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{Reposted from the JCPA website}

Israel’s security concerns justify its demand for defensible borders, which are the military manifestation of the reference in UN Security Council Resolution 242 to the right of Israel, as any other country, to “secure and recognized boundaries.”

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As detailed in this comprehensive analysis, from a national security and military point of view, defensible borders are those that allow Israel to effectively defend itself by itself – to deter, thwart, prevent the development, and supply timely early warning against all potential military threats involving all possible dimensions. These include:

  • The territorial dimension – threats from distant areas and those adjacent to Israel as well as from inside the territory Israel controls.
  • The time dimension – threats that currently exist as well as those foreseen in the medium and long term.
  • The military dimension – conventional and unconventional threats, terror threats of various kinds, ground operations, underground threats, aerial activity of different kinds, including planes, UAVs, drones, ballistic and cruise missiles, naval and other threats.
  • Additional threats involving the cyber arena, water, and communications security.

Defensible borders do not necessarily mean that all threats can best be treated from the same line, but that all resources necessary to achieve Israel’s defense requirements are within its borders. From this point of view, it is clear that the concept does not deal just with a certain outer perimeter but with the characteristics of the territory under Israel’s direct and indirect control. It has to take into account the specific topography, demography, history and political situation.

Israel has a very narrow width and a small population compared with that of its current and potential adversaries. It lacks strategic depth and its armed forces have to rely on reservists to be able to perform its mission, especially in time of war. Its most densely populated areas are very close to territories populated by people who have been exposed to ongoing hate indoctrination against it. The topography along the center of the country includes a mountain ridge that overlooks and dominates the coastal plain in the west and the very deep Jordan Valley in the east. The regimes and countries around Israel suffer from inherent instability and some of them are failed states. Some of Israel’s enemies are determined to wipe it off the map. Moreover, some of these enemies, especially Iran, have vast resources and are able to acquire advanced weaponry either through arms purchases from leading arms producers or through local production. All of these components have to be taken into account while drawing Israel’s defensible borders.

It is true, of course, that Israel has impressive military capabilities, but if they are not deployed in the right locations, their effectiveness may be significantly compromised. For example, Israel’s military deployment has to enable it to thwart attempts to bring in weapons (including rockets and drones) and trained terrorists or foreign military forces to the Palestinian-controlled areas of the West Bank from across the Jordan River.

This mission cannot be accomplished without Israel being able to deploy its forces in areas close to the river and on the eastern slopes of the mountain ridge dominating the Jordan River valley for purposes of observation and intelligence gathering that are necessary for permanent early warning and to thwart such attempts before they cause any damage. This will allow Israel to distance its population centers and critical infrastructure from these possible threats. In addition to “boots on the ground,” Israel will require full control over the airspace above the entire territory of the West Bank as well as control of the electromagnetic spectrum to guarantee that it is able to deal effectively with any threat.

This does not mean that this deployment can hermetically prevent any infiltration of the border, but it should guarantee that any attempt to cross into the territory from the east, even if it is part of multi-front hostile activities, is met by sufficient power in time to prevent any considerable damage to the security of Israel and its population, even if the early warning is not perfect. Moreover, Israeli military presence has a strategically important effect on deterrence and stabilization beyond the eastern border.

There have been various suggestions and creative ideas raised to establish a border along the 1967 lines with some local changes and to replace Israel’s military presence in some of the critical areas with foreign forces or to rely on electronic detection devices alone. However, this cannot provide Israel with adequate defense. Israeli forces have to be present on the ground to take immediate action against imminent threats. Israel cannot rely on foreign forces, and detection devices can at best give some early warning or signal in real time that the border has been penetrated, but these devices cannot do much about it. The idea that Israeli intelligence collection assets will be deployed in strategically important locations but access to these locations will be through Palestinian-controlled areas, is simply not feasible.

The same is true when it comes to preventing terror and other military threats from within the territory controlled by the Palestinians. If Israel deploys its forces more or less along the ’67 lines, it is not going to be able

to protect its main cities and infrastructure and collect the information necessary for that purpose. Moreover, it is not going to be able to prevent significant deliveries of arms to the Palestinian-controlled territories or the local production of various weapons inside these territories.

The argument that Israel’s armed forces are much stronger than the Palestinians and therefore it can afford to move to less defensible borders in the context of a peace agreement – and if this agreement is violated by the Palestinians Israel can recapture the territory – is baseless too. First of all, under such conditions, the Palestinians will be able to accumulate a considerable number of arms and military capabilities before they trigger hostilities, and once they do, recapturing the territory is going to be very costly in terms of casualties, not only to Israeli troops but also to the Israeli civilian population and critical infrastructure. Fighting a hybrid force that has both terror and conventional (and perhaps unconventional) capabilities that is fighting behind human shields is a huge challenge for every modern army. As long as many Palestinians continue to support the plan of fighting Israel in phases over time and regard the complete defeat of Zionism as their ultimate goal, any such moves that enable this are extremely irresponsible. The case of Gaza is an illuminating precedent, as are Afghanistan, Vietnam, Lebanon, Sinai, Somalia, and other arenas.

To sum up, the only border that may be regarded as defensible for the central region of the State of Israel is the Jordan Valley, with Israel maintaining military control of the eastern slopes of Judea and Samaria mountain ridge and of the main roads leading from west to east to enable free movement of Israel’s armed forces to the border area. This should go along with Israeli control of the airspace and the electromagnetic spectrum. The Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1967, General Earle Wheeler, clarified that to have defensible borders, Israel’s boundary must be along the commanding terrain overlooking the Jordan Valley.

Israel within the 1949 Armistice Lines These were the boundaries at the outbreak of the 1967 Six-Day War.&nbsp:

Israel within the 1949 Armistice Lines. These were the boundaries at the outbreak of the 1967 Six-Day War.

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The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (JCPA) is a leading independent research institute specializing in public diplomacy and foreign policy. Founded in 1976, the Center has produced hundreds of studies and initiatives by leading experts on a wide range of strategic topics.
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