Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Strategic Land in Israel

This article provides an excellent review of Israel's strategic position and needs and clearly informs us of what could be reasonable in terms of legitimate peace settlements.

It may not be too obvious, but Israel's strategic position has improved steadily and this includes recent events with the collapse of dictatorships in Egypt and Syria. It takes a combination of military capacity and internal political consensus to launch a war.

The existential threat of the Muslim Brotherhood is presently engaged in adapting to the new demos imposed by the Arab public. In the process even threats of war must be tamed. Unless the demos succumbs to authoritarianism a la Iran, I suspect there is little to really fear.

If anything, Israel needs a short war in order to complete the work in progress in a quick time only. The work of seizure and consolidation has been ongoing and is not going to stop. Even Arab resistance to the presence of a powerful Israeli state is slowly crumbling through the cumulative effect of old enemies simply dying out. Israel can wait.

The eventual emergence of a healthy growing economy in Jordan would evacuate the West Bank naturally and is actually inevitable since both economies will continue to be stifled until this happens.

The only remaining creditable Islamic threat is Iran. That can change, but that seems from this point to be a declining possibility. The threat will end decisively once the oil industry begins its long and inevitable contraction and as I have posted, this appears close upon us.

I personally think that Iran can be delayed past their tipping point.

Israel: Why Land Matters

Posted by Yedidya Atlas on May 14th, 2012

In the years that followed the 1967 Six Day War a prevailing conventional wisdom developed among Western policy makers – especially in Washington — that simultaneously contends that a “strong and secure Israel” should have, as per UN Resolution 242, “secure and recognized boundaries” or simply “defensible borders,” yet nonetheless calls on Israel to make unilateral territorial concessions (today’s PC term is a return to the pre-’67 lines with “mutually agreed land swaps”) as part of an ultimate peace settlement with its Arab neighbors.

Strangely few perceive the inherent contradiction between the call for a “strong and secure Israel” and the call to give up the very territory that would – at minimum – comprise said strength and security.

This was the case with Egypt, for example. More than 30 years ago, Israel gave up the entire Sinai Peninsula, including its vast strategic depths and bottleneck passes as well as the Abu Rodeis oil fields, which supplied Israel more than half its energy needs and would have made Israel energy independent within a few short years more than 30 years ago. And this is also the case today with the Palestinian Arabs. As long as there are Palestinian Arabs willing to take territory from Israel even without any quid pro quo from their side, Israel is expected to unilaterally give up its most strategically critical territory.

Israel, without the administered territories, is a strategically crippled country. These areas, known historically as Judea and Samaria and labeled “the West Bank” following the Jordanian occupation of said territories in 1949, are the key to Israel’s strategic strength against any attack from the east (Jordan, Syria, Iraq, Iran, et al.). An Israel with control of these territories is a strategic asset to the West in defense against radical Islamic expansionism no less, if not more, than during the Cold War period when Israel was the West’s reliable bulwark against Soviet expansionism in the Middle East.

Up until the late 1980s, following the outbreak of the so-called “Palestinian uprising” or “first intifada,” everyone viewed the security threat to Israel to be solely by conventional Arab armies who, to quote the late Egyptian President Nasser, wished to “drive the Jews into the sea.” In the following two decades, with the vast increase of terrorist attacks and the introduction to the missile age, it appeared that conventional war no longer threatened Israel’s existence per se. And if the threat was primarily terrorism and missiles fired from afar, territory with its high ground and strategic depth no longer seemed as important. From the standpoint of Israel’s national security, however, this is a misconception. Territory is not only still vital for national defense, it is even more so than previously.

There is a basic premise: Israel’s security can be discussed only in terms of national survival. It is necessary to understand the price Israel pays if she unilaterally gives up more of these territories and what she benefits by their retention.

Given the three potential threats of missile attacks, terrorism, and conventional warfare, Israel must retain a safety zone with the aforementioned high ground and strategic depth to deal with any potential future threats — even if political agreements are signed with its Arab neighbors. Israel cannot afford to bet its survival on signed agreements while giving up critical tangible physical strategic assets. Israel needs to maintain the ability to defend itself under any and all possible circumstances. (Given the Muslim/Arab history for not keeping agreements with non-Muslims, this is not mere whimsy.)

The key question Israeli policy makers must ask themselves: If Israel were attacked by a combination of a conventional Arab army, ballistic missiles, and terrorist bands, would a truncated border with its lack of strategic depth be sufficient for the IDF’s small standing army to successfully repel the invaders and do so with minor damage to Israel’s national infrastructure? Or to be blunt: Could Israel survive such an attack in the event of an all-out war?

Let’s review the potential threats. First, the recent upheaval in the Arab countries that surround Israel – both the inside and outside strategic circles – has brought back the high potential of conventional warfare involving armored units, mobile artillery, and fighter/bomber planes. (Witness for example, the recent IDF emergency reserve call-ups to deal with potential incursions from Egypt and Syria.) Second, either separately or as an extension of said conventional warfare, the threat of long-range missiles – with both conventional and non-conventional warheads. And third, the expansion of terrorist attacks, including suicide bombers, shoulder-launched missiles, and ground-to-ground fire (mortars, short-range rockets and medium-range missiles) that use a steep trajectory (meaning it is fired from beyond and over a border defensive line towards internal targets – e.g. from inside Lebanon to hit Haifa).

It must be understood that the determination of what are “strong and secure” or simply “defensible borders” is predicated on what potential long-term strategic threats Israel faces. And even though the last 20 years have seen an expansion of missiles and non-conventional weapons by Israel’s Arab neighbors, they also continued procurement of conventional weapons for their armies.

Some of those who want Israel to give up parts or all of Judea and Samaria attempt to neutralize the still existent threat of conventional Arab invasion forces by proffering “advanced technology” as a strategic solution to lack of territory with its commensurate strategic advantages. They claim that the IDF can employ advanced technological capabilities, including precision-guided weapons systems, to replace any loss of territorial superiority by Israel after conceding control of the aforementioned administered territories.

The fallacy in that argument is the fact that Israel’s enemies will inevitably also equip themselves with similarly advanced technological capabilities. Moreover, topography is directly relevant for the use of precision-guided weapons systems that require ground-based laser indicators. The old infantry saying regarding the importance of holding the high ground in battle – “it is easier to shoot down than to shoot up” – is even more critical in regards to the employment of high-tech weaponry.

The concept of strategic depth is not an advantage to national defense; it is imperative, and as weapons systems improve, it becomes even more so. With the advent of new military technologies the range of effective fire has increased considerably. US Army planners, for example, have doubled the distance of their definition of required minimal defensive depth. In Germany, during the Cold War, NATO planners defined their required defensive depth to be 125 miles (or three times what Israel has even with Judea and Samaria included). In a defensive battle, this distance would allow an area for retreat, permitting a line of containment to be stabilized closer to the border.

Israel’s post-disengagement-from-Gaza experience has established that the terrorists’ weapons of choice for attacking Israel from their own territory are weapons with curved-trajectory fire (mortars, rockets, etc.). Why? Because it is impossible to stop the attacks without Israeli forces striking the territory from where the terrorists’ weapons were fired. So the only limiting factor preventing significant harm to Israeli population centers is sufficient distance – or strategic depth. And if a terrorist has penetrated a security fence, the greater the distance he has to cover before carrying out his intended attack, the greater the chances of stopping him.

Conceding Israeli control of the 34-mile-wide area known as Judea and Samaria to any of Israel’s actual or even potential enemies means a return to the pre-1967 nine-mile waistline across Israel’s coastal strip and a security border of 223 miles to patrol and defend. Retention of said territories means a mere 62 miles of security border to patrol and defend. It also means Israeli control of vital mountain passes, the 4,200-foot high ground overlooking the Jordan Rift Valley, and the minimal strategic depth between the Jordan River and Israel’s highly populated and industrialized coastal plain.

To comprehend why this is so important to Israel’s security, it is necessary to understand the difference between Israel before mass mobilization and afterwards.

When Israel fights a war, it must take into account many factors: weapons technologies, tactical knowledge, motivation and education of the soldiers, etc. However, the prime factor is still numbers. The best equipped and most superiorly trained army cannot win if it is hopelessly outnumbered. This has always been an issue for Israel.

The IDF, as every responsible army, must be prepared for every eventuality. Israel cannot afford to lose a war. According to reports, the latest annual IDF General Staff exercises dealt with various combinations of possible attacks from different fronts including south (Gaza and Egypt), north (Lebanon and Syria) and east (Iran). Other possibilities were also taken into account, but those were the major ones.

In each of these possibilities, strategic depth is a critical factor. In the south, Israel has already given up its strategic buffer areas, and if the IDF were to fail to take the battle into enemy territory (basic IDF doctrine), the fighting would be within easy range of major Israeli population centers.

In the north, the Golan Heights are, as always, critical, and in the northeast and east, Judea and Samaria are not only vital for defense, but would also serve as passage ways for mobilization and logistics. (The Cross-Samarian Highway, for example, was originally planned by the IDF General Staff following the 1967 Six Day War as the major connecting artery to the Jordan Valley from the coastal plain.)

Despite the immense security risks Israel faces, the Jewish State’s small population means it doesn’t have the security of a large standing army despite the immense security risks it faces. For that reason, soldiers who have completed their mandatory service, continue in the reserves – especially in combat units – well into their forties, contributing up to over a month or more of service each year for both training and active-duty assignments. In short: the army reserves constitute the backbone of the IDF’s manpower needs.

IDF doctrine encompasses a number of basic security truths. Among them are that Israel cannot afford to lose a single war, we must have a credible deterrent posture including territorially, and that the outcome of war must be determined quickly and decisively. Proper preparation means Israel’s small standing army must be equipped with an early-warning capability, coupled with an efficient reserve mobilization and deployment system.

Israel, prior to mobilization, is basically a relatively weak country militarily in terms of all out war with more than one front involved – which is a distinct possibility that the IDF planners seriously take into account. Post-mobilization Israel, on the other hand, is an entirely different story.

Israel has the potential to mobilize hundreds of thousands of reserves which more than triples the manpower of the Israeli army. This considerably alters the ratio against the enemy. While exact figures are classified, suffice to say the combined Arab armies outnumber Israel’s standing army by a ratio of approximately 15 to 1. Whereas after a full scale call-up of Israel’s reserves, the ratio is reduced to less than 4 to 1.

While these are still great odds against the Jewish State, it is necessary to add into the mix the Israeli army’s strength: superior weapons systems, intelligence and logistics, better training, higher education and motivation (being in a “no alternative” situation where losing means national annihilation is a major factor in superior motivation). The result is an army with a better than even chance of winning a war.

As noted, current Israeli defense doctrine must take into account the vulnerability of its national infrastructure to enemy missile attack. This means reserves deployment locations must be sufficiently dispersed and distant from one another and from the border itself, to increase the chances of completing the mobilization and deploying the reserve forces to the war zone, even in the event of a missile attack. If the reserve mobilization were delayed by a barrage of ballistic missiles, then initial terrain conditions for Israel’s small, numerically inferior, standing army units would become all the more critical.

Judea and Samaria’s mountain ridge is also crucial to Israel’s air defenses. Israel deploys its air defense facilities along the mountain ridge to enable the interception of enemy aircraft from forward positions instead of from the heavily populated coastal plain. Short-range radar and early-warning systems situated in the coastal plain would have their line-of-sight blocked by the Judea and Samaria mountain ridge. Without control of this high ground Israel would have no warning time to intercept attacking aircraft. It takes only three minutes for an enemy fighter bomber to cross the Jordan River and fly the 42 miles to Tel Aviv. If Israel’s strategic depth were 34 miles less (i.e.: without Judea and Samaria), enemy planes could leave Arab air space and reach Tel Aviv in under one minute or less than minimum Israeli “scramble time,” not to mention ground defenses’ reaction time.

But to win the war with the aforementioned better than even chance, another agonizing problem must be solved. As noted, Israel requires 48 hours to fully mobilize. It is economically unfeasible for the IDF to be in a state of constant mobilization. The productivity of the country would grind to a standstill. No nation could survive such conditions indefinitely. In fact, it was due to this factor that the Soviet Union was able to orchestrate the 1967 Six Day War.

The Soviets informed the Egyptians that Israel was mobilizing on its northern borders opposite Syria. Although untrue, it caused the Egyptians to pull their troops out of Yemen and mass them on the Israeli lines. This in turn forced Israel to truly mobilize – this time opposite Egypt. Realizing the consequences of long-term mobilization, Israel sent word to Egypt proposing a mutual de-escalation of troops. Nasser’s response was to close the Straits of Tiran, which was an act of war. Israel, faced with the task of waiting for Egypt to attack, while forced to maintain an unending full-scale mobilization with the consequences of impending national economic disaster, had no choice but to act. Hence, Israel’s preemptive attack on the morning of June 5, 1967.

While conventional warfare, Israel’s main threat up until the late 1980s, subsequently became less probable, the threat of terrorist attacks together with missiles, from short-range rockets to large ballistic missiles, appear to have become the primary threats Israel faces. However, the political upheaval in the Arab world in the last few years cannot rule out – especially with the rise in prominence of radical Islamic elements in Syria, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt, among others – the potential return of regular Arab armies facing Israel in the near future.

Even in the missile age, wars are still ultimately decided by the movement of armies and not just by air strikes. As long as conventional ground forces remain the decisive element in determining the outcome of wars, then such issues as territory and strategic depth are crucial. Despite the proliferation of missiles and the use of terrorism as a strategic weapon, most of Israel’s Arab neighbors still stress the role of heavy armor in their order of battle, thus conventional warfare remains a significant potential threat.

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