Transcript for 'Is Peace Possible?' Chapter 2: Security

The text for the second installment in our four-part series on the key barriers to peace in the Middle East

Security is the foundation of any successful effort to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Any peace agreement would likely collapse in the event of a terrorist attack or military invasion that the agreement was widely seen as having enabled. And only when the question of security is satisfactorily addressed will leaders have the political capital required to resolve the remaining core issues of the conflict.

9-11 Ten Years LaterThough security is often framed as a distinctly Israeli concern, a future state of Palestine would be affected by many of the same threats, and would have a shared interest in finding ways to counter them. Security is particularly important in an unpredictable region, with many hostile forces that will likely work to bolster extremists and undermine any peace agreement. Neither party can afford to be naive about the threats they face.

What are the threats that must be addressed? Historically one of the largest threats has been conventional military attacks -- meaning tanks, infantry, ground troops. Today, that threat has largely been replaced by aerial attacks, namely the launching of rockets, short-range missiles, and potential attacks by aircraft. Technological advancements have also put Israel and the Palestinian territories within striking distances of medium- and long-range ballistic missiles launched from any country in the region. Terrorism remains a serious threat, though suicide bombings have largely been contained in recent years. Israel has been under near-constant bombardment by rockets from Gaza and Southern Lebanon. Smuggling, of both weapons and foreign terrorists, is also a serious security concern, as illustrated by the rampant trafficking through Egypt's porous border with Gaza.

The threats faced by Israel are real and they are serious. So from an Israeli perspective, any peace agreement must not inhibit Israel's ability to protect itself against them--and ideally should strengthen Israel's capabilities.

While Palestinians have an interest in deterring the same threats, their primary concern is that these security measures must not prevent the emergence of a sovereign, contiguous, and viable Palestinian state. So the core security question is whether both Israeli and Palestinian security needs can be met in a way that still allows for the establishment of a sovereign and viable Palestinian state.

From Israel's founding in 1948 until the 1967 war, Israel's security strategy was driven by a doctrine of preemption. Because Israel was so small and narrow, and because Israel's population centers were so close to its borders with enemy countries, Israel was forced to take the war to its enemies' territory by way of preemptive attacks. This approach protected Israel for its first two decades. Israel's victory in the 1967 war gave it control of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and other territories, providing Israel with a territorial buffer against attacks on its eastern, southern, and northern fronts and giving rise to a new strategy of "territorial strategic depth." The strategy was devised at a time when the primary threat against Israel came from a conventional military attack, particularly from tanks and ground troops belonging to multiple Arab countries along its eastern border.

The concept of territorial strategic depth is used to justify Israel's military presence in a large swathe of the West Bank, including the Jordan Valley, in order to repel ground troops coming from the East and to regulate smuggling from Jordan; an enlarged territorial envelope around its capital, Jerusalem, since it lies right along the 1967 Lines and would be immediately susceptible to attack; a territorial buffer along the 1967 Lines to protect important Israeli infrastructure and population centers; the high-ground of the Judean Mountain Ridge, which overlooks the major Israeli population and commercial centers as well as Ben Gurion Airport; a corridor along the West Bank to mobilize troops to the Jordan River; and the road network in the West Bank, in order to move forces swiftly throughout the territory.

There is a legitimate debate as to whether the territorial approach to security is effective. It is largely geared toward ground attacks, and provides little defense against contemporary military threats. It also utilizes a counter-terrorism approach rather than counter-insurgency -- allowing Israel to engage directly with security threats on the ground at the expense of incurring increased tension and hostility that fuel terrorism.

What is not up for debate is that controlling vast amounts of territory in the West Bank does not allow for the establishment of a viable, contiguous Palestinian state.

In other words, the territorial approach to security is largely inconsistent with the two-state solution.

There are many reasons why the two-state solution is crucial to Israel's interests. But in this chapter we will focus on the very real security-related reasons. But what is the security cost of NOT creating a viable, sovereign Palestinian state?

Though the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is certainly not the primary source of instability in the Middle East, the persistence of the conflict emboldens many of the extremists across the region. It also undermines Palestinian moderates who preach the value of coexistence with Israel. The continuing conflict inhibits countries in the region from cooperating with Israel even on mutual security concerns, such as Iranian nuclearization. It also makes Israel the target of international campaigns to delegitimize the Jewish state, which have serious repercussions for Israel's ability to defend itself, as seen by the UN's Goldstone Report, which condemned Israel's counter-terrorism efforts. Lastly, it strains Israel's vital security cooperation with its allies, particularly in Europe.

So if the territorial approach to security has such a high cost, are there better ways by which Israel can defend itself? Again, neither party can afford to be naive; there are many serious threats in the region, and most will not disappear after a peace agreement is signed. In fact, many of these threats may grow. Any new security measures must be at least as effective as the protection afforded by the territorial approach. In this section we will present various security measures that are consistent with a two-state solution. Each of the five threats identified earlier can be addressed by a number of these measures.

The first set of measures is restrictions and obligations that can be put on Palestinians as part of a peace agreement.

  1. The non-militarization of the Palestinian state could be a crucial step to neutralize immediate threats against Israel. The new Palestinian state would be prohibited from having a standing army or air force, and would be allowed a limited police force only. This would give Israel the "strategic depth" to prevent any invading armies from taking advantage of its narrow waist or the strategic high ground. Though non-militarization is an infringement on Palestinian sovereignty, it has been agreed to publicly by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
  2. Hand-in-hand with non-militarization could be tight restrictions on the type and amount of arms, ammunition, and military equipment allowed into the Palestinian state, which would be crucial in preventing the arming of terrorist groups.
  3. To retain Israel's strategic depth beyond its borders, the Palestinian state could be prohibited from entering into military alliances with countries hostile to Israel and from allowing unauthorized foreign militaries or armed forces into its territory.
  4. The Palestinian state could be required to maintain adequate infrastructure along the Jordanian and Egyptian borders to prevent smuggling and unauthorized entry.
  5. Any peace agreement can have concrete steps and accountability mechanisms to end incitement to violence.

If the parties are going to be effectively held to certain restrictions and obligations, a peace treaty must provide robust oversight mechanisms.

  1. A multinational force can be deployed to the future Palestinian state, in close cooperation with both sides, to monitor compliance with all treaty parameters, as well as help secure the borders with Egypt and Jordan and operate border crossings. The force could also help facilitate access to Jewish religious and historic sites that fall within the new Palestinian state. The presence of international troops would also serve as a "trip wire" against foreign invasion by heightening the cost of any potential military incursion into Israel.
  2. Another important oversight mechanism could be phasing the Israeli withdrawal of troops and conditioning each phase on the demonstrated effectiveness of Palestinian and multinational security forces.

As President Obama said in his May 2011 speech, "Israel must be able to defend itself, by itself." There are numerous ways Israel can do that without occupying land in the West Bank.

  1. Israel seeks access to Palestinian airspace to allow Israel sufficient time and space to address aerial attacks. Though accommodations could be made to protect Palestinian civil aviation rights, Palestinians consider this a significant infringement on their sovereignty.
  2. Early warning stations in the West Bank would allow potential threats from the East to be monitored. To minimize infringement on Palestinian sovereignty, these stations could have limited territorial footprints and be operated either with a minimal Israeli military presence or by international forces with a communications link to Israel.
  3. There are numerous possible ways to mitigate the security risks of a West Bank-Gaza corridor that runs through Israeli territory, including a perimeter barrier secured by Israeli forces and surveillance equipment.
  4. Joint Israeli-Palestinian control of the electromagnetic spectrum could allow Israel to prevent jamming of its public, private, and military communications systems, as well as hostile Palestinian intelligence gathering.
  5. Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation is a key component of any post-agreement security architecture. Over 4,000 American- and Jordanian-trained Palestinian security forces have proven themselves capable of preserving law and order as well as thwarting terrorist attacks emanating from the West Bank.

There are numerous measures Israel could take to protect itself from threats emanating from the future state of Palestine that are independent of the parameters of an agreement.

  1. With U.S. assistance, Israel has built a multi-tiered defense system that allows it to intercept missiles from various distances.
  2. Israel's security barrier has been effective in preventing terrorists from entering Israel. Israel can maintain any segment of the barrier that is on its sovereign territory, and move the remaining sections to the country's new internationally recognized borders.
  3. A small percentage of commercial Israeli air traffic currently flies over the West Bank, at risk of shoulder-to-air missiles from the Judean mountain range. Israel's new North-South runway at Ben Gurion airport, currently under construction, will remove the need for planes to circle over the West Bank - taking them out of firing range. Israel is also equipping its passenger planes with anti-missile flares to protect against terror attacks.
  4. Israel will also have its elite security apparatus operating at full capacity -- including military, intelligence agencies, and police forces.

Each of the five key threats can be addressed by numerous measures that do not require Israeli control over the West Bank or Gaza Strip, the building blocks of a multi-layered security architecture for a final peace agreement.

The international community will also play an important role in creating security guarantees for Israel and the future Palestinian state, as well as bolstering Palestinian security capacity. Of particularly importance is the Arab Peace Initiative, which has committed all 22 countries of the Arab League and which has gained the support of 57 countries of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, after the signing of a comprehensive peace agreement, to "provide security for all the states of the region, [and] establish normal relations with Israel." This could revolutionize Israel's security position as well as regional security dynamics, with the potential for joint missile-defense programs, intelligence sharing, joint military training and operations, and cooperation on counter-terrorism and smuggling.

After identifying the threats faced by both Israel and the future state of Palestine, examining the territorial approach to security, evaluating the security imperatives of the two state solution, and exploring various tools to address those threats, let's return to the question we posed at the beginning of this presentation: Can Israel effectively protect itself in ways that are consistent with the establishment of a contiguous, viable, and sovereign state of Palestine? And in ways that are just as good, and preferably even better, than the territorial approach to security?

See the video here for 'Is Peace Possible?' Chapter 2: Security.