Shabtai Shavit
Former Director of the Mossad
Member of Commanders for Israel’s Security’s Steering Committee 

Liberal | 01.07.2019

The annual conference of the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) in February 2018 summarized the situation of Israel on its 70th anniversary with as follows: “Israel’s strategic situation is one of the most favorable the country has known in its 70 years.” But – and there is always a but – Israel’s margins of security are narrow. In an environment laden with risks of unexpected escalation, Israel needs to take advantage of its improved strategic situation to widen these narrow margins because, as everyone knows, there are no second chances in the Middle East.

Since the conference, unexpected escalation has indeed occurred. Gaza is a boiling cauldron, tension on the Lebanese border has risen, a new wave of terrorism is emerging in the West Bank, the “honeymoon” with Russia has ended, our freedom of action in Syria has been restricted, and Iran has inaugurated a new direct supply route from Tehran to Lebanon.

The strategic balance still holds, but in this war between wars, our containment policy is having a substantial negative impact on our deterrence.

There are two ways of expanding our security margins:

One is to arm ourselves to the teeth and build an “iron wall” – or a bunker or ghetto, if you will – followed, sooner or later, by escalation into another armed conflict. Unfortunately, this is happening right before our eyes.

The second is to initiate a diplomatic move with the Palestinian Authority (PA), starting with a renewed dialogue, because when there is talk, guns are more likely to remain silent. Our hotheads will probably say that this idea is delusory; when people are in a messianic mood, talking with the enemy spoils the party.

The Middle Eastern chaos is fertile ground for creating a different Middle East that will include a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The Middle Eastern borders, which were drawn by France and Britain in 1916, have survived for a century. The Arab Spring revolutions accelerated the disintegration of the old order in a revolt against totalitarian regimes and in favor of democracy.  These revolutions have failed to bring democracy, but have toppled regimes and challenged old borders in Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Yemen, leading to the formation of ISIS and its ambition of a caliphate extending across the region.

The relative stability in some countries and the defeat of ISIS mark a new chapter in shaping borders in the Middle East. In my opinion, redesigning the borders in the Middle East will take years. It provides an opportunity that can and should be taken to solve the conflict with the Palestinians in harmony with the region’s future architecture.

Clausewitz said that war is the continuation of policy by other means.  The converse is equally true – policy is the continuation of war by other means. Israel’s current strategy, however, is one-dimensional: it consists of force and more force. Concepts such as diplomacy, negotiations, coexistence, and peace have been dispensed with. All that remains is a war that has continued for over 150 years, with the exception of the peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan and the Oslo Accords.

I believe that after 70 years, the War of Independence should be ended and a peace agreement signed. Using force will not end the conflict. Achieving peace – however complicated — requires the creation of conditions for renewing negotiations and bringing them to a successful conclusion while using our military power for deterrence. Negotiations necessarily require compromise, and the only compromise that has a chance is embodied in the two-state solution.

Attaining the security benefits of progress with the Palestinians and regional integration requires abandoning the madness of annexation, which will exclude any possibility of separation between the two peoples and lead to a prolonged bloody struggle within the borders of one state. A small minority of extremists is dragging an entire country towards a precipice. They must be stopped to avoid the annihilation of the Zionist vision.