TCS Daily

Israel's Security Conundrum

By Ariel Cohen - December 23, 2003 12:00 AM

HERTZLIYA, Israel -- In a major policy speech Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon announced Thursday that if the Road Map is not implemented by the Palestinian Authority, he will pull the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) from major areas in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, and tear down Jewish villages there.

The speech was delivered at the prestigious Herzliya Conference, which featured almost all Israeli leaders, from the perennial Shimon Peres, who just celebrated his 80th birthday, to all four "next-gen" contenders for Sharon's leadership of the Likud: Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, and Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom. This author has never seen so many active duty and retired generals, representing the who's who of Israeli security establishment, under one roof. A kabuki dance of political survival and power struggle was for all to see.

Sharon toiled most of his life to bring back the Jewish presence in the West Bank and Gaza, and earned a reputation of hardliner during his lifelong career as the founding father of the Israeli paratroops and special forces, during his success in the bloody and botched 1973 Yom Kippur War, and in the failed invasion of Lebanon in 1982. Thursday's announcement signals his irrevocable realignment with the center and abandonment of his nationalist allies in the religious Zionist movement.

Sharon's semantic ballet of calling a retreat "redeployment" and destruction of villages "relocation" was as impressive as an elephant trying to dance in a china shop. This was not even an Oslo-style self-delusional land-for-peace deal a la Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres; nor a Camp David II last ditch attempt by then Prime Minister Ehud Barak to overwhelm Arafat -- a cunning opponent -- with a generous offer which he did refuse.

A day before
Sharon appeared, his confidante, Ehud Olmert, announced that while the price of the withdrawal is "terrible", let there be no illusion -- the terror against the Jewish state will not stop. If so, the retreat would be a prize to those who murdered 900 Israelis and wounded 6,000.

So, why Sharon and Olmert are anxious to "punish" recalcitrant Arafat and his Prime Minister Abu Allah with a gift of land? The answer is as complicated as
Israel's security dilemma and as messy as her domestic power politics.


Why the Change?

First, the secular, general-dominate security elite has failed to think outside the box and go beyond the failed concept of the fight with the Palestinian neighbors -- a concept that the left has adopted in the 1960s and refuses to abandoned. It can be summed up as a nationalist, territorial fight. The solution the left suggest is "land for peace" and "two countries for two people." But the radical part of the Arab and Muslim world has moved on. The game now is the slow destruction of

The tired Israeli security "silverbacks" have failed to diagnose the disease. These once-brave, secular, rational and mostly left-leaning officers would like to see "peace in their time", to paraphrase British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain who signed the infamous Munich Accord with Adolf Hitler in 1938 -- an accord that led to the rape of Czechoslovakia in 1938 and its disappearance in 1939.

Israel's security mandarins still believe that the conflict can be resolved rationally -- if Israel bestows enough land on its Arab neighbors. However, if this was the case, Arafat would not have walked away from a terrific deal offered by Barak and Bill Clinton in 2000, and Syria would seize the chance to settle when Israel offered to give up all of the strategic Golan Heights. Egypt would not undermine normalization and economic cooperation with the Jewish state, as it repeatedly did, derailing gas supply from Oman and Egypt to the energy-starved Israeli market.

However, the expedience of recent Israeli retreats, such as from
Lebanon in 2000, and Camp David concessions indicate something different: abandonment of territory for less than full peace is interpreted by Israel's foes as an unmistakable sign of weakness. To wit, the terror war launched by Arafat, which is known as the Second Intifada, was planned after Israel pulled out of Lebanon under fire from Iran- and Syria-backed Hizballah - an organization on the US State Department terrorism A-list.

Secondly, all politics is local and all foreign and defense policy is domestic.
Sharon is under attack for questionable financial and political deals orchestrated by his sons Omri and Gilad, who are under invasive police investigation. The allegations are that friends gave Sharon loans to finance his election campaigns, and might have received financial breaks in return.

At stake are the old man's political survival and his legacy, as well as freedom for his two sons. The political impetus for these investigations comes from the leftist opposition, which enjoys wide support of the Israeli secular and educated classes, including the media, the prosecutors, and Labor-dominated police force.

Sharon destroys the current "narrow" coalition with the religious and nationalists, and brings back the octogenarian Peres, the thinking goes, the left will lay off the investigation and allow him to sit out his Prime Ministerial term. There is a clear boon in it for Olmert: if Labor joins the government, he believes his competitors for the mantle of the Likud leadership: Netanyahu, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, and Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom will be demoted or eliminated from the government --and from the race to succeed Sharon.



In fact, both Labor and Likud may be on verge of a major realignment: Labor security champions, such as the former Prime Minister Barak, Deputy Defense Minister Efraim Sne, and Matan Vilnai, a retired general, may eventually join the Likud doves like Olmert. And the far left cohort of Labor led by the former Knesset chairman Avrum Burg and prime ministerial failed candidate Amram Mitzna may abandon Labor for a leftist Yahad bloc featuring such peaceniks as Yossi Beilin and Yossi Sarid. Netanyahu, if he loses the race to succeed
Sharon, may realign with the more hard line National Union.

If there is a consensus today in
Israel, it is over the security fence which has proven effective against murder-suicide bombers. Avi Dichter, the Director of the Israeli Security Services (the Shin Beth), has called in his Herzliya speech to pull out all stops and complete the fence. Unfortunately, from the Great Wall of China to the Maginot line, fences and walls alone have not stopped those who were determined to attack. An old battlefield general like Sharon should know that.

Today, even superior tanks, missiles, planes and special forces may not be enough. In the 21st century the foes must be defeated in the global court of public opinion and in the arena of international politics.

Ariel Cohen, Ph.D., is a Research Fellow at the Heritage Foundation. His expertise includes international energy security. He attended the Hertzliya Conference.


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