A strong Israel is a vital asset to the free world and America. To be a strong and dependable friend in a 'rough neighborhood', Israel must have defensible borders and military prowess capable of addressing multiple challenges which can materialize suddenly in this unstable region.
The conflict between Palestinian Arabs and Israelis is not the only adversary Israel faces. Historically, anti-Zionism has been the glue behind Arab nationalism. It has provided a convenient scapegoat for deflecting Arab states' frustration over unsolved domestic problems, but it also stems from a deep innate intolerance that exists throughout the Muslim world to any non-Muslim presence. Israel has no alternative but to remain strong enough to fend off the combined capabilities of all Arab states - a reality that leaves little room for risk-taking or margin for error.
While indeed peace with the Palestinians is a core issue for both Israel and the Arab states, the scope of the conflict cannot be artificially minimized by ignoring that the Arab world as a whole continues to view Israel as a foreign irritant, an artificial, illegitimate and ultimately transitory entity which by hook or by crook, must ultimately be destroyed or disappear.
Israel's security concerns are further exacerbated by its objectively small size, both geographically and demographically. Its tiny size makes Israel more vulnerable than a large country like the United States. This situation is further complicated by Israel's geopolitical proximity to the crucible of Arab terrorism.
One must keep in mind that Israel is located in a region of the world where the strong prey on the weak. Even weak Arab states such as Lebanon, Jordan, and Kuwait are victimized by their Arab neighbors. The Middle East, with its patterns of despots, coups, assassinations, civil wars, revolutions and lack of respect for human life, resembles Europe during its own bloody centuries of nation building. Realistically, for the foreseeable future, little positive substantial change can be expected in this regard. The late Anwar Sadat, keenly aware of just how capricious the Middle East can be, laughed during an October 1980 interview with The New York Times remarking dryly: "Poor Menachem [Begin] ... I got back ... the Sinai and the Alma oil fields, and what has Menachem got? A piece of paper."
Political upheaval in Arab lands will continue to threaten Israel's security. The magnitude and multiplicity of strategic threats it faces mean Israel must make its security assessments realistically based on a host of possibilities - to hope for the best but be prepared for worse case scenarios as well, and tie a secure future to far more than 'pieces of paper' sitting on a 'shelf.'
Objectively, how vulnerable is Israel? In fact, it is almost impossible for non-Israelis to fathom Israel's size. To say that Israel is a tiny nation does not begin to describe the state's predicament. Slightly larger than the Canary Islands, more or less the size of the state of New Jersey, Israel fits into Lake Michigan with room to spare.
Israel's pre-1967 borders - the borders Secretary Rice and the Palestinians want Israel to pull back to (in the 'first phase') - lacked rhyme or reason and reflect the deployment of Israeli and Arab forces when the 1948 armistice agreement for a ceasefire was signed.
At one of the narrowest points in central Israel, the entire width of the state from the Mediterranean coastal town of Netanya to the Green Line is a mere nine miles - just about three times the length of John F. Kennedy Airport's runway (14,570 feet or 4,441 meters). If Israel would relinquish the foothills on the east side of the Green Line to Palestinian control, Ben-Gurion International Airport would be within range of shoulder-fired ground-to-air missiles, Katyusha rockets and mortars. The heart of Tel Aviv, Israel's New York City, is merely 11 miles from the West Bank 'as the crow flies.'
In an interview with the German news paper Der Spiegel in November 1969, the late Israeli diplomat Abba Eban, a lifelong dove, described Israel's pre-Six-Day War borders as "Auschwitz' lines" that threaten Israel's survivability. IDF Major General (res.) Yaakov Amidror puts Eban's 'Auschwitz' metaphor in operational terms in regard to the West Bank.
In a 2005 analysis of what 'defensible borders for a lasting peace' entail, Amidror explained that even from a technical standpoint, the Green Line lacks minimum 'defensive depth' - an overarching principle of military doctrine for all armies: There is insufficient battle space for a defensive force to redeploy after being attacked; there is no room for reserves to enter or counterattack; and there is no minimal distance between the battle front and the strategic interior necessary for any army to function.
American military experts have recognized the importance of shoring up Israel's borders to provide some territorial depth. In a study published immediately after the 1967 Six Day War, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Earl Wheeler said that "the minimum required for Israel's defense includes most of the West Bank and the whole of Gaza and the Golan Heights." The study content was considered so explosive and contrary to State Department policy, it was classified "Top Secret" until the Wall Street Journal revealed its conclusions in 1983.
The need for territorial depth has not decreased over time. U.S. Lt. General (ret.) Tom Kelly, who served as Chief of Operations during the 1991 Gulf War, said in the wake of the Gulf War:
"I cannot defend this land (Israel) without that terrain (West Bank) ... The West Bank Mountains, and especially their five approaches, are the critical terrain. If an enemy secures those passes, Jerusalem and Israel become uncovered. Without the West Bank, Israel is only eight miles wide at its narrowest point. That makes it indefensible."
This sentiment was echoed in the assessment of the late U.S. Admiral James Wilson "Bud" Nance, who told Congress in 1991 that there was:
"... no logical reason for Israel to give up one inch of the disputed areas. Quite to the contrary, I believe if Israel were to move out of the Golan Heights, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, it would increase instability and the possibility of war, increase the necessity for Israel to pre-empt in war and the possibility that nuclear weapons would be used to prevent an Israel loss, and increase the possibility that the U.S. would have to become involved in a war."
The prospects of a new Arab state, a Palestinian state, on Israel's border have raised concern by U.S. policy makers, as well. Writing in Commentary in 1997, Douglas Feith, U.S. Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, said such a state would give the Arab world "a much greater capacity than they now have to facilitate terrorism against Israel, conduct anti-Israel diplomacy, assist or join enemy armed forces in the event of war, and destabilize local states (such as Jordan) that cooperate with Israel."
U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was even more candid, remarking in a talk with Pentagon employees in August 2002:
"If you have a country that's a sliver and you can see three sides of it from a high hotel building, you've got to be careful what you give away and to whom you give it."