Previously we looked at two important arguments grounding Israel’s hold on the West Bank: the idea that the so-called “demographic threat” to Israel has been overestimated ,and the rise of Political Judaism. But one regularly hears a third major argument militating against Israel relinquishing the West Bank: the catastrophic military risks this is alleged to pose to the security of Israel’s heartland.
In this light, one periodically encounters pictures like these (source Martin Sherman):
You get the idea: the West Bank is really close to Israel’s heartland, so just imagine a Hamas or Hezbollah in control of these territories. In many respects this is a very serious argument. The West Bank really is very close to Israel’s heartland; it also constitutes a plateau elevated over Israel’s coastal plane, thereby providing an ideal strategic position for operations directed against Israel’s population centers. In addition, past withdrawals have not brought Israel desirable results: the rise of Hezbollah in South Lebanon, and the rise of Hamas in Gaza. Were Israel to withdraw from the West Bank, it should not really be expected that Fatah will remain in control indefinitely, nor that Hamas will not be deploying rocket squads on the hills from which these pictures are taken. (Some suggest a UN force to remedy this problem, but one only has to look at UNIFIL in Lebanon to get a sense of how capable such forces are at preventing popular militias from arming themselves.)
Still, ex-Mossad chief Meir Dagan recently made an interesting comment qualifying this concern: “If the political need will be as such that the Jordan Valley will not be in Israeli hands, I think the IDF will have a unique ability to protect Israel on [the ’67] borders.” (Dagan is here referring to the Israeli demand to retain a military presence in the Jordan Valley, located on the border between the West Bank and Jordan, in order to occupy the strategic high ground and be able to monitor any traffic across the border.)
Dagan’s comments express a deep thought. The very point of Israel having strong military capabilities is precisely that it should render the Israeli government capable of reaching desirable political outcomes. But Israel’s retaining the West Bank, in particular if this engenders a prolonged situation of rightlessness for Palestinians, is one of the least desirable outcomes for Israel’s interests, isolating it internationally and dividing it domestically. As such, the military argument against the two state solution — while serious — is a case of the tail wagging the dog. The IDF’s ingenuity and acumen would be nowhere better applied than precisely in securing for Israel the opportunities for stability and legitimacy that accompany the founding of a Palestinian state.
[In the same speech, Dagan also notes Israel’s current opportunities for forging new alliances in the Middle East. Due both to its own economic and military strengths and the ongoing Sunni-Shia conflict, Israel is currently more than ever enjoying the de facto recognition and sympathy of major Arab powers. In this regard, the unsolved question of the Palestinians is the one real obstacle to Israel finally becoming the key regional player it deserves to be on merit, thereby securing a permanent place in the Middle East like never before imaginable. In this way too, then, Israel’s military would seem well-applied in securing for Israel this vital strategic political interest.]