by Steve Kramer
Martin van Creveld is a well-known Israeli military historian and author, formerly a professor at Hebrew University. In his recent article, “Israel Doesn’t Need the West Bank To Be Secure,” van Creveld posits that the West Bank isn’t crucial to Israel’s defense. Although I am not a military historian, I believe van Creveld’s thesis doesn’t pass the “smell test.” As a resident of the West Bank community of Alfe Menashe, easily able to see many Palestinian towns from my doorstep, I’d fear for Israel’s security were Judea and Samaria, known by the media as the West Bank, totally given up to the Palestinians.
Van Creveld (hereafter abbreviated to MvC) begins with the situation before the 1967 war, when Israel had no control over the territory beyond the Green Line, the 1949 armistice line. Despite that, Israel overcame its enemies in six days. MvC ignores the fact that before the Six Day War, the Palestinians hardly agitated for a state of their own. The PLO was established in 1964, not 1948. Two of the greatest threats to Israel were founded even later: Hezbollah in 1982, during the Lebanese Civil War, inspired by the Khomeini-led revolution in Iran; Hamas in 1987, during the First Intifada, as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood.
MvC then mentions the peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, which reduce the Arab threat to Israel. This is true as far as it goes, but the overwhelming threat to Israel is from Iran and to a lesser extent Syria, not Egypt or Jordan. Syria is still at war with Israel and is Iran’s major Arab ally, although MvC says that Syria’s threat is not “serious”. Hezbollah and Hamas are Iran’s proxy armies against Israel. All are increasing their offensive armaments at an alarming rate. Despite this, Hezbollah is unmentioned by MvC and Hamas rates only a passing reference.
MvC then describes Israel’s astonishing growth, stating that, “Israel’s GDP is now larger than those of Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Egypt combined. As to military power, suffice it to say that Israel is the world’s fifth-largest exporter of arms.” Checking the Internet, one can see that Egypt’s GDP is nearly as large as Israel’s. Adding the other three countries, Israel’s GDP is significantly lower than their combined total. Nor could I find verification of MvC’s statement regarding weapons sales, although Israel is a significant arms exporter. The top five sellers are all members of the United Nations Security Council: America, Russia, Germany, France, U.K. Whether this is relevant at all is questionable, since China, with its huge power and influence is not among the biggest exporters. Neither is North Korea, the world’s greatest nuclear proliferator-troublemaker. As for the significance of GDP, Afghanistan’s GDP is very low, but that hasn’t prevented it from humbling the likes of the British Empire, Russia, and now America.
MvC then states that, “holding on to the West Bank won’t help Israel defend itself against missiles coming from Syria or Iran.” Perhaps this is true – but it’s beside the point. Israel cannot be defeated by missiles; the existential threat is from ground forces pouring across our borders.The mountainous West Bank is the barrier protecting Israel’s vulnerable coastal plain from armed attack from the east. The Jordan Valley is crucial to Israel’s security and it would be extremely foolish for Israel to rely on perennially weak Jordan to protect its eastern flank. MvC dismisses the threat of a land invasion, despite admitting that, “the West Bank comprises the high ground and overlooks Israel’s coastal plain.” He also ignores the possibility that Arab ground forces could wreak havoc with Israel’s buildup of reserve forces in the event of war by blocking the few critical roads through the West Bank.
MvC: “Therefore, just as Israel does not need the West Bank to defend itself against ballistic missiles, it does not need that territory to defend itself against conventional warfare. If it could retain a security presence in the Jordan Valley, keep the eventual Palestinian state demilitarized and maintain control of the relevant airspace, that would all be well and good. However, none of these conditions existed before 1967; in view of geography and the balance of forces, none is really essential today either.” That’s a lot of “ifs”. Just because we overcame these negatives more than 40 years ago doesn’t guarantee we could do it again under dramatically changed circumstances.
MvC seems to forget that the role of the Israel Defense Forces in the West Bank has been crucial to diminishing terror attacks and preventing the fall of the moderate (relatively speaking) Fatah-led Palestinian Authority. Withdrawing the IDF from the West Bank could quickly lead to a situation which resulted when Gaza was abandoned by the IDF: a Hamas takeover and the escalation of violent attacks into Israel.
According to MvC, Israel’s risk is “negligible” if it gives up the West Bank. He shows his true colors when he states that continuing the IDF presence beyond the Green Line, “… will turn [Israel] into what it is already fast becoming: namely, an apartheid state that can only maintain its control by means of repressive secret police actions.”
In conclusion, MvC says Israel can only save itself by exiting the West Bank and dividing Jerusalem, unilaterally if necessary. He points to the Gaza evacuation as a “very successful” example. Otherwise, MvC advises his children and grandchild to “… seek some other, less purblind [dim-witted] and less stiff-necked, country to live in.”
An enemy force located in commanding positions along the West Bank could pose a threat to the center of gravity of the State of Israel, including Ben Gurion Airport, cripple its economic life, and put at risk large portions of its population. It takes just three minutes for an enemy fighter to cross the 42 miles from the Jordan River – over the West Bank and Israel – to Tel Aviv. If Israel were unable to deploy its air defense systems along West Bank hilltops in order to intercept enemy aircraft from forward positions, the provision of adequate air defense by means of fighter interceptors or anti-aircraft missiles would be doubtful. (See www.defensibleborders.org/apx1.htm)
In my opinion, MvC has allowed his left wing ideology to cloud his military judgement. Most pundits note that overwhelming missile attacks, like the American “Show and Awe” campaign in Iraq, cannot defeat indigenous guerilla forces. Even with its missiles, drones, and jet aircraft, Israel needs all the strategic depth possible to repel a possible invasion on the ground or in the air.
The Palestine Authority won’t even acknowledge that Israel is a Jewish state. As a tiny country in a hostile environment, Israel would be foolish to give up whatever advantageous positions it has to a weak quasi-government which is striving for a Jew-free, Muslim, Arab state of Palestine.