Monday, June 10, 2013

Why we Need to Protect Ourselves

by Zalman Shoval

The stated task assigned to Gen. John Allen, U.S. President Barack Obama's special envoy on security matters in Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, who visited Israel last month, was to formulate an American "security net" for Israel in any future permanent-status agreement with the Palestinians. In other words: to convince Israel to make concessions on the issue of the 1967 borders.

These American attempts, while not contrary to Israel's diplomatic and security interests in and of themselves, are something of a prelude for a future American peace plan that would include the presence of an international military force in the West Bank and Jordan Valley. It should be remembered that Gen. James Jones, who was tasked with a similar mission by former President George W. Bush, suggested an outline based on stationing American and NATO troops, as well as other international soldiers (such as the U.N.) along the borders of the future Palestinian state.

Then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert indeed conceded -- including during his talks with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas -- Israel's military presence in the Jordan Valley. Current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, however, rejected such proposals outright, insisting that the security threat such a plan would pose to Israel was too great.

In Israel's view, since signing the Camp David Accords with Egypt in 1978, the most basic condition for any peace agreement with the Palestinians has been the operational freedom of its security forces in the West Bank. While the American security ideas touch primarily on preventing violent acts inside and from the Palestinian territories, for Israel the matter is much more complex and far-reaching, namely that without an Israeli military presence on the ground the Palestinian entity could ally itself, actively or passively, with other countries or terrorist organizations seeking to attack Israel.

The history of international troops in our region has vacillated between the farcical and tragic. It is a history highlighted by the panicked withdrawal of U.N. troops from the Sinai Peninsula and Gaza in 1967, by Hezbollah terrorists entrenching themselves in southern Lebanon in contradiction to U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701, and by the incessant kidnapping of U.N. troops currently stationed on the Golan Heights. 

There are reservations about NATO as well. It is not a cohesive fighting force and its soldiers do not directly answer to their own countries' military headquarters or governments. We must imagine a scenario in which Turkish soldiers are tasked with protecting Israel. Secondly, there would always be a question as to the extent these soldiers would be willing to risk their lives in our defense. 

Meanwhile, as has been insinuated, if the main fighting force is American, would Israel really want U.S. soldiers to spill blood in our defense? We haven't even discussed the other potential conflicts with the U.S. that could stem from differing opinions on security matters. International forces, either NATO or U.N., could also limit the Israel Defense Forces' operational freedom in other areas.

According to unconfirmed American sources, the possibility of stationing Jordanian or Palestinian troops along the Jordan River is being weighed, although such a proposal is unworthy of even a second glance. 

As long as the Palestinians, despite U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's efforts, continue sabotaging the chances for a renewal of peace talks, it is unlikely that any understandings on security matters will ever reach a practical stage. Netanyahu did well to make Israel's principle of "protecting ourselves on our own" very clear, starting with, perhaps most importantly, on our own borders. 

Zalman Shoval


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

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