When generals stray into politics

Despite the resounding failure of the “land-for-peace” formula, three former Israel Defense Forces generals are urging the Biden administration to “keep open a path to an eventual two-state solution.” 

Israeli soldiers at the scene of what the Israeli military says was a deliberate car-ramming attack near the Hebron Hills in Judea and Samaria on May 14, 2020. Photo by Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90.
Israeli soldiers at the scene of what the Israeli military says was a deliberate car-ramming attack near the Hebron Hills in Judea and Samaria on May 14, 2020. Photo by Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90.
Martin Sherman
Martin Sherman
Martin Sherman spent seven years in operational capacities in the Israeli defense establishment. He is the founder of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), a member of the Habithonistim-Israel Defense & Security Forum (IDSF) research team, and a participant in the Israel Victory Project.

“La guerre! C’est une chose trop grave pour la confier à des militaires,”commonly paraphrased as, “War is too important to be left to the generals.”—George Clemenceau.

For decades, outspoken support for Israeli withdrawal from Judea-Samaria (a.k.a. “the West Bank”)—and for Palestinian statehood—has been an essential calling card for anyone wishing to access the largely self-anointed “enlightened” bon-ton set—and indispensable credentials for admission to “polite company.”

Oddly, this perverse social norm largely persists today, despite the resounding failure of the “land-for-peace” formula and the undeniable calamity it has wrought on both Jews and Arab alike.

Perplexing positions

One of the most perplexing bastions of this disproven—but, somehow, never discarded—dogma is an organization named Commanders for Israel’s Security (CIS). Indeed, as recently as this week, three prominent CIS generals penned an opinion piece urging  the Biden administration to “keep open a path to an eventual two-state solution.”

According to the organization’s website, its membership comprises more than 300 former senior military officers and security officials )from the rank of brigadier-general and above, and corresponding ranks in the intelligence and counterintelligence services, the police and the National Security Council). The flimsily veiled implication is clear: The everyday Israeli citizen—and voter—ought to defer to the vast accumulated experience behind the concessionary CIS position. After all, who could possibly have the temerity to oppose such an authoritative array of high-ranking security doyens?

Those who follow my column will recall that I have frequently “crossed swords” with CIS and the policy proposals it promotes (See, for example: here and here.)

In these critiques, I pointed out that CIS policy proposals, which entail forgoing any Israeli sovereign claims to any territory beyond the 1967-Green Line, and removing all Israeli civilian presence, while keeping the Israel Defense Forces deployed there, would result in an untenable situation for Israel.

Significantly, CIS admits that at present there is no viable peace partner on the Palestinian side, warning that the “situation on the West Bank requires the continued deployment of the IDF until satisfactory security arrangements are put into place within the framework of a permanent status agreement.”

An appalling lack of political foresight

Of course, little political acumen is required to realize that implementation of the CIS proposal would almost certainly result in the emergence of a giant pre-2000 “South Lebanon” on the fringes of Greater Tel Aviv; lead to the inevitable need for open-ended occupation; and eventually—just as in South Lebanon—culminate in a unilateral withdrawal … without achieving any long-term agreement or durable security arrangements.

Indeed, one can only shake one’s head in puzzlement at the apparent naivete of such senior figures, who seem to believe that a country can deploy its military in a territory over which it overtly eschews any sovereign claims—thus tacitly admitting that others have such legitimate claim—and only end such deployment when it decides that its own criteria for withdrawal are met.

But even more puzzling than this appalling lack of political foresight is CIS’s apparent disregard for the detrimental military ramifications of its uncompromising insistence that Israel must relinquish the highlands of Judea-Samaria that rise above Israel’s coastal urban sprawl, command the approaches to Greater Tel Aviv, overlook the country’s only international airport, abut the Trans-Israel Highway and overlay important water resources—to name but a few matters of concern.

Analyzing military parameters

Consider five crucial military parameters: Topographical superiority, length of frontiers, strategic depth, interior/exterior lines and topographical obstacles.

One hardly need be a military expert to determine that Israel’s situation with regard to each and every one of these factors will be dramatically and negatively impacted by the CIS-advocated withdrawal—severely undermining Israeli security and increasing the economic cost to maintain it.

Topographical superiority: By withdrawing from the highlands of Judea-Samaria, Israel’s position would be dramatically impaired, trading overwhelming topographic superiority for perilous topographic inferiority.  For a graphic illustration of how utterly vulnerable Israel would be if it relinquished the territory as prescribed by CIS – see here.

Length of frontiers: A cursory glance at a map will immediately show that withdrawal by Israel from today’s frontiers will increase the length of Israel’s eastern frontier by hundreds of kilometers. Indeed, instead of today’s short straight border along the sparsely-populated Jordan Valley, Israel will have to contend with a long contorted frontier—at least four times as long as the current one—much of which will snake close to heavily populated urban centers.

Strategic depth: Again a brief glance at a map will suffice to reveal that the CIS-advocated withdrawal will leave Israel devoid of any strategic depth to deploy forces to defend one of the country’s most sensitive areas—the fringes of the heavily populated coastal plain. Even today, Israel is not overly endowed with strategic depth, with barely 45-55 miles from the Mediterranean shoreline to the Jordan River. But should Israel withdraw, as per the CIS prescription, there will be virtually no distance at all between the border and Israel’s urban sprawl (See Topographical obstacles below.)

Interior vs. exterior lines: Interior lines allow movement and communication within an enclosed area and are shorter and safer than those facilitated by exterior ones. In the context of battlefield tactics, interior lines allow for a more rapid concentration of resources (firepower and manpower) and afford greater tactical flexibility than do exterior lines. By withdrawing from the territory prescribed by CIS, Israel will be sacrificing interior lines for exterior ones—hardly a formula for enhancing security.

Topographical obstacles: Topographical obstacles that impede the movement of enemy forces, and provide time to mobilize to meet an attack, can compensate for the lack of strategic depth. In Israel’s difficult geographic situation, with minimal strategic depth, at best, this acquires particular importance—particularly as the IDF relies significantly on reserve troops, whose mobilization requires time. The only topographical barrier between Israel’s long eastern front, with its large population and commercial centers on the coast, are the highlands of Judea-Samaria, which rise steeply from the Jordan Valley and constitute a major impediment for hostile forces attempting to reach strategic targets beyond them.

In which universe?

According to the CIS website “… an agreement with the Palestinians on the basis of the principle of ‘two states for two peoples,’ will contribute to Israel’s security …” Thus, they claim that it constitutes “a supreme national-security target.”

This, of course, leaves the public to ponder over the vexing question: In what universe does a policy that undermines Israel in virtually every conceivable military parameter “contribute to Israel’s security”? In what universe does pursuing a policy that has failed disastrously time and again constitute “a supreme national-security target.”?

Or is it just that CIS’s political prejudices are leading it—and the Israeli public—astray?

Martin Sherman is the founder & executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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