The surprise of the Yom Kippur War stemmed from our leadership’s political blindness; from their smugness and failure to recognize developments taking place right in front of them. That blindness is now threatening Israel once again
Maj. Gen. (res.) Amnon Reshef | Yedioth Ahronoth | 03.16.2015
The upcoming elections are crucial for Israel’s security. We have faced an existential danger twice since the State of Israel was established. The first was during the War of Independence, the second in the first days of the Yom Kippur War, when Israel paid a heavy price – 2,569 dead and 7,251 injured.
As the commander of a tank brigade on the front lines of the Suez Canal that bore the brunt of the Egyptian offensive on the first day of the war until reinforcements arrived, as the commander who led the battle that allowed us to cross the canal to the Egyptian side and lost 302 troops in the effort, I know what the real meaning of war is.
I also know how dangerous is the illusion that temporary security calm shall last forever. Unless Israel launches a serious initiative in pursuit of a regional arrangement, the current calm will not last and will give way to ever more painful wars.
Today Israel faces an existential challenge of a different kind. The elections tomorrow will decide whether Israel takes the path of arrangements, achieves recognized permanent borders, forge a supportive international coalition, and enable the moderate states in the region to cooperate with us – or whether it will continue to hobble along on its current path of conflict and war, regional and international isolation, and the loss of our ability to part with the Palestinians, a path which spells national disaster.
A leadership that continues the settlement enterprise in the West Bank, perpetuates armed conflicts, quarrels with the international community – primarily the US – will turn Israel into a pariah state condemned by a growing international consensus, boycotted by academic institutions, and subjected to international sanctions – economic and otherwise. A country that controls another people – 2.7 million Palestinians in the West Bank, and indirectly 1.8 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip – will lose its moral strength and values.
There are already signs of erosion in the IDF’s fortitude because of the daily friction with the Palestinian population in the West Bank. Moreover, continued construction in the settlements beyond the separation barrier will produce an irreversible situation whereby Israelis enjoying independence, and Palestinians subjected to occupation can not be separated.
This anomaly shall prove unsustainable. Severe international pressure shall force Israel to grant equal rights to the Palestinians. With that Israel shall be set on an inevitable course towards becoming a bi-national state thus lose its Jewish identity.
The prime minister’s multitude failings in his many years in power have caused significant security damage to Israel. Netanyahu has failed in the two main security tasks that he had set for himself: stopping Iran’s efforts to acquire nuclear weapons and toppling the Hamas regime in Gaza. Moreover, his conduct has damaged the very same international forces that have been working against Iran’s efforts to become nuclear, also wearing down their support for our position against Hamas.
Over the past two years he has jeopardized the foundation of Israel’s strategic alliance with the United States, and over the past few days he has also attacked the Europeans, making baseless accusations as if they actively enlisted to help topple him from power.
An equally important security failure lies in his inability to recognize that regional upheaval created security and political opportunities as most of our adversaries have been weakened, whereas a convergence of interests was created between Israel and our peace partners – Jordan and Egypt – as well as with moderate countries in the Persian Gulf and North Africa.
These developments have created for Israel a rare opportunity for a different route, the route of dialogue, of calming tensions and of political-security arrangements.
Israel and the Palestinians have been holding fruitless negotiations for more than 20 years. It’s time for an alternate approach, the route of a regional initiative. The Arab League launched the Arab Peace Initiative in 2002.
That initiative has been embraced by more than 50 Arab and Islamic countries. The initiative suggests an end to decades of Arab intransigence; it included a commitment to normalize relations with Israel in the framework of a comprehensive agreement; it stipulated that the resolution of the refugee problem can be reached only with Israel’s consent, hence provided us with a veto power over unacceptable terms, and more.
The original text contained elements which we could not agree to. Indeed, since then, the Arab states have demonstrated flexiblity: the original demand for a return to the 1967 lines was qualified with the integration of possible land swaps; there is international acceptance of an Israeli annexation of three settlement blocs; in public and otherwise senior Arab officials have made it clear that the initiative is in no way a dictate, and have invited Israel to sir its reservations – including the fact that the fate of the Golan Heights is currently not on the agenda; an Israeli demand that normalizing relations be made in tandem with progress in the negotiations with the Palestinians, and more.
It is clear to all that Israeli security requirements shall affect arrangements along the Jordan River. It is clear to us that the Israeli defense forces can ensure state security from whatever border is agreed upon by our government in negotiations.
A historic opportunity has been created by the fact that Israel and the moderate, pragmatic Arab states face common enemies: Iran and the Islamic extremist terrorist organizations. Those enemies pose a greater danger to these Arab countries than they do to Israel.
This regional convergence of interests can serve in integrating the Palestinian issue into a comprehensive regional political-security initiative. Thus, the basis already exists for an Israeli-Jordanian-Palestinian security program providing a solution for the West Bank area. Likewise, the makings of an Israeli-Egyptian-Palestinian arrangement, securing the border with the Gaza Strip are already visible.
It shall be important to integrate both into a broader envelope of a regional security program involving moderate Arab states and Israel. In the context of that regional arrangement, the parties will share intelligence and eventually plan and execute coordinated military efforts against common enemies. Thus, progress with negotiating with the Palestinians facilitates regional cooperation which in turn enhances prospects of success in those negotiations. Such a strategy accentuates the contribution of political arrangements to national security.
This issue cannot be discussed without mentioning the economic parameter. Progress in a combined initiative – vis-à-vis the countries in the region and with the Palestinians – will open up for Israel new markets of nearly 1.5 billion people.
These are potential markets for Israeli technology and goods, as well as for economic ventures, all holding the promise of changing the face of the Middle East. Recently published studies found that in the first ten years of the suggested new regional arrangement, Israel’s state budget will increase by an average of NIS 37 billion annually. As of the tenth year, it will be NIS 67 billion every year. The per capita GDP will surge to USD 50,000, which will substantially change the face of Israeli society.
The surprise of the Yom Kippur War stemmed from our leadership’s political blindness; from their smugness and failure to recognize developments taking place right in front of them.
That blindness is now threatening Israel once again. The future of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state is at stake. Continuing down the path that the current political leadership has chosen will result in the end of the Zionist dream. It will bring about the creation of a bi-national state between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River.
Having survived the hell of war, having lost many of friends on the battlefield, I am deeply worried, and I am warning against a leadership that fails to initiate a political-security arrangement. That leadership will crush Israel’s Jewish and democratic identity and will lead our sons down a path from one wave of violence to the next.
Election Day provided every citizen in Israel the right and duty to choose a worthy leadership.
Maj. Gen. (res.) Amnon Reshef is is a former Commanding General of the IDF Armor Corps and is the founder and chairman of the Commanders for Israel’s Security Movement.