A lot of people appear to be concerned about the “indefensibility” of 1967 borders. A lot of people also seem to be worried about the prospect of Zombie apocalypse. Far be it from me to imply that there is any overlap between the two groups. Nonetheless, these two notions have one thing in common: much like Zombies, the threat posed by 1967 does not exist.
This is not an original point: it has been made by commentators as diverse as Jonathan Chait and Josh Marhsall, and many others, I am sure. Their general message has been that the Israeli security establishment has long concluded that the threat of a massive invasion by conventional military forces has vastly diminished and as a result, the concerns raised by the border that existed before the occupation in 1967 are no longer very relevant.
In this post, I would like to offer a more systematic rebuttal of the “indefensible” borders argument. As a proxy for this position, I will refer to a popular video, which purports to outline Israel’s security concerns in the framework of negotiations with Palestinians.
As I have already explained, this line of argumentation inevitably implies support for annexation of the entire West Bank and Israeli rule over millions of Palestinians. Nonetheless, it may be worthwhile to examine the points raised by this video on their merit, regardless of their implications.
1967 war – The video states that during the war, Israel was attacked by four Arab armies on three fronts. This statement, as well as the graphic accompanying it, are largely correct, but highly misleading. The war began with a surprise preemptive air strike by Israel on the Egyptians. Arab counterattacks on Israeli territory amounted to limited air strikes (with the few planes they had left), some artillery shelling, and two relatively minor territorial moves in Jerusalem and the Northern front. The vast majority of offensive action during the war, from its initiation to the last moment, was undertaken by Israel. This is actually demonstrated by the video, which shows no ground forces crossing into Israel’s pre-1967 borders. I am not even going to go into their absurd portrayal of UN Security Council resolution 242 (just read the full text), because I want to focus this post on security issues.
Jordan rift valley – The video points to two threats this valley is supposed to block. First, a conventional military attack (armored, the graphic implies). Such an attack on this front is highly unlikely, and is not considered a significant threat by the IDF, which has no plans to fight Jordanian, Iraqi and Iranian armored forces. Even if they were to attack, these forces have numerous ways of circumventing the valley. Second, the video argues that the boundary could be a crossing point for terrorist weapon and knowledge. However, such arms and knowledge have been able to cross through Israel’s own borders, including the Gaza-Egypt border, when Israel controlled it. The Jordan border has been relatively quiet because the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is keeping it that way, not Israel.
The mountain ridge – Here, the video notes that Israel would be very vulnerable to rocket attacks from the West Bank Mountains. This is the only claim in the video that is not misleading. Israel has been able to prevent rocket attacks from the West Bank because it controls it, and this has not been the case in Gaza or Lebanon. The solution proposed, however, is an oxymoron. If Israel controls the mountain ridge (or “key points” thereof) and the Jordan valley, it controls the entire West Bank. There is no room left for a Palestinian state, “demilitarized” or otherwise. Of course, permanent control of millions of Palestinians is itself a security headache, not to mention many other moral and political issues.
Unified Airspace Control – There is really not much point in discussing this issue, since there is no significant Palestinian opposition to this idea. I should mention, however, that it is also misleading, as this is not, and has never been, a major security concern for Israel. Moreover, Israel has become so dominant in terms of its air force capability that it is unlikely to be challenged on this front.
Arteries of Transportation – This may be the video’s most intentionally misleading argument. The graphic shows numerous transportation arteries, the vast majority of which runs within the 1967 borders. To say that Israel must control these arteries is to say that it should control Tel Aviv. The video tries to create an impression that is a major bone of contention, which is totally false. There are some exceptions, though. Some of Israel’s major arteries pass through the West Bank. Of course, this was a choice motivated by expedience and convenience, not necessity. No part of Israel would be disconnected from another, if the West Bank is ceded.
In summary, this video contains five major claims, of which two are false and two are irrelevant. The only claim that stands up, about the threat posed from West Bank mountain ridge, is a genuine concern, although it could probably be managed through deterrence and countermeasures. Even if they could not, Israel has not hesitated to invade both Lebanon and Gaza to deal with such threats, so it seems odd to argue that withdrawing from the West Bank would pose insurmountable security problem. Israeli “security” concerns regarding 1967 lines are largely an artifact of fabrication and paranoia, much like Zombies. Only, in this case, the consequences are dead real.