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Post  Admin on Wed 04 Sep 2019, 3:20 pm

Israel’s New Existential Challenge
By Maj. Gen. (res.) Gershon Hacohen September 4, 2019

IDF soldier of the 595th Field Intelligence Battalion stationed at Israel’s northern border, photo by Cpl. Eden Briand, IDF Spokesperson's Unit via IDF Flickr

BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 1,277, September 4, 2019

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: The creation of an Iranian military/terrorist axis along Israel’s northern and southern borders, comprising Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad, lays the groundwork for the long-term multi-frontal attrition of the Jewish state.

The Arab upheavals of the past decade, especially the Syrian civil war, have given Israel a much-needed strategic respite, leading many Israeli security experts to the conviction that the Jewish state no longer faces an existential threat. But as this war draws to a close, a new existential challenge is rapidly emerging along Israel’s northern and southern borders: a military-terrorist axis led by Iran and comprising its Syrian, Hezbollah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad proxies/allies. ​​

For the first time since the conclusion of the 1979 Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, Israel faces the realistic likelihood of a simultaneous multi-frontal conflagration – Lebanon, Syria, and the Gaza Strip (as well as the possibility of terror attacks originating from the West Bank). This old-new existential challenge includes three main operational components:

Full-scale threat of unprecedented proportions from advanced precision rockets and missiles. This massive arsenal is organized in offensive operational outlines that have already been set up to target strategic and infrastructure sites deep inside Israel, such as air force bases, military headquarters, power stations, airports, and population centers. This threat sees Israel flanked on all sides – from Lebanon, Syria, and the Gaza Strip, as well as, more recently, a Shiite militia base in Iraq.
A new terrorist front on the Golan Heights comprising Iran’s Quds Force, Hezbollah, and Shiite militias.
Clear and present danger to Israel’s towns and villages along the Lebanese and Gaza borders from commando forces well-trained for ground incursions into Israel.
Many in the Israeli military/security establishment downplay these threats. In the recent words of former PM Ehud Barak: “The external threats are many and evolving, and must not be underestimated; but I assert with all due responsibility – and not just as a political position… [that] none of them pose an existential threat to Israel’s future, power, and sovereignty.”

This depends of course on the meaning of “existential threat,” which is largely a context-related concept that is open to different interpretations. To be sure, Israel does not face the same existential threat of an all-Arab invasion it encountered upon its proclamation in May 1948. But Hezbollah, Hamas, and even Iran do not seek Israel’s destruction in one fell swoop (though Iran’s desire for such an outcome could change once it has attained nuclear weapons). Rather they seem to be following the graduated, attritional strategy used by Egyptian president Anwar Sadat in the October 1973 war. In the words of his directive to the Egyptian armed forces:

The strategic goal … is to undermine Israel’s security doctrine through military action, which is commensurate with the capabilities of the armed forces and which will inflict the heaviest casualties on the enemy and convince it that the continued occupation of our land will exact a higher price than it can afford.

This is by and large the strategic rationale underlying the Iranian-Hezbollah-Hamas strategy. By surrounding Israel with military-terrorist infrastructure along its northern and southern borders, this axis can disrupt the Jewish state’s living routine at any given moment. It can thus create a balance of terror based on a credible rocket/missile threat that would force Israel to avoid as far as possible retaliatory actions beyond the (tacitly) mutually accepted containment threshold.

Over the long term, this state of affairs is bound to have a continuous attritional effect, like an immune system failure, that will curb Israel’s advancement and successes and erode the hope of the Jewish People for a secure and prosperous homeland.

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This is an extended version of an article published in Israel Hayom on August 30, 2019.

Maj. Gen. (res.) Gershon Hacohen is a senior research fellow at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies. He served in the IDF for 42 years. He commanded troops in battles with Egypt and Syria. He was formerly a corps commander and commander of the IDF Military Colleges.

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Post  Admin on Mon 02 Sep 2019, 8:21 pm

The Danger of Israeli Public Apathy Regarding Palestinian Construction in Area C
By Maj. Gen. (res.) Gershon Hacohen September 2, 2019
BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 1,274, September 2, 2019

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: While Israeli Jews continue to move into urban centers, the Palestinians have been assuming sovereignty in the open lands and leaving the Jews with personal sovereignty solely in their areas of residence. This trend is not restricted to the West Bank. It is also occurring in the Negev, the Galilee, and the Jezreel Valley, where Jews are moving into high-rise buildings while non-Jews are taking control of the open spaces. A contributing factor to this dangerous trend is the complete lack of interest in the subject displayed by most of the Israeli public.

Over the past decade, 28,650 illegal Arab structures have been built in Area C. Hundreds of kilometers of roads have been laid, and hundreds of thousands of agricultural dunams have been taken over in land that has never belonged to a Palestinian.

This invasion is being implemented with the involvement and guidance of the EU and with major financial support from abroad.

Meanwhile, PM Netanyahu has introduced a plan to build 700 housing units for Palestinians in Area C along with 6,000 housing units for Jews in the West Bank. Despite criticism from settler leadership, cabinet ministers, including Rafi Peretz and Bezalel Smotrich, have supported the plan out of a basic understanding that sovereignty in a territory entails not only setting restrictions on building but also issuing permits. In that regard, sovereignty in Area C is no different from sovereignty in other areas of the country.

The basis of a sovereign state – in Area C as in the Negev – is its ability to plan, which includes stipulating what and where it is forbidden to build and what and where it is permitted to build. These stipulations should apply to everyone, Jewish or Palestinian.

Apart from the threat Palestinian building in Area C poses to Israel’s national and security interests, one needs to ask why the issue has not gained traction among the Israeli public. It is this popular apathy that, among other things, allows the PM to keep ignoring this dangerous trend.

Netanyahu’s behavior on this matter is hard to understand. If it is fine with him to give the Palestinians open land for an eventual two-state solution, then presumably the land should be provided as a quid pro quo in an agreement – not simply taken over by the Palestinians in a unilateral process of attrition. If, on the other hand, Israel has an interest in retaining the land, why is Netanyahu allowing the invasion to proceed?

The Palestinians and Europeans understand something Israelis refuse to see. They grasp that while Maale Adumim is a fully-fledged city that will not be evacuated, it can be turned into a threatened and shrinking enclave by fast-tracking Palestinian building all around it and along the roads leading to it. Israeli disregard for the endgame of this tactic, including among most of the defense establishment, is amazing to the point of alarming.

Public apathy on the subject stems in part from the fact that most Israeli Jews spend no time in the West Bank and are simply unaware that this is happening. But their indifference can also be attributed to a traditional Jewish “disability” with regard to open, non-urbanized land.

In their protracted exile, Jews became people of the city. To them, open spaces were simply empty tracts of no value. As Yuri Slezkine, a Jew who emigrated from the Soviet Union to the US, put it in his book:

The Modern Age is the Jewish Age, and the twentieth century, in particular, is the Jewish Century. Modernization is about everyone becoming urban, mobile, literate, articulate, intellectually intricate, physically fastidious, and occupationally flexible. It is about learning how to cultivate people and symbols, not fields or herds…. No one is better at being Jewish than the Jews themselves. In the age of capital, they are the most creative entrepreneurs; in the age of alienation, they are the most experienced exiles.

The autonomy talks based on the 1979 peace treaty with Egypt explored the concept of personal sovereignty – meaning an arrangement whereby the Palestinians would exercise personal sovereignty in their areas of residence while Israel would retain sovereignty over the territory. What is emerging is exactly the reverse. As the Jews coalesce in urban concentrations, the Palestinians are assuming sovereignty in the open lands. The Jews are left with personal sovereignty only inside their communities.

This trend is not only occurring in the West Bank. In the Negev, the Galilee, and the Jezreel Valley, Jews are moving into high-rise buildings while non-Jews take control of the open spaces. Private agricultural lands in Metulla and Rosh Pina are being sold, and kibbutz lands are being leased mostly to Arabs. When one’s view from the high-rise on the coastal plain points west toward the sea, why should one care about another Palestinian housing unit going up in Area C?

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A Hebrew version of this article was published in the August issue of Liberal.

Maj. Gen. (res.) Gershon Hacohen is a senior research fellow at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies. He served in the IDF for forty-two years. He commanded troops in battles with Egypt and Syria. He was formerly a corps commander and commander of the IDF Military Colleges.

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Post  Admin on Mon 02 Sep 2019, 11:12 am

The EU Is Battling Israel in Area C
By Prof. Hillel Frisch September 2, 2019
BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 1,275, September 2, 2019

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Ever since a decision in January 2012, the EU has been expressly committed to the expansion of illegal Palestinian settlement in Area C in conjunction with the PA. This is in blatant disregard of the Oslo accords, which the EU purports to uphold. The object is to create continuous Palestinian settlement throughout the West Bank and thereby isolate and strangle Israeli communities.

For the first time in the 100-year-old conflict between the Zionist movement (and later the State of Israel) and the Palestinian Arabs, the Palestinians are surpassing the Jews in strategic settlement, over which the Zionist movement had enjoyed a monopoly. The PA is achieving this under the auspices of the EU.

In July 2011, a report entitled “Area C and Palestinian State Building” was produced by the EU. It was then brought to the European Parliament in December and approved by the European Commission in early January 2012. (In the interim between the writing of the report and its approval, excerpts were leaked to The Independent, a British daily known for its strident anti-Israeli stance.)

In April 2012, the PA’s Ministry of Local Government (MoLG) published a strategic action plan entitled “Planning Support for Palestinian Communities in Area C.” The EU announced its support for this plan in an official document published in 2012 called “Land Development and Access to Basic Infrastructure in Area C.”

By 2016, the European Community had spent a total of 10.5 million euros to draw up and implement zoning plans for 90 Palestinian settlements and support land development projects in Area C in conjunction with the MoLG.

Such aid is explicitly envisioned not only as helping marginalized communities but as part of a blueprint to assist Palestinian state building. The plans for solitary communities, the report noted, “will be linked in a broader planning exercise that aims at clustering the communities and developing regional plans,” a project currently supported by the EU and the UK. This clustering process is itself linked to another arm of the PA, the Palestinian Ministry of Planning and Administrative Development (MoPAD), which is “engaged in the development of a National Spatial Plan, which will include the entire Area C.”

The joint PA-EU strategy to undermine Israeli jurisdiction in Area C focuses on two areas:

the narrow cross-section between Pisgat Ze’ev and Anata (a stone’s throw from the light rail depot on the northern side of the Jerusalem-Jericho highway) to Abu-Dis and Eizaria, three kilometers southward, as well as land on both sides of the highway parallel to Ma’ale Adumim all the way down to Jericho; and
the southern Hebron hills, which overlook Israel’s southern population belt stretching from Beersheba to Arad.
The PA-EU’s prime objective is clear: to create continuous Arab settlement from the south to the north of the West Bank, while simultaneously thwarting Israeli designs  to create continuous neighborhoods from Ma’ale Adumim to Jerusalem (the  E-1  plan).

The PA’s achievements have been considerable so far. As new Israeli building dwindles to insignificance in areas east of Jerusalem, the PA, with European help, has succeeded in housing tens of thousands (120,000 according to advocate Sarin Alian, from the Israeli Association of Human Rights) in a space no larger than nine square kilometers. This number is more than double the number of inhabitants in Ma’ale Adumim and the other Israeli localities in the area.

Most live in Ras al-Khamis and Ras al-Shakhada, which dwarf the older village of Anata, home of the prophet Jeremiah from Anatot. This is located just beyond the French Hill junction, north of route 60 to Jericho. Most of the area is within the official municipal line and thus formally under Israeli sovereignty; the remainder is in Area C, which Israel supposedly controls. Yet hundreds of six- to ten-story Palestinian apartment buildings were built, all of which – according to a senior officer in the Border Police in charge of security, speaking in conversation with the author – are illegal.

Palestinian strategic settlement in the area comes at the expense of the quality of life of the new residents of these two sprawling developments. Jamil Sanduqa, head of the makeshift local council of Ras al-Khamis, which is funded by the PA and the EU, acknowledges that these neighborhoods are an ecological disaster: he characterizes living there as “life imprisonment.” The single road to traverse the vast urban expanse is only two lanes wide. It is continuously clogged all the way to the 24-hour outpost manned by the Border Police that allows passage into Jerusalem. Fire trucks would find it impossible to reach the scene in the event of even a small emergency, let alone an earthquake. Garbage burns in the open with devastating health effects on the inhabitants of the development as well as in neighboring Isawiyyah and French Hill.

Similar conditions prevail in al-Zaim, a smaller version of Ras al-Khamis two kilometers south, which is designated as being in Area B. In al-Zaim, illegal building is taking place near the highway in violation of international conventions that stipulate mandatory distances between building lines and major traffic arteries.

Eastward of Ma’ale Adumim, the PA and the EU have identified makeshift Bedouin encampments, the most prominent being al-Khan al-Akhmar, as the chief weapon with which to transform Area C into a Palestinian state. These fast-growing encampments are close to a major highway and are bereft of sewage systems and organized garbage disposal. The Israeli authorities have earmarked an area just south of Abu Dis that would provide all these amenities, yet the PA and the EU continue to abet Bedouin encampments.

After years of adjudication, the Higher Court of Justice finally ruled that the encampment, which is supported by EU budgets, as well as the school it erected for the children of the squatters, was entirely new and therefore illegal. Israel, however, has bowed to international pressure and refrained from removing it.

Less in public view but no less important are the southern Hebron hills. Strategically, these hills dominate the city of Beersheba. Immediately to their west sits Israel’s largest air force base. Demographically, concentrated Palestinian settlement in the southern Hebron hills would create a continuity of Arab settlement stretching from Gaza through the Arad-Beersheba axis. Regavim, the underfunded organization that monitors illegal Palestinian building in Area C, has documented the building of over 28,000 buildings and houses there in the past decade.

A massive Israeli construction drive is urgently needed to underscore the historical Jewish connection to the West Bank, the recognition of which by the Palestinians is a necessary prerequisite to peace.

View PDF

This is an edited version of an article that appeared in the Jerusalem Post on August 21, 2019.

Prof. Hillel Frisch is a professor of political studies and Middle East studies at Bar-Ilan University and a senior research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies.

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