A jetliner at Ben-Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv as seen from a nearby Palestinian village in the West Bank.
A Long-Term Perspective on Israel’s Security Needs
Brig.-Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser
One of the main threats Israel faces today – the attempt to erode its legitimacy and thereby prevent it from defending itself – is not a military threat. When formulating our security requirements, we must make certain they afford us effective tools in this struggle as well.
Indeed, one of the main threats Israel faces today – the attempt to erode its legitimacy and thereby prevent it from defending itself – is not a military threat. When a convoy of ships approaches, supposedly with the aim of reaching the Gaza Strip, the real purpose of the organizers is not to fire cannons at Israel or otherwise use physical force. Nor is it to conquer the port of Ashdod or sink the Israeli ships that come toward them. Instead, under a guise of humanitarian activity, they seek to undermine Israel’s legitimacy as part of a very complex, elaborate, sophisticated campaign that is being waged by a worldwide coalition. When the terror organizations fire rockets while using human shields, they are not trying to impair Israel’s military capabilities but to force it to respond in such a way that they and the rest of this coalition will be able to indict Israel for defending itself.
Thus, when formulating our security requirements, we must make certain they afford us effective tools in this struggle as well. We must be aware of the severity of this challenge and of our current inadequacy in addressing it, and ensure that the security arrangements minimize the potential for infringing upon Israel’s freedom while enabling it to maintain its legitimacy.
Israel must also insist on security arrangements that impede the emergence of threats in the first place. If such threats nevertheless emerge, the arrangements must enable an optimal response – though, if properly crafted in accordance with Israeli demands, such arrangements are meant to reduce the potential for threats to develop. A very simple illustration is the security fence. Because, in the first place, it deters terrorists from even trying to surmount it and thereby enter Israel, it is not subject to tests of its effectiveness as a physical obstacle; terrorists simply do not approach it and do not put it to such a test. Thus, the threat that this tool, the fence, is intended to address simply does not materialize. In such a situation, however, it will be claimed that Israel can do away with such instruments since they are not needed. But they must be maintained, since it is their removal that will allow the threats to emerge.
For example, some time ago, when we contemplated the threats likely to emanate from a Palestinian entity once it was established, only few realized that our continued presence along the Philadelphi Route between Gaza and Egypt would be so vital after the 2005 disengagement. It was the lack of an Israeli presence there that enabled the entry into Gaza of rockets and missiles that could reach Tel Aviv. As long as there is a significant probability that certain threats will materialize, we must be capable of counteracting them.
That is all the more true today as the U.S. ability to underwrite security arrangements declines, and Israel cannot count on the United States to prevent problematic developments. The Middle Eastern strategic situation is marked by instability as moderates and radicals clash, with the radicals tending to get the upper hand in recent years. Although, at present, there are relatively moderate elements in Israel’s immediate vicinity, we cannot be sure that situation will continue. Iran is gaining strength, boosting its influence in areas near our borders while arming and training the radical actors. Hizbullah now has more weapons than most of the world’s countries. Hamas is building up its capabilities in Gaza, and the Syrians are hardly passive. Our preparations, then, must take account of this instability.
The Threats Israel Must Prepare to Confront Fall into Five Categories:
First in line are the kinds of military threats that exist today, for which Israel clearly must be prepared. At the forefront of these threats is the ability to mount terror attacks by land, air, and sea, or to fire rockets over the border at targets within Israeli territory. These are the chief threats. In the future, under an agreement, some parts of Israel may be difficult to defend. Since any such agreement will take account of the reality that has developed in the West Bank since 1967, it will include strips of Israeli land surrounded by Palestinian territory, and protecting these will pose a considerable challenge. Security arrangements intended to address such threats cannot possibly rely solely on Palestinian or international actors.
The second kind comprises possible military threats. Although they do not exist at present, they could materialize in the future. Terror attacks or other hostilities could be mounted by regular armies, terror groups, or terror operatives from outside the Palestinian state who would try to attack Israel by passing through or over the Palestinian state. Although the chances of this are low at the moment, in the future, given the above mentioned considerations, they may well increase.
Third, we must prepare for paramilitary threats. These are not direct military threats but could, for example, involve disrupting the electromagnetic domain so as to attack Israel. The relevance of that kind of threat is growing and we must be prepared for it; the electromagnetic domain is vital to our security and daily life. If we cannot keep it under sufficient control, while taking account of the needs of our neighbors, we are likely to have difficulty when using force in time of need.
The fourth kind encompasses threats in the political sphere. These include the ongoing campaign to isolate Israel, portray it as a criminal entity, and perhaps even an eventual Palestinian attempt to subvert the loyalties of the Israeli Arabs, thereby further eroding Israel’s international legitimacy and identity. Thus, ensuring that no military and terrorist capability develops within civilian areas, where Israeli countermeasures would be characterized as attacks on civilians, and ensuring that the Palestinians view an agreement as ending all claims and ending the conflict, are not just statements for a framework. They are vital components of the security arrangements that will maintain the agreement’s stability, and hence must be regarded as security requirements in their own right.
The most fundamental component of the security arrangements is the building of a culture of peace, centering on recognition by the PLO and the Palestinian Authority of Israel’s right to exist in peace as the free and democratic nation-state of the Jewish people.
The last category is that of strategic threats. First and foremost among these is the ongoing effort to erode the recognition of Israel’s right to exist in secure and recognized borders as the free and democratic nation-state of the Jewish people. In the face of this continuing campaign, we must ensure that the stability that can be achieved through effective security arrangements will counteract the stratagems of those seeking to subvert Israel in this way. That is why the most fundamental component of the security arrangements is the building of a culture of peace, centering on recognition by the PLO and the Palestinian Authority of Israel’s right to exist in peace as the free and democratic nation-state of the Jewish people, while making clear that any use of violence and terror against Israel, and particularly against Israeli civilians, is not only against the Palestinian interest but immoral as well.
This is not only to be achieved through requisite changes in the Palestinian security establishment and its treatment of terror, in the Palestinian education system, and in the messages that the political, religious, and cultural elites convey. In addition, monitoring mechanisms must be created to ensure that such changes in Palestinian practice have occurred, in light of the foreseeable opposition of extremist elements.
Because building a culture of peace and making the necessary changes in the security establishment and in how it deals with terror are ongoing processes, it is clear that a bottom-up approach is needed to cultivate a reality of peace. Such an approach must be emphasized in the talks and in the agreements to be reached between the leaderships (i.e., the top-down direction) on the various issues in dispute. Implementing such agreements will take time and can only be done gradually.
The Palestinians may well look askance at any sort of security arrangements because they will regard them as compromising their sovereignty. Hence, in the course of the negotiations, we have to assess the extent to which peace is likely to contribute to security. We do not think peace has nothing to contribute to security. But, given the realities, as long as the Palestinians are unwilling to recognize our right to exist in the Land of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, security must form the basis of any settlement. If that situation should change with time, and we all pray that it will, then we will be able to adjust the security arrangements to the new reality. But as long as peace is not based on recognition of the right of the State of Israel to exist in security as the nation-state of the Jewish people, we have no choice but to insist on the centrality of security requirements.
PA Education Ministry: Fight the Jews and Kill Them
“The fight against the Jews and the victory over them: The Messenger of Allah has already announced the end of the Jews’ oppression of this land and the removal of their corruption and conquest of it.
“…[God’s Messenger said] The Hour of Resurrection will not come until the Muslims fight the Jews. The Muslims will kill them, and when a Jew would hide behind a rock or a tree, the rock or the tree would say: ‘O Muslim, O worshipper of God! There is a Jew behind me; come and kill him,’ except the salt bush(Gharqad), which is the Jews’ tree.”
PA Education Ministry, Islamic Studies, Foundations of Belief textbook, Grade 11, 2011, p. 94 (Source: Israel Ministry of Strategic Affairs)
Rather than promote a culture of peace, an official textbook of the Palestinian Authority (PA) from 2011 inculcates students in Grade 11 to kill Jews. The Arabic text shown above comes from the original text. It is noteworthy that the anti-Semitic motifs that are featured in this text from the PA Ministry of Education also appear in the Hamas Charter.