Dr. Anthony Wells is the Chief Executive Officer of TKC International LLC, a national security company.
The President of the United States has stated that he wishes to see Israel return to the pre 1967 June War boundaries in accordance with United Nations Security Council Resolution 242 passed at the end of the June War. President Obama sees this action as a critical prerequisite to begin a truly long term solution to the Israel-Palestinian situation. His administration’s position rests on the fundamental UN concept embodied in Resolution 242 that Israel took land that was not Israel’s by force and that in order to meet Palestinian rights to nationhood and wider Arab demands that the Golan Heights and the West Bank be restored to their lawful owners.
President Netanyahu of Israel reacted vehemently to the White House statements, stressing to multiple international audiences that in any two state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian situation Israel must have what he defines as defensible boundaries. He sees a return to the 1967 status quo as giving up territory that is vital for Israel’s survival in the event of various scenarios. His opposite number, President Abbas, and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton fully understand the reasons for his declarations. However, if the peace process is ever to enter a new substantively different era from the prior decades, and if the Palestinians are indeed ever to accede, as Israel did, to become a nation state within the community of nations, clearly more has to happen than declarations, whether rhetorical or otherwise.
A brief overview of the prior history will help in order to understand what may constitute a very viable solution to the apparent intractable dilemma described above, polarized as it is by the precise wording of UN Resolution 242. There has been considerable analysis over the years since 1967 of the intent of the wording of Resolution 242, drafted by the then British Ambassador to the United Nations, Lord Caradon. The Resolution is to most lawyers and international specialists quite explicit, precise and well worded with no ambiguity. However, the wording that has caused most analysis is the Section of the Resolution that says, in affirmation of Article 2 of the UN Charter, the United Nations Security Council Affirms: “Termination of all claims or states of belligerency and respect for and acknowledgment of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every state in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free form threats or acts of force”. Within this Section the words that cause most disagreement are, “rights to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries”. The Israelis and President Netanyahu have been explicit in stating that any redrawing of the pre 1967 June War boundaries (now essentially the West Bank of the Jordan River and the Golan Heights, since Israel has withdrawn for the Sinai must be so that Israel can be secure. The latter has been defined by President Netanyahu as being defensible boundaries. To most military personnel this phrase has significant and very definable connotations.
In looking back briefly to the 1960s the Middle East was a critical part of the Cold War stand off and a hot bed for playing out the international rivalries between the United States and the Soviet Union. Israel felt naturally threatened and surrounded by potential belligerents that were encouraged and supported by Moscow. By June of 1967 the situation reached boiling point. The sudden preemptive strikes made by Israel to seize territory from Egypt, Syria and Jordan to extent its boundaries and create defensive barriers was extremely successful. However, Israel’s action precipitated a crisis that all but plunged the United States into a conflict with the Soviet Union, but for US pressure to stop Israel advancing beyond the Golan Heights. Very well documented research has shown how the Soviet Union would have launched forces against Israel if they had continued in their march towards Damascus from the Golan Heights. The world has changed with the demise of the Soviet Union, and in its aftermath have emerged equally compelling threats to Middle East stability, not least the rise of Iran and the emergence of several parties and groups that espouse terrorism as a vehicle for achieving political goals. Other state and non state players have become either directly or indirectly involved through the supply of arms, training, and other equipment.
It is very easy to forget that over the past sixty-six years since the conclusion of World War Two terrorism has been the vehicle for implementing political change. President Menachim Begin of Israel was a member of Irgun, an organization dubbed by the international community as a violent and extremist terrorist organization and one which David Ben-Gurion described as the enemy of the Jewish people. Begin saw himself as a freedom fighter, not a terrorist. It is easy to forget that in the Middle East the past is often prologue. Hamas and Hezbollah pursue political goals often by unacceptable violent means, most often dubbed terrorist acts by the international community. Such factions cite the same principles in working for the creation of an independent Palestinian state that the post war Israeli terrorists cited to justify their violent actions in seeking the creation of the independent state of Israel. It is very easy to lose this perspective, while at the same time condemning as the international community should indeed do, any acts of terrorism, whatever the goal. Many years later Menachem Begin, the man born a Russian Jew and persecuted by both the Nazis and the Soviets, became prime Minister of Israel in 1977, was responsible for the peace treaty with Anwar Sadat of Egypt that returned the Sinai to Egypt, and which led to both men winning the Nobel Peace Prize. What this shows is that all things are possible, even when in 1946 Begin had led the bombing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, and in March 1952 the attempt on the life of Chancellor Konrad Adenauer of West Germany.
Today the Sunni Islamist group Hamas that has run the Gaza portion of the Palestinian Territories, and Hezbollah, the Shi’s Muslim militant group and political party in Lebanon appear very much like how Irgun looked in 1942 when it split from the Haganah, launching from 1944-1948 a campaign against the British in Palestine. On May 14, 1948 the state of Israel was created. The relevance and poignancy is clear- Israel was fundamentally born out of terrorism. The key for today’s situation is to prevent the spread of terrorism while clearly finding a solution. The answer lies with Jordan and Israel, supported by the United States and with key capabilities provided by the United States Navy.
President Netanyahu’s strategic concerns for the defensive boundaries of Israel are clearly demarcated by geography- the distance between key locations in Israel and the West Bank are on the order of six to nine miles, with a huge concentration of the Israeli population on the coastal strip where most of Israel’s commercial and industrial life resides. His perfectly reasonable concern is that the West Bank provides a buffer area and site for defensive missile systems that will ward off an attack. The key to helping President Netanyahu and the Israeli people find both peace and security lies with Jordan.
Jordan is the most stable political regime in the Arab world King Abdullah leads a nation that is making strident progress in both democratization and improvement in the lives of the ordinary Jordanian, while providing bedrock security against outside extremist influences. Israel has to both respect and trust Jordan, and Jordan’s security against outside threats has to be underpinned by equal aid from the United States, just as the United States provides aid to Israel. The likelihood of a destabilizing and anti Israel regime emerging in Jordan is very remote. The threats to Israel lie much further to the east in Iran, and that country’s extremist associations with other state and non state players. By the same token Jordan is equally threatened by extremist groups from outside that would try to destabilize an otherwise progressive regime, with the vast majority of Jordanians loyal both to their political processes and their Head of State.
Modem cruise and ballistic missile technology is such that the West Bank buffer zone is not relevant for Israel in terms of a ground attack invasion from the east, and particularly given relationships with both Jordan and the underpinnings provided by the United States. The major threats to both countries, other than extremist attacks from terrorist groups, are most likely to come from missile attacks. The very worst scenario for Israel would be a preemptive ballistic missile attack from Iran. In this and other missile scenarios the West Bank does not play as a key geographic entity because of speed, times, and distance issues associated with the location of key targets in both Jordan and Israel if attacked by cruise and Ballistic missiles. However, where the West Bank can play a role is in a layered defense network of defensive missile silos.
A settlement with Jordan over the West Bank can include the following. Jordan regains control of the West Bank and with United States oversight begins the management of both Palestinian and Israeli settlements in the area. In return Jordan should grant to Israel several key sovereign air base sites in the West Bank where Israel may have full rights, permanent access for its military to man 24/7 defensive missile batteries and provide early warning radar systems. Such sites and systems will be of equal value to Jordan. In addition the United States can provide two other key layers of defensive systems for both Jordan and Israel, in addition to the military systems that it provides under the various aid agreements.
The one critical system that the United States possesses that provides a mobile, flexible, and persistent presence in deterring and worst case defending against ballistic missile attacks is the US Navy’s Aegis missile system. The Navy has proven that the Aegis system not only works it can be deployed to those sea areas where the time needed for responses in the event of ballistic missile attacks is dramatically shortened by the flexible on station positioning and employment of the Navy’s Aegis cruisers and destroyers. The US can provide forward deployed layered missile defense for both Jordan and Israel, and its NA TO Allies in Europe, by deployment in the Fifth Fleet and Sixth Fleet AORs. In addition, the covert and stealthy persistent presence of the United States Navy’s attack submarines (SSNs) and cruise missile submarines (SSGNs) firing Tactical Tomahawks against land based missile targets is a formidable deterrent against aggressors whose missile locations, whether fixed, underground, or mobile, can be targeted in time scales that make preemption by an aggressor a very foolish strategic act. The United States provides therefore in the Persian Gulf and the eastern Mediterranean two critical layers of defense, the first layer and the last, and in between are the defensive systems provided by both Jordan and Israel. If an accord can be reached between Israel and Jordan on the above terms, underwritten by the United States government, then Jordan and Israel can move towards the next stage of creating an integrated joint common missile defense system. From President Netanyahu’s perspective the issue of the strategic role of the West Bank has now taken on a whole new complexion, and one that guarantees Israeli access and presence for the above defensive systems.
Intelligence sharing is critical in the above agreements. Warning time is vital, and both Jordan and Israel will need to build confidence with themselves and mutually with the United States in order to share time sensitive intelligence, and also from the United States perspective the need to minimize deployment costs, except at times of rising tension in the region.
The above offers a long term solution, and not just for the key issue of the West Bank. The arguments are defused of both the extremists and the much more moderate members of the international community who see the on going crisis of the Palestinian situation as a running sore that foments not only discord within the civilized community of nations but also provides ammunition to those groups who wish to destabilize the Middle East by violent means.
The United States Navy plays a crucial role in making long term peace in the Middle East a reality.