Dr. Martin ShermanThe writer served for seven years in operational capacities in the Israeli Defense establishment, was ministerial adviser to Yitzhak Shamir's government and lectured for 20 years at Tel Aviv University in Political Science, International Relations and Strategic Studies. He has a B.Sc. (Physics and Geology), MBA (Finance), and PhD in political science and international relations, was the first academic director of the Herzliya Conference and is the author of two books and numerous articles and policy papers on a wide range of political, diplomatic and security issues. He is founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies (www.strategicisrael.org). Born in South Africa,he has lived in Israel since 1971.
One does not have to be a military expert to easily identify the critical defects of the armistice lines that existed until June 4, 1967 (Deputy PM Yigal Allon, former commander of Palmah strike-force, 1976).
…historians a thousand years hence will still be baffled by the mystery of our affairs. They will never understand how it was that a victorious nation, with everything in hand, suffered themselves to be brought low, and to cast away all that they had gained by measureless sacrifice and absolute victory…Now the victors are the vanquished... (Winston Churchill, in the House of Commons, 1938).
The Jews consider Judea and Samaria to be their historic dream. If the Jews leave those places, the Zionist idea will begin to collapse... Then we will move forward (Abbas Zaki, PLO ambassador to Lebanon, 2009).
It genuinely distresses me to have to write this article—but I feel I have little option.
Despite my personal bias
I confess that I have a strong personal bias in favor of men who have devoted years of their lives to the defense of their country and endangered themselves to protect others. The members of the Commanders for Israel’s Security (CIS) certainly fit that bill - comprising a group of over 200 former high-ranking officers in the IDF, intelligence services and police.
Today, however, we are faced with the bitter irony of a spectacle, in which scores of ex-senior security officials, who spent most of their adult life defending Israel, are now promoting a political initiative that will make it indefensible.
Recently, CIS, an allegedly non-politically partisan organization, which ran a virulently anti-Netanyahu campaign in the run-up to the March 2015 elections, published what purports to be a “plan” to break the ongoing deadlock over the “Palestinian issue”, appealingly but misleadingly, entitled “Security First: Changing the Rules of the Game-A Plan to Improve Israel’s Security and International Standing” .
In broad brush strokes, the seminal elements on which the entire proposal is based are that Israel should:
(a) Proclaim, unilaterally, that it forgoes any claim to sovereignty beyond the yet-to-be completed security barrier, which in large measure coincides with the pre-1967 “Green Line”, adjusted to include several major settlement blocks adjacent to those lines; but,
(b) Leave the IDF deployed there—until some “acceptable alternative security arrangement” is found – presumably the emergence of a yet-to-be located pliant Palestinian-Arab who will pledge to recognize Israel as the Jewish nation-state; and
(c) Embrace the Saudi Peace Plan--a.k.a. Arab Peace Initiative (API) subject to certain changes which the Arabs/Saudis recently resolutely refused to consider.
Noxious brew of the fanciful, the false & the failed
According to the CIS folk (p.7), implementation of this so-called “plan” will:
- Enhance personal and national security.
- Preserve conditions for a future permanent status agreement with the Palestinians.
- Increase prospects of Israel's integration into regional security/political arrangements with pragmatic Arab states.
- Improve Israel’s international standing and 'pull the rug' from under BDS-like movements.
Sadly, little analytical acumen is needed to show that not only will the CIS plan fail to achieve the objectives it claims it will, but in all probability, it will precipitate precisely the opposite results, exacerbating the dangers it was designed to ameliorate.
Admittedly this is harsh condemnation of the public positions of a large group of prominent figures. However, over the coming weeks, I will be at pains to substantiate my severe censure of their policy recommendations.
Indeed, as I read the CIS proposal my sense of despair and dismay deepened. It is a document so embarrassingly implausible, it seems inconceivable that men who boast of 6,000 years of accumulated security experience would allow – much less, wish –their names to be associated with it.
For what it presents is little more than a disturbing brew of the fanciful, the false and the failed—deeply flawed both in the political principle on which it bases itself and the practical details which it prescribes.
Attempting to eschew being labelled yet-another (and largely discredited) attempt to achieve peace, something which it concedes is “currently unfeasible” (p.10), the CIS plan is presented as focusing primarily on enhancing security—hence the title “Security First”.
Taking the name of “security” in vain?
Curiously, however, throughout its almost 70 pages (in the English version), the proposal deals only scantily with security, the professed forte of its authors, and then only in a very general manner, with virtually no stipulation of operational details. By contrast, it devotes much time to political assessments, municipal administration, water supplies, employment , even suggesting (see pp. 45-47) that Israel intervene in the internecine Palestinian feud between Fatah and Hamas.
These are, of course, issues of considerable importance in their own right, with pursuant impact on overall security, but hardly ones in which CIS, as an organization, can claim any special professional expertise, on the basis of their long experience in the military or the security services.
But it is precisely these accumulated years of service that CIS invoke for the authority they attribute to their policy prescriptions.
After all, however admirable it may be in its own right, the battle-tested experience of an intrepid armored corps commander hardly provides any professional edge in stipulating how Jerusalem should be administered, or determining why the Palestinians have not developed wastewater treatment plants, or in assessing the state of Palestinian agriculture—all of which comprise elements of significance in the CIS policy proposal.
Accordingly, one might well be excused for feeling a sense of uneasy suspicion that CIS just might be taking the name of security in vain—to further a political agenda, which they strenuously deny they have.
“Based on our cumulative 6,000 years of experience…”
Thus, on its well-endowed bilingual website, the fellows from CIS attempt to sweep aside any dissent from mere mortals, enlisting their formidable security credentials to launch into the promotion of a political initiative that has been rejected not only by successive Israeli governments—including some of the most Palestinian-compliant (PC) in the nation’s history--but also by a sound majority of the Israeli electorate.
Accordingly, they proclaim:
“Based on our cumulative 6,000 years of experience in Israel’s various security agencies, we emphatically state that:
- Political agreements and security arrangements with the Arab World, including the Palestinians, are vital Israeli national security objectives.
- Local and regional realities make it mandatory and urgent to pursue these objectives. They also make them attainable.
- The IDF [as] by far the most potent military force in the region… can provide effective security and address all challenges within the present or any future borderline as agreed-to by our government and endorsed by our people…”
In terms of recommended policy elements, this translates (see p.8), among other thing, into Israel:
-Accepting, in principle, the Arab Peace Initiative (API), with requisite adjustments to accommodate Israel’s security and demographic needs as a basis for negotiation.
-Reiterating its commitment to resolving the conflict through negotiations towards a permanent status agreement based on the principle of 'two states for two peoples'.
-Foregoing claims to sovereignty over West Bank territories east of the 'security fence', but continuing to exercise control over them in a custodial capacity until alternative security arrangement are put into place within the framework of a permanent status agreement with the Palestinians
- Freezing the construction of new settlements, the expansion of existing ones or the development of civilian infrastructures east of the 'security fence'
The most glaring defect?
Clearly, then, this is not a non-partisan ,apolitical position but a clear endorsement of the longstanding predilections of the concessionary Israeli left, which have failed so dramatically over the last quarter-century, and now are allegedly “justified” anew by ongoing changes in the region, which, if anything, make them more implausible, irresponsible and inappropriate than ever.
As I noted previously, CIS’s plan is so deeply flawed, both in principle and in detail, that it would require far more than a single opinion column to expose and analyze them all. Accordingly in this week’s column, I will limit myself to a far-from-exhaustive discussion of what is, arguably, its most glaring defect, postponing debate on further flaws and faults for the coming weeks:
This is the a-priori (read “unilateral”) renouncing of any claims to sovereignty over the territory beyond the security barrier.
CIS wish to sidestep criticism of their plan, that could be ascribed it, given the dismal failure of the unilateral evacuation of Gaza (and South Lebanon), and the consequent emergence of a Jihadi-controlled enclave, with an arsenal bristling with weapons capable of reaching virtually the whole of Israel.
Accordingly, they claim (pp.28-9): “In contrast [to] the unilateral withdrawals Israel carried out in 2000 (from South Lebanon) and 2005 (from Gaza), the 'Security First' Plan calls for the
IDF to remain in the West Bank…until a permanent status agreement with the Palestinians ushers in alternative concrete, sustainable security arrangements.”
This of course raises the intriguing question of how CIS imagine events would have unfolded in, say, Gaza, had their plan been adopted, and the IDF remained deployed there, waiting with bated breath until some Palestinian emerged to “usher in alternative concrete, sustainable security arrangements.”
Unilateral withdrawal in principle
Indeed, despite all the semantic acrobatics, the unilateral capitulation inherent in the CIS proposal cannot be camouflaged by rhetoric. For whichever way you spin it, the CIS prescription comprises a unilateral acknowledgement, without any commensurate quid-pro-quo, of Arab sovereignty over the territory east of the ‘security barrier’.
In effect this constitutes a “unilateral withdrawal in principle”, entailing the abandonment of positions long held by successive Israeli governments’ for over a half-century and a clear admission that Israel has been unnecessarily and unjustifiably intransigent for decades. Even if this is not CIS’s intention, there can be little doubt that this is how it will be eagerly interpreted by a hostile international community—and an affirmation that the anti-Israel campaigns against Israel were, in fact, justified.
Indeed, for all their 6000 years of accumulated security experience, CIS seem to have lost sight of a recurring lesson of history: Giving in—or at least pledging to give in—to the demands of despots will only whet their appetite, not satiate it.
It requires little imagination to envision the pernicious political predicament such an injudicious move would create for Israel, were it to heed the CIS counsel of an open-ended deployment of the military in territory over which any claims to sovereignty are eschewed.
A giant South-Lebanon
In a stroke, Judea-Samaria would, by Israel’s own admission, be converted from “disputed territories" to “occupied territories”, and the IDF from a “defense force” to an “occupying force”.
This reality would replicate—only on a much larger scale and much closer to the urban center of the country—the realities that prevailed in pre-2000 South Lebanon when the IDF was deployed in the security zone, despite the fact that Israel made no claims to sovereignty over it.
The manner in which that episode ended—with the ignominious flight of the IDF—should provide a sobering reminder of what CIS measures are liable to lead to.
(As an aside, it might be edifying to note that both the situations in South Lebanon and Gaza, which CIS apparently wish to avoid, were the result of policy decisions made by men with “impeccable security credentials”… Ariel Sharon, and Ehud Barak.)
Of course, under the CIS plan, the time that IDF will be required to deploy in Judea-Samaria will be entirely determined by the Palestinian side, until they agree to “acceptable alternative … security arrangements”—something which is highly unlikely, since less pliant competing factions could plausibly point out that, if the Jews are confronted with sufficient resolve and violence, they will concede all for nothing.
Thus, the IDF will be ensnared in the “West-Bank mud” as it was in the “Lebanon -mud”, subject to increasing attack from a hostile alien population, and unsympathetic international opinion with increasing domestic pressure to “bring our boys home”.
And so the unilateral withdrawal in principle will inexorably become a unilateral withdrawal in practice—with no agreement with the Palestinian side and Israel exposed to all the dangers CIS hoped to avert.
As readers might sense – I have barely scratched the surface in my endeavor to expose the myriad of internal contradictions, non-sequiturs and grave errors in the CIS formula “to extricate Israel from the current dead end and to improve its security… and international standing”.
But from what I have written they may already understand why I chose to entitle this and coming columns – “Imbecility squared”.