Israel Should Mark April 24th as Armenian Memorial Day

Armenian school girls hold signs as they demonstrate in front of the Israeli Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem in October, 2007.

Armenian school girls hold signs as they demonstrate in front of the Israeli Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem in October, 2007.

Last May, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin pledged he would recognize the Armenian Genocideon the floor of the parliament. Rivlin is a careful and moderate member of the Likud Party, but he’s been hawkish about the issue. Since 2008, the Knesset has been debating (in closed committee) whether or not to officially recognize the genocide. Last year, they opened the discussions to the public. Why such difficulty recognizing the genocide that Hitler supposedly used as a model for the Holocaust? One so important to World War I and the direction of the Middle East in the 20th century? Quite simply, it would piss off Turkey.

Turkey still refuses to recognize the magnitude or viciousness of the slaughter, arguing the numbers of those killed and the circumstances – battle as opposed to systematic murder.

Armenia's Colors and Coat of Arms

Armenia's Colors and Coat of Arms

But Turkey’s on the outs with Israel. So, here we go. He should have the opportunity to bring up the issue again after the current Passover break. With Shaul Mofaz looking to make an impact, he should be able to bring Kadima on board. The coalition should support it. Last year, in a committee vote of 20-0, the issue was referred to the Education Committee for further review. Last December, when France passed a bill criminalizing Armenian Genocide denial, Rivlin came out again in favor of Israel’s official recognition of the disaster.

While Israel’s ally Azerbaijan doesn’t recognize it either, Azerbaijan would have little to gain from protesting Israeli recognition. The recognition will also deepen Israel’s relationship with Christian countries like Greece and Cyprus. Turkey loses credibility whenever it speaks about the diplomatic consequences of countries’ official recognition of the crime. Without leverage on Israel, the Jewish voice on the matter will weigh heavy against Turkey in the court of international opinion. Whatever problems Israel has diplomatically, its authority on genocide issues and its intimate connection to the Holocaust make the Jewish point of view extremely important to advocates of genocide prevention and recognition (see Armenia, Rwanda, Darfur).

Rivlin will have his chance soon. So will the entire Knesset. it’s a disgrace it has taken so long. Perhaps this year there will be something different.

The Breadth of the Armenian Genocide

The Breadth of the Armenian Genocide

Further Reading: Turkey loses its genocide-denying pals in the Israel lobby

Israeli-French Relations are Already Shaky

Cross-posted in The Beacon: Israeli-French Relations are Already Shaky

The two countries have had a complicated relationship for decades. In the 1960s, French President Charles de Gaulle abruptly severed his country’s alliance with Israel in favor of ties with Arab countries. The French were suffering after the Algerian War of Independence, so Israel was hung out to dry.

But France is extremely important for Israel internationally on the one hand as a central player in world politics and secondly as the third largest Jewish country in the world (population, 500-600,000). It is essentially the capital of Jewish affairs in Europe like New York is for North America. But because of strong French nationalism and skepticism of religious communities, it also hosts a strongly Zionist-oriented Jewish population. It has been a major source for new olim the last few years.

But nothing characterizes the relationship more than the Gilad Shalit crisis. Shalit’s family is one of those immigrant families. He has dual citizenship between France and Israel, and he got several honorable mentions from the French president during his captivity. France also lent some diplomatic muscle to the negotiations for his release. It went well with what Israelis considered the best option for a French president. The Socialist Party isn’t considered as friendly or lenient to Israeli concerns or policies.

Sarkozy has tried improving the two countries’ relationship in other ways. But French politics make the relationship shaky. The European Union’s policies in the Middle East conflict also make a warmer relationship tough. Just last year, both Sarkozy and Obama were overheard talking about how much they distrust Benjamin Netanyahu. Things haven’t been easy.

But for traditional Jews in France, Sarkozy is a mixed bag. This year’s election has him saying just about anything to get himself votes, mirroring the flops Republican candidates have been making in the primaries. Not even two weeks ago, his Prime Minister very publicly said Jews and Muslims should give up their dietary laws and assimilate fully in “modern” France. This is a country where French nationalists have held public protests demanding true Frenchmen eat pork in recognition of pig’s place as a staple of a patriotic French diet.

The idea that anti-immigrant and anti-minority feelings are mixing with anti-Israeli politics is nothing new, and it worries Israel’s advocates that see it all exacerbating European policy against Israel. Since the Second Intifida started 12 years ago, attacks against Jews grew tremendously. The Anti-Defamation League is not missing this opportunity to again talk about the rise in anti-Semitism on the continent. That includes another high-profile Jewish murder, victim Ilan Halimi, in 2005. In France, Synagogue arson has occurred often. Attacks have becoming increasingly aggressive over the years.

Cross-posted in The Beacon: Israeli-French Relations are Already Shaky

Outside Arabia: Greece, Turkey, Azerbaijan and Israel’s Strategy

Month to month, there is some report about Turkey’s distaste for Israeli policy or the Jewish state getting cozy with one of Turkey’s immediate neighbors. Today was Israel’s latest military exercise with Greece. The exercise involves the United States Navy and is actually the replacement for the NATO-affiliated exercises Israel once joined that had a central presence by Turkey. Israel doesn’t have to go far to find some way to exploit the divide between Greece and Turkey.

There isn’t the sort of tension that led to Greek revolutions against the Ottoman Empire of the past, but the diplomatic differences are still there. Issues revolve around Turkey’s ally Northern Cyprus, and Greece’s ally (the southern) Republic of Cyprus.

But the more important story this week was about Azerbaijan. Israel’s government has gone out of its way the last 15 years to create a strong relationship with Iran’s secular neighbor. The article speculated Israel could use Azerbaijan either to stage rescue missions and “clean-up” crews for the aftermath of a strike on Iran, or even use it to launch the operation itself. Despite the heavy political implications and exposure to Azerbaijan’s security, the story’s reporting does broaden our general perspective of how versatile Israel’s strategy is.

There are a bunch of other countries that Israel has interest in. It doesn’t have to involve Iran. But these stories and more in the pipeline should wake up anyone studying the country. There’s slightly more to Israel’s military and foreign interests than just the United States, Iran and the Palestinians.

Chanukah: the festival of anti-assimilation?

Original Post at New Voices 

It’s been a while since there has been a good bit of controversy about Jewish assimilation, but thankfully American Jews and Israeli politics are out of sync just enough to justify talking about it again. The latest blip, I think, challenges American Jews much more than any other public effort since the spread of the internet. The Israeli government wants its citizens back home, and it will take a few swipes at the drawbacks of American life in order to do it:

Translation:
Grandmother: “How are you?!”
Granddaughter:”I’m okay!”
Grandmother: “What holiday is it? Do you know?”
Granddaughter: “Christmas!”
::Depression::
Voiceover: “They’ll always be Israelis. Their kids won’t. Help them come back to Israel.”

The video is a product of the Israeli Ministry of Absorption that has devoted more incentives than ever before to Israelis living abroad to return. Israelis and Palestinians are competing in population, and the demographics of the region might have major implications in the future (if Jews were to lose their majority). That issue, however, is not what I find interesting about the video.

The reactions I have seen have been visceral. Israeli (Hebrew) comments on Youtube have been angry. The reactions in English I see on Facebook have been more refined, but equally opposed to the ideas in the video.

Personally, I am confused. The reality is, despite what people might want to believe, is that the video is illustrating something that has happened in the United States. Growing up, way outside of the Orthodox circles and many non-Ortho but Judeo friends I have today, I couldn’t tell you the honest difference between Christmas and Chanukah. I was probably as old as the kid in the video, but until 10 I was pretty content. “All religions are the same” I thought, “they just check different boxes when asked certain questions.” This was all elementary, but bear in mind I didn’t go to Hebrew School (much less Sunday School), and had to ask my parents to get more into the holidays they passively celebrated. Even at 10, I felt like I was laboring or annoying.

I got into the questioning business later and then chose my path to Judaism. The issues I faced were personal, familial and theological. Never mind the fact I had to break into the Jewish community when virtually none lived in my hometown. The video has a point whether or not Israelis or Americans want to acknowledge it. As an ad campaign, it won’t do much convincing. If Israelis found reasons to leave to a foreign country, they’ll be put off being insulted into returning to their home one.

The reactions I have seen to the video seem naïve to me, though. Some of the more liberal friends I have seem to be appalled by it. We have to appreciate there is a contradiction there, since none of these friends would marry a non-Jew or celebrate Christmas. They are just as aware of the problems posed by intermarriage and cultural assimilation, but just can’t accept this advert. Without pretending to be any more an expert on assimilation or PR than they are, I see a lot of subtopics to debate here. Can we honestly think the United States will preserve our religion and will its culture respect the integrity of our beliefs? Do we know for sure that even at our most conservative, we can trust minority Judaism has a fighting chance to influence our community’s kids when competing with a majority’s culture?

Image by Flickr user drurydrama (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

I already find any sort of combo of Christmas and Chanukah to be ludicrous. You should wish someone Happy Holidays, but does it ever make sense to go further than that. Many families mix the two holidays. Chanukah’s popular theme is to resist another culture’s imposing on your own, and Christmas marks a fork in the road between Judaism and a system that nullifies the former’s central tenets. The term “Christmukkah” is a perversion. In my opinion, American Jews spend more time trying to put menorahs in the public eye and barely a second on the actual history or meaning of the holiday.

“They tried to kill us. We won. Let’s eat.”

No. Chanukah is beyond that. Chanukah was first celebrated as a stand-in for Sukkot. The reason it has eight days is honestly debated. It has multiple sources. It’s almost like a comic book reinventing the way its main characters became superheroes. Just as Shamai implies in the Talmud, and as Josephus and Books of Maccabees bring out in the open, Chanukah’s eight days mirror those of Sukkot and Simchat Torah. The Seleucid Greeks, who ruled the country, still held control of the Temple when Sukkot came around. By December/Kislev, the ground had been retaken. Even though there was no requirement, the victorious rebels marked Sukkot in a more wintery way – an eight-day festival that the Bible considers a holiday that will one day be observed by the entire world.

If anything, there is something fitting to that description and pegging it to Chanukah. American Jews might find something resonates in that message – I do. Chanukah seems to be a second chance at a holiday that has significant implications for Judaism. It takes the religion out of its tribal, nationalist motif and forces it to be more universal.

Iran’s Nuclear Fallout

Originally Posted at New Voices

Though defeating Iran is a given, the costs of a war with Iran would be dramatically high. This much has to be made clear.

Israel will never go it alone. The country does not have the assets currently to make any sort of unilateral assault sustainable against multiple foes at once. It would involve the United States, United Kingdom and probably most of NATO. That being said, it will never come to that level of shooting. The optimal idea would be to see the Arab Spring pay forward the revolutionary zeal and topple the Iranian domino.

That scenario has been in the dream box of international strategy for well over ten years. Sporadic riots at Tehran University in 1999 and 2003 fueled speculation something could happen. In 2009, a month of marches and riots protested an apparently fraudulent re-election for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Six months later, a revolutionary leader’s death kindled the spark again. 2011 has put the country’s leaders on edge. With its former ally Muammar Qaddafi gone and Syria’s brickwork becoming as shotty as the bullet-holed façade of its cities’ buildings, there is plenty to fear from losing another ally and then seeing the people’s reaction.

The speculation making waves here is coming from a sporadic amount of reports there would be some approval for a strike. Iran’s nuclear infrastructure is supposedly still vulnerable to a military assault, if only the meddling media did not constantly ruin the element of surprise. Note my sarcasm, but the string of coincidences slipping into Western and Israel news reports the last two weeks seem well-timed and point to something interesting. What that is happens to also be a matter of speculation, but that is why I write these things.

To recap, three reports having to do with the Israeli military have been featured recently. The Israeli Air Force was recently in Italy conducting [incoming self-promotion] “long-range” training, including mid-air refueling of fighter jets. The second piece has to do with a surface-to-surface missile test conducted in full view of the most-populated urban area in Israel. Couple that with the civil defense drill last week in case of an attack. Thirdly, news reports have slipped that there have been recent meetings where Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Barak have been trying to win over enough of the cabinet to approve a military strike against Iran.

All these things have gained denials and fits of frustration from spokespeople and ministers here. But all these events coincide with today’s release of a report on Iran’s nuclear program. The International Atomic Energy Agency is going to report incriminating evidence there is a military angle to Iran’s research, and that is big. Knowing this report has been in the offing, there has been speculation the Israeli government is making the idea of war with Iran sound more rational and preparing to use a window of opportunity to gain global sympathy and attack. The Israeli military has denied the missile test had anything to do with the report and that it was scheduled months ago.

But so was the report. In other news, the United Kingdom is also talking up the military option. There seems to be some sort of consensus about preparing the military to go to war with Iran. The last time the element of surprise was sacrificed for an operation this big was Iraq. The US started moving troops into Kuwait in 2002 – six months ahead of the invasion.

I cannot say I am convinced though. Governments let things “slip” all the time in order to put something into the media’s purview – a desirable topic, a favorable opinion or a point of distraction. The fact that Israel conducted a missile test of all things in both broad daylight and right over the country’s center instead of its desert indicates they are trying to push the issue publicly. But it is not the Israeli public that needs convincing. All of Israel’s governments have been hawks about Iran – there is hardly a difference between Netanyahu and Olmert. It’s the rest of the world Israel is posturing toward. Iran is going to lose points and Israel’s military is going to gain some benefit of the doubt from this, even from European publics. “They are not warmongering,” so the thinking might go. “That’s the Iranians. I understand wanting to be ready just in case.”

Public relations and public perception are all important. That subject has driven Jews mad since the Obama-Netanyahu implosion started two years ago. If Israel does eventually decide to press the red button, global sympathy is going to play a role even if it will not be the major deciding factor.

One more thing to consider: Israel is trying to get advanced submarines from Germany. The last few weeks have seen that deal threatened by the apparent Israeli policy on settlements and the Palestinians. If it is more than that, it could be Germany suspects Israel IS moving toward a strike. Coordinating jets and offshore submarines might make the whole war thing a lot easier. Okay, my conspiracy theories are exhausted for today.

Israel’s Pioneer Status is Slipping

We've heard about how Intel is made in Israel, but is the country losing its status as a science hub? | Photo by flickr user yum9me (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
You’ve heard about how Intel processors are made in Israel, but is the country losing its status as a science hub? | Photo by flickr user yum9me (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Israel is considered a pioneer. Its technological and medical developments might be the results of years of input from a culture of research and development. But even after one of the country’s top chemists’ latest Nobel Prize win, Professor Ehud Keinan of the country’s educational advisory board on chemistry has been very public with his anxiety the country’s pioneering spirit is slipping. He highlights education, but most Israelis are preoccupied with diplomacy.

Turkey. Egypt. Palestine. It seems like the world is collapsing in on Israel, that these three and many more problems are converging into an unfortunate coincidence. In reality, these events are all linked: the fallout with Turkey, the cooling peace with Egypt and the collapse of Israel’s position internationally on the Palestinians. The past two years might give us a clue as to what is happening. That is to say, the previous two years and the government at the helm during them is not the source of the problem. The problem has been in play for quite a long time. It is relatively simple and frightening on multiple levels at the same time.

Israel has no plan. Many countries, typically socialist ones, are obsessed with the concept. Typically, public planning in those places doesn’t go further than a few years, but it projects an attitude which is strangely absent in Western countries. Debt has consumed many of these countries based on principles that emphasize borrowing and pushing off responsibility. Israel’s challenge is more unique.

On the one hand, Israel is a country that has been locked into a particular situation with no sense of what the obvious course of action is. On the other hand, Israel is arguably a country without the proper mindset to conceive of long-term planning.

Since the country’s birth, it has been fighting for survival. Israel’s need for foreign assistance during the War of Independence was dire. Its win in 1967 against Arab armies could have easily been a loss, had Egypt chosen to attack first and set the Israelis back. In 1973, American resupply might not have given Golda Meir the chance to turn the tables on Egypt and Syria. The citizens of Israel have let the idea become embedded in their collective psyche that wars are fought in minutes and with luck–and that they are even won that way. With that, the very concept of planning has been forsaken.

That is the explanation a friend of mine from the Technion gave me last month when we were discussing what I thought was Israel’s diplomatic complex. The country’s lack of a long-term plan for its people–population targets, land retention, foreign business investments and, especially, the lack of a plan for the day after a peace agreement is reached with the Palestinians–are all feeding the diplomatic spiral.

My friend explained it in terms of mentality. I liked her take. Israel’s politicians have been immobile as the Middle East has exploded. They might not have been if they had been forward-thinking years ago. As Lebanon pushed Syrian troops out of their country and Iraq got a shot at democratic government, further changes seemed inevitable to major analysts and politicians. The writing was on the wall.

As Israel faces a number of challenges regarding the size of its population, its lack of cultural influence in the Middle East, and its tiny position on the world stage. At the United Nations, Israel has the unusual status of having no specified regional group. Membership in these divisions is necessary to qualify for the UN Security Council. Because of Arab enmity, Israel has not been able to represent the Middle East and thus has been locked out.

Where is the initiative to improve this situation?

Diplomatically, Israel can improve its situations by focusing on itself. What is Israel’s goal from its ties to the Palestinians? Is it really as simple as a secure peace? If Israel can answer with what it needs as a country to build for itself a plan, it will indeed salvage its sliding yet enduring image as a pioneering country.

Israel’s Borders and National Security

Israel’s Borders and National Security (from STRATFOR)
Created May 30 2011 – 20:37

By George Friedman

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said May 30 that Israel could not prevent the United Nations from recognizing a Palestinian state, in the sense of adopting a resolution on the subject. Two weeks ago, U.S. President Barack Obama, in a speech, called on Israel to return to some variation of its pre-1967 borders. The practical significance of these and other diplomatic evolutions in relation to Israel is questionable. Historically, U.N. declarations have had variable meanings, depending on the willingness of great powers to enforce them. Obama’s speech on Israel, and his subsequent statements, created enough ambiguity to make exactly what he was saying unclear. Nevertheless, it is clear that the diplomatic atmosphere on Israel is shifting.

There are many questions concerning this shift, ranging from the competing moral and historical claims of the Israelis and Palestinians to the internal politics of each side to whether the Palestinians would be satisfied with a return to the pre-1967 borders. All of these must be addressed, but this analysis is confined to a single issue: whether a return to the 1967 borders would increase the danger to Israel’s national security. Later analyses will focus on Palestinian national security issues and those of others.

Early Borders

It is important to begin by understanding that the pre-1967 borders are actually the borders established by the armistice agreements of 1949. The 1948 U.N. resolution creating the state of Israel created a much smaller Israel. The Arab rejection of what was called “partition” resulted in a war that created the borders that placed the West Bank (named after the west bank of the Jordan River) in Jordanian hands, along with substantial parts of Jerusalem, and placed Gaza in the hands of the Egyptians.

Israel’s Borders and National Security
(click here to enlarge image)

The 1949 borders substantially improved Israel’s position by widening the corridors between the areas granted to Israel under the partition, giving it control of part of Jerusalem and, perhaps most important, control over the Negev. The latter provided Israel with room for maneuver in the event of an Egyptian attack — and Egypt was always Israel’s main adversary. At the same time, the 1949 borders did not eliminate a major strategic threat. The Israel-Jordan border placed Jordanian forces on three sides of Israeli Jerusalem, and threatened the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem corridor. Much of the Israeli heartland, the Tel Aviv-Haifa-Jerusalem triangle, was within Jordanian artillery range, and a Jordanian attack toward the Mediterranean would have to be stopped cold at the border, since there was no room to retreat, regroup and counterattack.

For Israel, the main danger did not come from Jordan attacking by itself. Jordanian forces were limited, and tensions with Egypt and Syria created a de facto alliance between Israel and Jordan. In addition, the Jordanian Hashemite regime lived in deep tension with the Palestinians, since the former were British transplants from the Arabian Peninsula, and the Palestinians saw them as well as the Israelis as interlopers. Thus the danger on the map was mitigated both by politics and by the limited force the Jordanians could bring to bear.

Nevertheless, politics shift, and the 1949 borders posed a strategic problem for Israel. If Egypt, Jordan and Syria were to launch a simultaneous attack (possibly joined by other forces along the Jordan River line) all along Israel’s frontiers, the ability of Israel to defeat the attackers was questionable. The attacks would have to be coordinated — as the 1948 attacks were not — but simultaneous pressure along all frontiers would leave the Israelis with insufficient forces to hold and therefore no framework for a counterattack. From 1948 to 1967, this was Israel’s existential challenge, mitigated by the disharmony among the Arabs and the fact that any attack would be detected in the deployment phase.

Israel’s strategy in this situation had to be the pre-emptive strike. Unable to absorb a coordinated blow, the Israelis had to strike first to disorganize their enemies and to engage them sequentially and in detail. The 1967 war represented Israeli strategy in its first generation. First, it could not allow the enemy to commence hostilities. Whatever the political cost of being labeled the aggressor, Israel had to strike first. Second, it could not be assumed that the political intentions of each neighbor at any one time would determine their behavior. In the event Israel was collapsing, for example, Jordan’s calculations of its own interests would shift, and it would move from being a covert ally to Israel to a nation both repositioning itself in the Arab world and taking advantage of geographical opportunities. Third, the center of gravity of the Arab threat was always Egypt, the neighbor able to field the largest army. Any pre-emptive war would have to begin with Egypt and then move to other neighbors. Fourth, in order to control the sequence and outcome of the war, Israel would have to maintain superior organization and technology at all levels. Finally, and most important, the Israelis would have to move for rapid war termination. They could not afford a war of attrition against forces of superior size. An extended war could drain Israeli combat capability at an astonishing rate. Therefore the pre-emptive strike had to be decisive.

The 1949 borders actually gave Israel a strategic advantage. The Arabs were fighting on external lines. This means their forces could not easily shift between Egypt and Syria, for example, making it difficult to exploit emergent weaknesses along the fronts. The Israelis, on the other hand, fought from interior lines, and in relatively compact terrain. They could carry out a centrifugal offense, beginning with Egypt, shifting to Jordan and finishing with Syria, moving forces from one front to another in a matter of days. Put differently, the Arabs were inherently uncoordinated, unable to support each other. The pre-1967 borders allowed the Israelis to be superbly coordinated, choosing the timing and intensity of combat to suit their capabilities. Israel lacked strategic depth, but it made up for it with compact space and interior lines. If it could choose the time, place and tempo of engagements, it could defeat numerically superior forces. The Arabs could not do this.

Israel needed two things in order to exploit this advantage. The first was outstanding intelligence to detect signs of coordination and the massing of forces. Detecting the former sign was a matter of political intelligence, the latter a matter of tactical military intelligence. But the political intelligence would have to manifest itself in military deployments, and given the geography of the 1949 borders, massing forces secretly was impossible. If enemy forces could mass undetected it would be a disaster for Israel. Thus the center of gravity of Israeli war-making was its intelligence capabilities.

The second essential requirement was an alliance with a great power. Israel’s strategy was based on superior technology and organization — air power, armor and so on. The true weakness of Israel’s strategic power since the country’s creation had been that its national security requirements outstripped its industrial and financial base. It could not domestically develop and produce all of the weapons it needed to fight a war. Israel depended first on the Soviets, then until 1967 on France. It was not until after the 1967 war that the United States provided any significant aid to Israel. However, under the strategy of the pre-1967 borders, continual access to weapons — and in a crisis, rapid access to more weapons — was essential, so Israel had to have a powerful ally. Not having one, coupled with an intelligence failure, would be disastrous.

After 1967

The 1967 war allowed Israel to occupy the Sinai, all of Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Golan Heights. It placed Egyptian forces on the west bank of the Suez, far from Israel, and pushed the Jordanians out of artillery range of the Israeli heartland. It pushed Syria out of artillery range as well. This created the strategic depth Israel required, yet it set the stage for the most serious military crisis in Israeli history, beginning with a failure in its central capability — intelligence.

Israel’s Borders and National Security
(click here to enlarge image)

The intelligence failure occurred in 1973, when Syria and Egypt managed to partially coordinate an assault on Israel without Israeli intelligence being able to interpret the intelligence it was receiving. Israel was saved above all by rapid rearmament by the United States, particularly in such staples of war as artillery shells. It was also aided by greater strategic depth. The Egyptian attack was stopped far from Israel proper in the western Sinai. The Syrians fought in the Golan Heights rather than in the Galilee.

Here is the heart of the pre-1967 border issue. Strategic depth meant that the Syrians and Egyptians spent their main offensive force outside of Israel proper. This bought Israel space and time. It allowed Israel to move back to its main sequential strategy. After halting the two attacks, the Israelis proceeded to defeat the Syrians in the Golan then the Egyptians in the Sinai. However, the ability to mount the two attacks — and particularly the Sinai attack — required massive American resupply of everything from aircraft to munitions. It is not clear that without this resupply the Israelis could have mounted the offensive in the Sinai, or avoided an extended war of attrition on unfavorable terms. Of course, the intelligence failure opened the door to Israel’s other vulnerability — its dependency on foreign powers for resupply. Indeed, perhaps Israel’s greatest miscalculation was the amount of artillery shells it would need to fight the war; the amount required vastly outstripped expectations. Such a seemingly minor thing created a massive dependency on the United States, allowing the United States to shape the conclusion of the war to its own ends so that Israel’s military victory ultimately evolved into a political retreat in the Sinai.

It is impossible to argue that Israel, fighting on its 1949 borders, was less successful than when it fought on its post-1967 borders. What happened was that in expanding the scope of the battlefield, opportunities for intelligence failures multiplied, the rate of consumption of supplies increased and dependence grew on foreign powers with different political interests. The war Israel fought from the 1949 borders was more efficiently waged than the one it fought from the post-1967 borders. The 1973 war allowed for a larger battlefield and greater room for error (errors always occur on the battlefield), but because of intelligence surprises and supply miscalculations it also linked Israel’s national survival to the willingness of a foreign government to quickly resupply its military.

The example of 1973 casts some doubt around the argument that the 1948 borders were excessively vulnerable. There are arguments on both sides of the issue, but it is not a clear-cut position. However, we need to consider Israel’s borders not only in terms of conventional war but also in terms of unconventional war — both uprisings and the use of chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear (CBRN) weapons.

There are those who argue that there will be no more peer-to-peer conflicts. We doubt that intensely. However, there is certainly a great deal of asymmetric warfare in the world, and for Israel it comes in the form of intifadas, rocket attacks and guerrilla combat against Hezbollah in Lebanon. The post-1967 borders do not do much about these forms of warfare. Indeed, it can be argued that some of this conflict happens because of the post-1967 borders.

A shift to the 1949 borders would not increase the risk of an intifada but would make it moot. It would not eliminate conflict with Hezbollah. A shift to the 1949 line would eliminate some threats but not others. From the standpoint of asymmetric warfare, a shift in borders could increase the threat from Palestinian rockets to the Israeli heartland. If a Palestinian state were created, there would be the very real possibility of Palestinian rocket fire unless there was a significant shift in Hamas’ view of Israel or Fatah increased its power in the West Bank and was in a position to defeat Hamas and other rejectionist movements. This would be the heart of the Palestinian threat if there were a return to the borders established after the initial war.

The shape of Israel’s borders doesn’t really have an effect on the threat posed by CBRN weapons. While some chemical artillery rockets could be fired from closer borders, the geography leaves Israel inherently vulnerable to this threat, regardless of where the precise boundary is drawn, and they can already be fired from Lebanon or Gaza. The main threat discussed, a CBRN warhead fitted to an Iranian medium-range ballistic missile launched from a thousand miles away, has little to do with precisely where a line in the Levant is drawn.

When we look at conventional warfare, I would argue that the main issue Israel has is not its borders but its dependence on outside powers for its national security. Any country that creates a national security policy based on the willingness of another country to come to its assistance has a fundamental flaw that will, at some point, be mortal. The precise borders should be those that a) can be defended and b) do not create barriers to aid when that aid is most needed. In 1973, U.S. President Richard Nixon withheld resupply for some days, pressing Israel to the edge. U.S. interests were not those of Israel’s. This is the mortal danger to Israel — a national security requirement that outstrips its ability to underwrite it.

Israel’s borders will not protect it against Iranian missiles, and rockets from Gaza are painful but do not threaten Israel’s existence. In case the artillery rocket threat expands beyond this point, Israel must retain the ability to reoccupy and re-engage, but given the threat of asymmetric war, perpetual occupation would seem to place Israel at a perpetual disadvantage. Clearly, the rocket threat from Hamas represents the best argument for strategic depth.

Israel’s Borders and National Security
(click here to enlarge image)

The best argument for returning to the pre-1967 borders is that Israel was more capable of fighting well on these borders. The war of independence, the 1956 war and the 1967 war all went far better than any of the wars that came after. Most important, if Israel is incapable of generating a national defense industry that can provide all the necessary munitions and equipment without having to depend on its allies, then it has no choice but to consider what its allies want. With the pre-1967 borders there is a greater chance of maintaining critical alliances. More to the point, the pre-1967 borders require a smaller industrial base because they do not require troops for occupation and they improve Israel’s ability to conduct conventional operations in a time of crisis.

There is a strong case to be made for not returning to the 1949 lines, but it is difficult to make that case from a military point of view. Strategic depth is merely one element of a rational strategy. Given that Israel’s military security depends on its relations with third parties, the shape of its borders and diplomatic reality are, as always, at the heart of Israeli military strategy.

In warfare, the greatest enemy of victory is wishful thinking. The assumption that Israel will always have an outside power prepared to rush munitions to the battlefield or help create costly defense systems like Iron Dome is simply wishful thinking. There is no reason to believe this will always be the case. Therefore, since this is the heart of Israeli strategy, the strategy rests on wishful thinking. The question of borders must be viewed in the context of synchronizing Israeli national security policy with Israeli national means.

There is an argument prevalent among Israelis and their supporters that the Arabs will never make a lasting peace with Israel. From this flows the assumption that the safest course is to continue to hold all territory. My argument assumes the worst case, which is not only that the Palestinians will not agree to a genuine peace but also that the United States cannot be counted on indefinitely. All military planning must begin with the worst case.

However, I draw a different conclusion from these facts than the Israelis do. If the worst-case scenario is the basis for planning, then Israel must reduce its risk and restructure its geography along the more favorable lines that existed between 1949 and 1967, when Israel was unambiguously victorious in its wars, rather than the borders and policies after 1967, when Israel has been less successful. The idea that the largest possible territory provides the greatest possible security is not supportable in military history. As Frederick the Great once said, he who defends everything defends nothing.

The Palestinians Could Recognize a Jewish State – They Don’t Think They’ll Have To

Both Israel and the Palestinians have a precondition for negotiations to continue. The Palestinians want construction in the settlements to stop and the Israelis want the Palestinian Authority to recognize Israel as a “Jewish” state.

The fact that these are the two things that the two governments have to declare publicly demonstrates neither side wants to restart peace talks.

On the Palestinian side, Mahmoud Abbas wants to maximize Palestinian leverage over Israel. Both Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas have rejected genuinely serious offers from Ehud Barak in 2000, then Ehud Olmert in 2008. Israel now faces the diplomatic wrath of the world with only the United States and a smattering of other countries behind her.

Israel has both Netanyahu guarding his political coalition and its psychological insecurity about the physical security of the country adjacent to a territory over which it would not have military control.

As for whether or not Netanyahu’s or Abbas’ government constitutes a “partner for peace,” that depends on whether or not the two sides actually want to negotiate. At that point, either both sides are so-called “partners” or neither is. History would say either side would eventually cave to negotiate, but the Palestinians have never had this much leverage before and they seem set on using it.

Originally Posted on New Voices

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One would think that you cannot surrender your moral high ground in the Middle East. To do so is suicide so the thinking goes. It would be a display of weakness. And so no country owns up to its mistakes, much less its crimes. The Arab World that admits it created the Israel they whine about – the one military machine that has learned to rely on the gun rather than the spoken word – is the Arab World I never anticipate seeing.

But Israel has the same attitude. There might be solid arguments for hundreds or even thousands of those killed during Israel’s wars, but the dead remain silent and gone from the lives of those they left behind. Hence, resentment is still rife, no matter how many people Israel convinces their actions were justified in Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon or anywhere else the IDF might find itself.

Israel’s position in the Middle East will depend on some flexibility and expressed regret over its past at some point. Not necessarily the Nakba, but the massive collateral damage its offensives have caused. I have supported every war over the last ten years, but that does not mean we cannot soften our hearts when we have to. When Israel takes a peace initiative to Lebanon or Syria or the Palestinians, it will have to express some remorse. The same, for sure, goes for the Arab World. The Holocaust, the expulsion of Jews from the Arab World and indisputable aggression against Israeli civilians are stains on Arab honor. Too bad I think we are some distance from that sort of reciprocity.

Middle Easterners argue as if they were primitive tribesmen rather than articulate debaters. Politics in this place seems to be based on trying to delegitimize the opponent. Israel’s trials over it are well known, but Israelis are sucked into the temptation to delegitimize the predicaments of their enemies as well. It is not just about winning a war or defeating terrorism, but undermining their peoples’ narratives also.

Very soon, Israel will have to acknowledge the past to make headway with Lebanese and Syrians, all the more so Palestinians refugees. I am not comfortable with some of it, but we are going to have to lay our pride down about it. The Arab Spring represents both an opportunity and a responsibility to the Arab World. There will be far fewer excuses for the countries that achieve representative democracy. The idea of freedom is not merely the liberation of one tribe at the expense of the other. Jews, Alawites, Shiites and Sunnis – among others – will be tested to reach out to each other under insecure circumstances in the very near future.

I Don’t Think Netanyahu is Mad at Obama

Originally Posted on New Voices

There is nothing new under the sun.

Nothing Barack Obama said is dramatic. But Benjamin Netanyahu is making it seem so. “He doesn’t get it,” said one Netanyahu aide:

Referring to the US president’s Mideast policy speech, a Netanyahu associate said: “He (Obama) didn’t deliver the goods…Obama apparently does not understand the reality in the Mideast.”

It is perplexing. Barack Obama confirmed for the first time in his presidency the following:
1) A Demilitarized Palestinian State
2) Pressure on the Palestinian Authority not to seek UN Recognition
3) Support for Israel’s anti-Hamas stance

Gideon Levy, an extremely leftist (to say the least) commentator for HaAretz, was even more “pessimistic.” He said Obama had thrown a Palestinian state to the wolves and that it would be an impossibility to achieve. To be honest though, he usually takes the role of spoiler happily. His editorials tend to be, well, pessimistic.

I think the entire battle between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu is theater. By endorsing a state “based on the 1967 borders” with adjustments, he just decided to use the Palestinian wording and not the Israeli one. Reading Arab headlines shows what might be the Palestinian understanding of those words. Netanyahu acting as angry as he is projects an illusion Obama was tough on the Israeli position. I do not think Obama totally undercut the Palestinian Authority’s plan to go to the UN, but he did validate long-standing Israeli policy. Read the op-edObama the Zionist from this morning to see what I mean.

The 1967 borders are already the basis of negotiations and the assumptions of the boundaries of a Palestinian state. Palestinians will inevitably be disappointed by how flexible Obama’s words are and that he did not actually mean they would get the Green Line as their border nor the entire Old City of Jerusalem.