The empirical case for defensible borders (JPost)

September 5, 2011

The empirical case for defensible borders
09/05/2011 20:49

Israel will have to maintain a perimeter presence along the borders of a future Palestinian state.

Against the backdrop of a possible Palestinian bid for independence at the United Nations this September and thus far unsuccessful deliberations within the Quartet regarding terms of reference for restarting peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, the issue of defensible borders merits renewed attention.

Former foreign minister Yigal Allon was one of the clearest and most authoritative exponents of the case for Israel’s need for defensible borders. In an October 1976 article in Foreign Affairs, Allon noted that whereas Israel’s rivals seek to “isolate, strangle and erase Israel from the world’s map,” Israel’s strategic aims have been focused on its “imperative to survive.”

Thus, even if peace agreements are reached, border and security arrangements must ensure Israel’s ability to defend itself in the event that such agreements are breached. As the recent upheavals in the Middle East have clearly demonstrated, this guiding principle has not lost its salience.

Allon contended with a number of claims raised to counter Israel’s argument for defensible borders. Then, as now, technological advances such as missile technology were pointed to as obviating the need for strategic depth and topographical assets. Then, as now, international guarantees were pointed to as constituting a satisfactory substitute for physical control of defensible ground.

Then, as now, such arguments did not coincide with anecdotal experience, drawn, as noted by Allon, from historical cases such as the German air ‘blitz’ against Great Britain, or the American air-strikes against North Vietnam, which demonstrated the limitations of air-launched attacks and continuing importance of having “boots on the ground.”

Then, as now, such arguments failed to account for the resounding failure of international guarantees to ensure Israel’s security, as evidenced, for example, in UNEF’s withdrawal from Sinai in May 1967.

Yet even beyond cases such as these, today we have the benefit of quantitative research which has shed a great deal of light on numerous international relations phenomena.

Two research findings are of particular relevance in this regard: the strong correlation between extant territorial claims and violent international conflict and the positive association between conflict durability and insurgents’ access to an international boundary.

The first indicates Israel has considerable grounds to expect security threats to persist, even subsequent to an agreement, as long as substantial Palestinian territorial claims to pre-1967 Israel persist. Thus, the fundamental source of potential conflict – the willingness – will in all likelihood continue.

The second underscores the fact that access to an international border would provide Palestinian militants with the opportunity to continue – and expand – violent activities against Israel. As many scholars and observers of international relations have long understood, a conjunction of willingness and opportunity is an almost certain formula for violent international conflict.

Thus, forcing Israel into indefensible borders, such as those of June 4, 1967, is unlikely to lead to a stable regional order.

On the contrary, insofar as comparative, empirical research can serve as a guide, relinquishing an Israeli presence along some of the borders of a Palestinian state will severely diminish the chances of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and will probably exacerbate it. A cursory glance at developments in Gaza since Israel relinquished control of the Gaza-Sinai border in 2005 provides a rather stark confirmation of this basic observation.

Territorial claims and conflict Over the past several decades, a very large, empirical literature has emerged which demonstrates the key role of territorial claims as a source of international conflict. Numerous studies, employing different research designs, varied spatial and temporal domains and independently conceived theoretical frameworks, have produced robust findings pointing in essentially the same direction, permitting a very decisive conclusion: territorial revisionism leads to violent international conflict.

The particular value of this body of research is that the above conclusion has retained its validity, notwithstanding the numerous controls that have been imposed in different studies over the years.

Irrespective of whether or not rivals sign treaties or commence their relations violently or peacefully, notwithstanding the variance in rivals’ cultural and historical background, or configuration of relative power, regardless of the rivals’ institutional structure (democratic or not) and level of economic development and taking into account the numerous other caveats that have been explored in the literature, the basic finding remains intact.

While different factors have been shown to exert a mitigating effect on conflict, none appears capable of entirely vitiating the basic association between territorial revisionism and war.

While it may appear trivial in some sense, the finding actually bears non-trivial policy implications. What it says, in effect, is that in instances where territorial claims cannot realistically be resolved, either through a negotiated or non-negotiated redistribution of land, violent conflict is likely to persist. This remains true, in particular, whether or not a formal treaty is signed between rivals. Indeed, empirical work on treaties has largely shown that while they are not mere “scraps of paper,” in the words of one of the prominent scholars in this field, they don’t generally appear to be capable of resolving disputed issues. At best, they may be able to manage them, primarily by affecting the incentives and degree of uncertainty facing potential rivals.

The ramifications in the Israeli- Palestinian context should be clear, with regard to what can be realistically expected from a political settlement, at least at the present time. There can be no doubt that political forces such as Hamas and numerous fundamentalist affiliates would continue to harbor territorial claims regarding the pre-1967 territory of Israel, even were a peace treaty to be signed between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

The problem is further underscored by the positions of the Palestinian Authority.

Its refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, its objections to formulas such as “two states for two peoples” and its continuing commitment to the idea of having descendants of Palestinian refugees settle in Israel with the explicit goal of gaining demographic, and eventually political, control within it, reflect an ongoing nurturing of ultimately territorial demands for pre-1967 Israel. The extent to which Palestinian schools and popular culture venerate the idea of a “right of return,” and the consistency with which Palestinian leaders affirm support of it, reflect a firm commitment within a broad Palestinian constituency to these ethnically-based territorial claims.

Might the Palestinian Authority disclaim these positions in the context of future negotiations? Perhaps, though it has revealed no indication of willingness to do so in eighteen years of talks. Recent revelations of internal, classified documents pertaining to Palestinian negotiating positions during the past decade, including on the question of refugees, have been extremely edifying in this regard, illustrating the very tangible, concrete nature of the Palestinian Authority’s ambitions with regard to the refugee question.

Commissioning classified demographic studies that explored alternative scenarios for the influx of hundreds of thousands and potentially millions of Palestinians into Israel over a number of years, while contemplating the open-ended negotiation of additional migrations, presumably into perpetuity, these documents reveal a calculated, remarkably matter-of-fact vision for using the refugee issue as a means of acquiring demographic (and ultimately political) control of Israel.

Yet, even if the Palestinian leadership were to renounce their call for “return,” would such a renunciation resonate with popular sentiments among Palestinians, sentiments that have been meticulously cultivated over decades? It seems unlikely.

Would it reflect the views of millions of Palestinians kept in “refugee” status in neighboring states since 1948? It seems rather whimsical to suppose that it might.

A sober analysis cannot but lead to the conclusion that very significant followings within Palestinian public opinion will continue to harbor territorial claims with respect to pre-1967 Israel, even subsequent to a possible Israeli-Palestinian agreement.

The empirical literature on territorial claims – particularly those with an ethnic component – presents us, in turn, with the unfortunate conclusion that such claims can be expected to continue fueling violent conflict.

Such conclusions are sometimes erroneously taken to imply a sense of determinism or inevitability as to the likely trajectory of the conflict. This is not, however, the case. Territorial claims to pre- 1967 Israel and tolerance for violence can be expected to persist in Palestinian society at least partly because they have been, and continue to be, deliberately cultivated by Palestinian elites, as has been extensively documented by organizations that monitor Palestinian society and media.

Just as such motifs have been promoted over the years, so too can others, including those which may ultimately assist in fostering a culture of tolerance, territorial compromise and rejection of violence.

The continuing salience of borders as a component of security As argued above, there is little reason to doubt that significant Palestinian territorial revisionism will persist, with its attendant potential for violence, whatever political arrangement emerges between Israel and the Palestinian leadership. A question may nevertheless be posed as to whether the location and topographical features of Israel’s borders will play a significant role in determining its security in such a context.

Here too, as in the case of territorial claims, the theoretical and empirical literature is able to shed some light. It has long been argued by globalization theorists that geographical boundaries have been losing significance in the international arena. This trend is typically noted to be related to processes of transnational economic integration, alongside tremendous advances in communication and transportation technologies.

The value of territory as a military asset has also been argued to be diminishing, inter alia, due to advances in missile and intelligence-gathering technologies. The significant decline in large-scale inter-state war in recent decades appears to corroborate this view.

Yet, as noted by some scholars, borders do not generally seem to be losing in importance so much as changing their role.

As Peter Andreas phrased it in his 2003 article in International Security: “In many cases, more intensive border law enforcement is accompanying the demilitarization and economic liberalization of borders.”

The struggle against ‘clandestine transnational actors’ (CTAs), whether they come in the guise of organized crime or terrorist organizations, is becoming a growing concern for states concerned with safeguarding their borders against the infiltration of narcotics, weapons or illegal migrants. The post-9/11 focus on homeland security is symptomatic of this general trend.

It is, therefore, not surprising that in recent empirical work on the subject of geography and rebel capability, covering civil conflict duration across the globe for much of the post-WWII period, it has been shown that “conflicts where rebels have access to an international border are twice as durable as other conflicts” (Halvard Buhaug, Scott Gates and Päivi Lujala [August 2009] “Geography, Rebel Capability, and the Duration of Civil Conflict.” Journal of Conflict Resolution 53(4): 544-569).

The reasons are clear: such access serves as a life-line for the supply of weapons, funds, personnel, training, and, if need be, a safe haven, all of which can significantly enhance the relative capabilities of the insurgents and thus underpin protracted conflict.

COUPLED WITH the inherent instability of the Middle East, vividly underscored in recent months, a realistic appraisal of Israel’s geopolitical situation behooves caution. In such circumstances, the importance of maintaining defensible borders is all the more plain, notwithstanding the general global trend towards a reduction in large-scale interstate war. Once again, empirical research is instructive in this regard: where territorial revisionism persists, so too does war.

Some have argued that international guarantees and UN peacekeeping troops can serve as a substitute for direct border control by a concerned state. While findings have been reported revealing such measures to be capable of mitigating conflict, it has yet to be shown that they can decisively end it, where significant territorial claims persist.

Tellingly, “identity” conflicts – those involving religious and ethnic aspects – prove significantly less susceptible to the irenic effects which treaties and international involvement may otherwise display. Also, multi-national troop deployments prove especially ineffective against groups determined to funnel illicit goods across a poorly secured boundary.

This general observation gains very clear, specific expression in the Israeli-Arab arena.

Hezbollah, with unhindered access to the Lebanese-Syrian border, has for years enjoyed a massive influx of missiles and other weaponry, supplied by Iran and Syria.

Notwithstanding the efforts of an enhanced UNIFIL since 2006, Hezbollah has succeeded in increasing its arsenal to over 40,000 rockets, distributed throughout some 270 south Lebanese villages. The threat thereby posed to Israel, demonstrated as recently as 2006, when over 4,000 rockets were fired on densely populated areas in Israel, can scarcely be questioned.

Hamas has similarly benefited from the fact that Israel no longer controls the border between Gaza and the Sinai Peninsula, transferring many thousands of rockets, mortars and other weaponry through tunnels burrowed under the border.

Whereas the IDF presence on the Philadelphi Route in the 1967-2005 period could not prevent all weapons-smuggling efforts, the sheer magnitude of the weapons-smuggling operations since 2005, in terms of both quantity and quality of the armaments, belies any notion that control of the boundary has no military significance. The more than 9000 rockets and mortars that have struck Israeli territory since 2000 similarly illustrate the very tangible security threat thereby presented.

Moreover, the pattern of rocket and mortar fire serves to illustrate the key role of border control. As documented in a March 2011 study by the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Center, in the five years subsequent to the Israeli withdrawal, the number of rockets and mortars that struck Israel increased by more than 150% to 6,535 compared with the 2,535 in the five year period prior to the withdrawal.

Tellingly, whereas rockets, which are relatively sophisticated and effective, made up only 26% of fired projectiles in the earlier period, they accounted for 73% in the later period, reflecting the enhanced smuggling capacity of Hamas following the Israeli withdrawal.

THUS, TO prevent the emergence of a heavily armed, hostile Palestinian state dominating Israel’s 15 kilometer wide heartland – precisely as has transpired pursuant to Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza and relinquishing of control over Gaza’s southern boundary – Israel will have to maintain a perimeter presence along the borders of a Palestinian state. This implies a continuing Israeli presence on the eastern boundary, that is, along the Jordan Valley.

The viability of a Palestinian state Contrary to certain claims, maintaining an Israeli presence along the Jordan Valley is entirely compatible with the establishment of a contiguous, viable Palestinian state in Judea and Samaria.

According to Palestinian statistics, based on a 2007 census, approximately 10,000 Palestinians reside in those parts of the Jordan Valley that were not already passed over to Palestinian civilian control under the Oslo Accords. This amounts to less than a half of a percent of the Palestinian population of Judea and Samaria, as documented by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics. Moreover, the area lies exclusively to the east of the main Palestinian population centers, such that its omission would not interfere with the contiguity of a Palestinian state. Thus, excluding the Jordan Valley from the territory of a Palestinian state would have negligible demographic implications. By contrast, as argued above, the security implications would be weighty indeed, and probably critical with respect to the durability of a two-state arrangement.

The stated Palestinian position is clearly incompatible with such a territorial division. Palestinian claims to the Jordan Valley form part of their claims to Judea and Samaria in its entirety, claims which compete with those of Israel to the same territory. Reflecting an appreciation for these conflicting claims, the terms of reference of the peace process, as expressed in the Oslo Accords as well as relevant United Nations resolutions, from Security Council Resolution 242 (1967) through to Security Council Resolution 1850 (2008), have consistently required that the borders, along with other disputed issues, be agreed upon between the parties. A priori rejection of the possibility that Israel will retain a presence in the Jordan Valley in a final status settlement is flatly inconsistent with the principle of mutual agreement and negotiations, which has underpinned every peace breakthrough thus far achieved between Israel and its neighbors.

Thus, Palestinian opposition to a territorial division that would leave an Israeli presence in the Jordan Valley should not be confused with a claim as to its inherent infeasibility. Not only is such a division consistent with the implementation of a two-state solution, there are strong grounds, based on an analysis of the security reality which can be expected to emerge, suggesting the necessity of such a solution.

THIS ANALYSIS does not imply that a stable, two-state solution to the Israeli- Palestinian conflict cannot be achieved. It simply underscores what such a solution would have to look like if it were to be genuinely stable. Contrary to views which regard the 1967 boundary as a sine-quanon for such a solution, empirical research suggests that a relinquishment by Israel of perimeter control of Judea and Samaria would be highly destabilizing.

Such findings belie the idea that the mere presence of a signed agreement, or peacekeeping deployment, would obviate the need for Israel to retain tangible strategic assets as a component of its national security. Whereas this is a conclusion many observers of the conflict have intuitively understood for some time, today we have the benefit of quantitative empirical findings which serve to corroborate it.

The writer serves as policy adviser to the minister of foreign affairs and lectures on game theory and territorial conflict at the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center.

The stupidity of Roger Cohen

July 15, 2011

What an idiot. Roger Cohen writes a piece completely divorced from reality – again.

1.”Fayyad’s state building in the West Bank — schools and roads and institutions and security forces — led the World Bank to declare last year that the Palestinian Authority was ready for a state “at any point in the near future.””

Yet, Cohen does not mention the continued existence of the terrorist groups in the PA controlled areas, the continued genocidal incitement against Jews and Israelis in particular.
Incitement was supposed to be stopped under the Oslo Accords, yet the PalArabs never ceased to indoctrinate their children in school, mosque or media to hate Jews and to preach the goal of destroying Israel.

2. “Israel snubbed a viable partner — criminal waste.”

This ignores the repeated attempts of Olmert and Livni to negotiate on an even more radical platform than Barak in 1999-2000. This was rejected by Abbas et al. Cohen does not propose to address this conceptual problem of how does one negotiate with a party that does not wish to negotiate except upon maximalist terms. As usual for the New York Times, Netanyahu is treated with a combination of contempt and rhetorical sleight of hand in an attempt to blame the Israeli government for PalArab rejectionism. The ten-month freeze in settlement building outside of Jerusalem is ignored but what is worse in Cohen’s dishonest approach is that he again reduces the PalArabs to the status of objects, ignoring the very real problem for Israeli politicians of PalArab behaviour during those ten months.
In the ten months in which Netanyahu persuaded reluctant political partners in a coalition government to suspend building outside of Jerusalem, the PalArab leadership, which Cohen calls “a viable partner” did not approach or suggest negotiations. Instead when the period was almost up, they asked for it to be extended! Netanyahu took a big gamble and the PalArabs behaved exactly as Israeli conservatives expected.
This behaviour must lead us to one of two possible conclusions: either the PalArab leadership in the PA does not want to make peace (as reflected in their own literature, political programmes and propoganda) or they cannot because they fear the reaction of a radicalised, terrorised PalArab population if the sacred goals of “Palestine from the River to the Sea” were abandoned.

3. “But Fayyad never got recognition from Israel for his achievements: Terrorist violence is down 96 percent in the West Bank in the past five years.”

Fayyad has nothing to do with the reduction of terrorist violence emanating from Judea and Samaria. The continuous presence of the IDF beyond the Green Line has been almost solely responsible for the near cessation of terrorist violence but the threat remains and reappears from time to time. The attacks upon Jewish car drivers in Jerusalem, the murder of the Fogel family and many unreported (in the Western media) attacks on Jews on either side of the Green Line are terrorist attacks, are motivated by PalArab propaganda and militant sentiment and are applauded in PalArab society and state.
How can Cohen unilaterally attribute reduction in terrorist violence without taking into account the IDF? Why has he nothing to say about the murderous propaganda emanating from mosque, school and media?

4. “The Israeli insistence on up-front recognition from the Palestinians of Israel as a “Jewish state” is absurd — a powerful indication of growing Israeli insecurities, isolation and intolerance.”

This has been the official view of the Israeli state since the founding of Israel but the reason for this insistence is to press the PalArabs to abandon the “one state solution” or to accept that Israel is a Jewish and sovereign state in the same way as a Palestinian state would be a Muslim one. It about ending the Nakba and accepting that Israel is a fact and not an obstacle to Arab honour.
Cohen does not ask why PalArab rejection of this demand is so consistent, nor does he delve into the reasons for this reluctance. If he were do so, he would have to revise his vision of a pragmatic Palestinian people and see a terrorised and radicalised people who’ve been ruled by authoritarian Arab regimes until 1967 (at least in Gaza and Judea & Samaria) and by an authoritarian, corrupt terrorist regime since 1994.
Cohen does not because his mind and eyes are closed. He treats Arab politics merely as a reaction to what he perceives as the excesses and insecurities of Israeli politics.

5. “States get recognized, not their nature, and the Palestine Liberation Organization has recognized Israel’s right to “exist in peace and security.””

Fatah has never recognised Israel. Fatah is the ruling party of the PLO and the ruling party of the PA. Cohen would do better to actually research these things before simply repeating them as common-place truths. This is not solely Cohen’s fault but is one that is shared between writers such as Friedman, Freedland and even Nick Cohen and David Aaronovitch. They all persist in trying press moderate credentials on mainstream PalArab factions and individuals and persistently run into the problem that those factions and individuals hold radical, genocidal views which embrace political violence and antisemititism.

6. “So pushing it to the front of the agenda is just Netanyahu’s way of putting delaying tactics ahead of strategic thinking once again.  The waste is staggering and the looming train wreck appalling.”

Here Cohen is using the Livni tactic of ascribing catastrophic significance to the September vote in the UN. This event may not pass but the attempt to describe this as catastrophic is to place undeserved importance in this diplomatic stunt. Caroline Glick and others have pointed out that the UN General Assembly has declared Palestinian statehood on previous occasions but nothing came of this because the move is empty of the stuff of political power.
Cohen attempts to portray Netanyahu and by extension most Israelis as stupid and inviting their own destruction because they will not countenance a course of action which will not be accepted by the PalArabs and which if acted upon unilaterally will not end the war against the Jews but merely enable its continuance.

Israel and Imperatus

December 24, 2008

The time is fast approaching when Israel will have to bite the bullet and risk attacking Iran. Reports via Debkafile, here and here.
These indicate the dangers approaching – that Russia is preparing to arm Iran with highly advanced surface to air missiles, that Iran’s nuclear research will, according to the Israelis, be at an operational stage by 2009 (probably the summer, in the authors opinion) and with the end of the Bush presidency, the Obama administration may be obstructionist or simply hostile to Israeli interests.
Combine this with the dire need to invade and reoccupy the Gaza Strip and the renewed danger of a Hezbollah offensive from the north and Israel is being presented with a situation not seen since the Yom Kippor war. Israel has twice now destroyed potential weapons research programmes in Arab states and proven (thanks to Arial Sharon) that the Palestinian terrorists can be defeated by military means (Operation Defensive Shield).
Politically Israel needs firm and realistic leadership, which I hope they will find in Benjamin Netanyahu and Likud. The political left have refused to accept that Israel is at war with its enemies, consistently seeking to blame the right and their nation for being attacked. Politically, though Netanyahu will find the new US administration tricky; he will also have to face a strongly intransigent political left (here I include Kadima, who strike me as the Lib Dems of Israel) who will attempt to blacken every action not according with their agenda and may even act as a sort of fifth column in attempting to insert anti-Israeli propaganda into the public debate.
Militarily, the Iranian programme needs to be severely retarded by at least two or three years. Gaza, as above, needs to be retaken and held by force – the Palestinian population may be deeply anti-semitic but I have reason to think the populace may welcome a non-tyrannical force – especially as this would bring back jobs in Israel which did so much to actually improve the living conditions of those people. Every care must be taken to guard against a Hezbollah offensive but responses to provocations and attacks should be carefully considered. Here I do not mean “proportionate” but on a scale designed to make fundamentally clear to Hezbollah, Syria and Iran as well as the wider Arab world that Israel will not tolerate the violation of its territory or the infringement of its’ citizens protection.
In the West Bank (or as I prefer Judea and Samaria) the policy should be to begin dismantling the Palestinian Authority – the organisation is the open version of the PLO – terrorists who now get paid by the EU and the US to fight each other, rob their people and try to murder Israelis. As a better version of a confidence building measure, the Netanyahu government could dismantle the most obnoxious of the settlements (the extreme religious-right wing groups) but also make clear that most of the settlements are both legal and peaceful. They should also publicize widely the anti-semitic and terrorist propaganda that passes for news and entertainment in the Arab world as well as attack the western groups who spread the milder lies.
In Gaza, the territory should be run as an Israeli province, not as an integral part of Israel but as once ruled as though it were Israel. This means rule of law, security, control of education and the elimination of agit-prop media. The aim should be to run Gaza better than the Palestinians could manage and build them up slowly towards independence and democracy. There is no reason why Gaza could not stand on its own as an independent and economically viable state, so long as the people are not taught to hate Israel but to live in peace with that nation. Democracy can be taught but this process will probably last twenty or even fifty years before Gaza could be allowed to be independent.
In my opinion, the same would stand for Judea and Samaria – a better process would also involve splitting control of the West Bank area into those two administrative portions with the same processes of provincial government being applied. In the long run the physical and cultural disarming of the Palestinian Arabs would have an interesting effect on the Arab and Muslim world – if it can be proven that Israelis and Arabs can live at peace with one another, then perhaps the primitive Arab cycle of hatred can be broken. If the Palestinians become accustomed to being expected to behave as a civilized people, then perhaps the habit will be ingrained.

Will this work? Who knows but it has got to be better than the course of meek and humiliating surrender pursued by the Israeli Left and their international fellow-travelers.