Something incredible happened last week, perhaps one might even say historic. In an ongoing maritime border dispute with Lebanon that has tremendous economic, diplomatic and security ramifications, Israel prepared to respond to Lebanon’s newly expanded claim on maritime boundaries with its own increased territorial claims. As a result of Israel’s planned maneuver, Lebanon backed away from its expanded claims.
What is major about Israel’s recent negotiating tactic is that for the first time ever, Israel stopped playing defense when it comes to negotiating its own boundaries.
There have been times, through no choice of its own, where significant territory was bestowed upon Israel. This happened when Israel captured an area three times its size in the aftermath of the miraculous Six Day War. Immediately after his stunning victory, born out of an attempt to destroy the Jewish state, Israel felt that it need to defend itself for defending itself. Its response to the miraculous victory was self-doubt, apology and defensive negotiations.
The Jewish people are indeed a unique people. When victors typically win a war, they celebrate. When Israelis win a war, they negotiate.
It would serve Israel’s best interest to re-evaluate its policy on defaulting to a position of defense when it comes to its borders.
Since the time when nations were born, boundaries have consistently fluctuated, territories have changed hands and entire countries have appeared and disappeared from existence. War between countries has always been a fact of life, and in most cases the justification for war has not been purely a matter of self defense. Countries have gone to war and do go to war to acquire territories and enrich themselves.
The world superpowers have themselves engaged historically in offensive wars to gain new territories, and still engage in middle east wars for economic gains. At the same time, the mere thought of an offensive war is taboo in Israeli political discourse, since for the average Israeli, boundaries were created to be negotiated down, not to be expanded.
Israel’s enemies have no problem with the idea of expanding their boundaries into Israel. In fact, they aspire and actively plan towards that goal even as this article is being written. Iran openly threatens to destroy Israel on a weekly basis and is actively arming Lebanon and Syria to achieve this goal, with the silent acquiescence of the Western countries that are gushing to return to the JCPOA.
Israel’s peace partners, Egypt and Jordan, have tried numerous times to erase Israel’s boundaries, and only after coming to the realization that Israel was mightier than they, did they agree to sign a peace deal.
Taking advantage of America’s current perceived weakness, both Russia and China are posturing for offensive territorial moves in Ukraine and Taiwan respectively. Once this happens, other countries will ostensibly follow suit. This is the way of the world and always was.
Israel needs to adjust to a pro-active territorial approach for several reasons.
The most practical reason being that the best defense is a good offense. Neither Egypt nor Jordan have an interest in the establishment of a Palestinian Arab state, and yet they are consistently pushing Israel to make a deal with the Palestinian Arabs and agree to concessions. They understand that by pushing Israel into a corner, they are taking pressure off of themselves to make concessions that would allow for a comprehensive middle east peace. If Israel were to begin making territorial demands of its neighbors, at the very least, that would take the conversation away from the creation of a Palestinian Arab terror state, to a conversation of what the border of a complete Land of Israel would look like.
The Israeli leadership and the Jewish people should constantly remember that their deed to the land is more legitimate than the Italian claim to Italy or the British deed to Great Britain. The Jews' claim to Israel is based on the foundation document of all Western religion, the Torah. Three and a half thousand years ago the Torah clearly delineated that the Land of Israel was a divine inheritance, given to the Jewish people. This land came with large and very specific boundaries, which in todays terms include parts of Northern Sinai, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and even southern Turkey according to many. The Jews entered the Promised Land in the days of Joshua, and during the reign of Israelite kings such as David and Ahab, expanded the borders in various directions towards achieving those boundaries,
These lands are currently being occupied by Israel’s enemies, but they belong to Israel. These are beautiful, expansive and resource rich lands, now filled with rockets and weapon factories which are being prepared for future wars against Israel.
When the time of war comes, Israel should be prepared in mind and spirit, as in 1967, to take back what rightly belongs to her, as per the Torah, and is being used to endanger the Jewish State. This type of thinking and attitude, if adopted by Israel’s leadership, can serve to strengthen Israel’s negotiating positions. Instead of being cornered to negotiate occupied territories in the 'West Bank', Israel would be wise to reframe the conversation to liberating the lands belonging to Israel that are currently occupied by its enemies in Lebanon, Syria, Sinai, Jordan and Southern Turkey.
Avraham Shusteris is an accountant in Ramat Beit Shemesh. He made aliyah from Monsey with his family in 2018.