Demilitarization Is Not Feasible

The conditions Netanyahu has posed for the establishment of a Palestinian state cannot prevent Iran and Hamas from trying to turn the 'demilitarized' West Bank into a missile base.

Gabriel Siboni
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Gabriel Siboni

Speaking at the conclusion of a course for senior officers at the National Defense College last month, the prime minister spoke of the importance of demilitarizing a future Palestinian state and stated that no one was interested in having a repeat there of what happened in the Gaza Strip and southern Lebanon.

He also stressed the need for international recognition of demilitarization. And in general, in the political-security discourse with the international community, terms such as demilitarization, defensible borders, security arrangements, international guarantees and defense umbrellas keep coming up.

However, these terms were applicable to the threats of the past. Today they are no longer relevant and it could be dangerous to rely on them. Egypt is a country with reasonable central authority and Israel could rely on security mechanisms of this kind in a peace agreement with it. The security mechanisms that were formulated in the talks between the Barak government and Syria were likewise characterized by a similar approach.

But the threat against Israel has changed and what is required now is the crystallization of an up-to-date strategic concept according to which Israel can fix its future security mechanisms.

The main threat Israel had to face in the past was the possibility that the Arab countries would occupy the country or parts of it. Since they have despaired of being able to do so, they have turned their efforts to developing rockets and missiles on a wide scale, putting most of Israel's population at risk of attack.

The leader of the struggle against Israel is Iran, which is focusing on two major tracks: a nuclear program; and setting up operative outposts through Hezbollah, Hamas, and it hopes in the future, the population of the West Bank.

They constitute a "sub-conventional" threat to Israel, whose power to destroy in the long run could be the same as the Iranian threat.

It is hard to see which mechanisms could provide security for Israel's citizens if they are exposed to a danger like this. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently promised that, if necessary, her country would provide a nuclear military umbrella for its allies.

How could a nuclear umbrella, or any other defense umbrella, be effective against the threat of rockets being fired from the Gaza Strip or the West Bank once the Israel Defense Forces have withdrawn from there? It is not clear at all how it would be possible to enforce demilitarization on the Palestinian entity that will arise. The Gaza Strip is also a "demilitarized" zone, but weapons are smuggled in there and Hamas is building its force for a confrontation with Israel.

The coming months will be a test period for the Israeli government. The attempt to base an arrangement with the Palestinians on an archaic security discourse will merely intensify the danger rather than lessen it. Israel's demand for international action in the face of the various threats Iran poses is not sufficient. The threat embodied in Hamas will continue to exist even without Iranian support. Today it is impossible to identify any element in the West Bank that could deal with the threat other than the presence the IDF.

Israel is facing international pressure to reach an agreement quickly for the establishment of a Palestinian state. The conditions the prime minister has posed for its establishment cannot prevent Iran and Hamas from trying to turn the "demilitarized" West Bank into a missile base.

American defense will also turn out to be pointless, and past experience in Gaza and Lebanon has proven this. The desire to alleviate international pressure in the short run could cost us dearly. It is difficult to see how it would be possible to achieve a sustainable agreement so long as Iran and Hamas are busy undermining it.

The writer is director of the IDF Force Structure program at the Institute for National Security Studies.

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