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The Russian invasion: A wake-up call for Israel and the West

The war in Ukraine has highlighted the folly of trading permanent geographic advantages and military deterrence for ephemeral security “guarantees.”

An Israeli tank near the Syrian border in the northern Golan Heights, Oct. 17, 2021. Photo by Michael Giladi/Flash90.
An Israeli tank near the Syrian border in the northern Golan Heights, Oct. 17, 2021. Photo by Michael Giladi/Flash90.
Yoram Ettinger
Yoram Ettinger

Irrespective of the final outcome of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, it should serve as a wake-up call for Israeli and Western policy-makers and molders of public opinion.

The invasion has exposed the flawed nature of certain assumptions which have impacted the worldview of the Western establishment—but not that of most of the world—while attempting to induce/coerce Israel into adopting these assumptions.

For example:

• That most of the world subscribes to the Western idea of a new world order, which is supposedly more stable, predictable, tolerant and trending toward peaceful coexistence, focusing on butter rather than guns;

• That the era of major wars and massive ground invasions is over;

• That a military posture of deterrence can be effectively replaced by peace accords, security guarantees and generous financial and diplomatic packages. The seeds of Ukraine’s current predicament were planted in the reckless December 1994 Budapest security assurances, which were extended to Ukraine by the United States, Britain and Russia in return for Ukraine’s surrender of its nuclear stockpile (the third largest in the world).

• That peace and security agreements are more important (for national security) than military capabilities and geography/topography-driven postures of deterrence. This delusion ignores the fact that while peace accords and security guarantees are tenuous, topographic dominance (e.g., the Golan Heights and the mountain ridges of Judea and Samaria) and geographic depth are everlasting.

• That the gradual reduction of a country’s defense budget is not interpreted by most of the globe as erosion of deterrence, undermining stability and crippling national security, and therefore inducing terrorism and wars.

• That diplomacy is a more effective negotiation tool than military force in settling conflicts with rogue regimes which have systematically revealed themselves as bad-faith negotiators (e.g., Iran’s ayatollahs since assuming power in February 1979);

• That national ideologies and strategic vision are subordinate to a cosmopolitan/universal, peaceful-coexistence state of mind.

• That decision should be based on rogue regimes’ predicted future behavior rather than their historical track records.

• That rogue conduct (e.g., subversion, terrorism and wars) is driven by “despair” rather than ideology.

Western policy makers have attempted to induce/coerce Israel into a withdrawal from the topographically dominant mountain ridges of Judea and Samaria, in return for a peace accord and security guarantees. However, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has highlighted the danger of replacing geographic depth and dominant topography in the highly volatile, violent, intolerant and unpredictable Middle East. The global experience has reaffirmed the centrality of the military-driven posture of deterrence in the shaping of national security.

Moreover, unlike Ukraine (the second largest European country), Israel’s lack of geographic depth (a 7- to 15-mile sliver from the Mediterranean to the mountain ridges of Judea and Samaria) provides for an extremely small margin of error. Thus, if the 1973 surprise Arab military offensive had been launched against a pre-1967 Israel (without the dominant topography of the Golan Heights and Judea and Samaria and the strategic depth of the Sinai Peninsula), the Arabs would have been able to annihilate the Jewish state.

Yoram Ettinger is a former ambassador and head of Second Thought: A U.S.-Israel Initiative.

This article was first published by The Ettinger Report.

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