining regional stability and US interests.

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