|1967 – 2007 - Quo vadis Israel ?|
|By Roland S. Süssmann|
Israel’s dazzling victory over Arab aggression in June 1967, the famous Six-Day War, has gone down in military history as a unique exploit of its kind. The exemplary strategy and tactics then employed by the IDF are today taught in military academies the world over. Forty years after that war, we sought to understand its historical and military context, and above all in what way its results totally transformed Israel’s security situation. To this end, we asked Major-General Jacob Amidror, former head of the IDF’s Military Intelligence, to analyze the topic for us.
The first question is to know why the war took place?
The Six-Day War was an event imposed by history. Following 1948, the Arab states dreamt of destroying the State of Israel. Being a Jewish State, we had to undergo a number of wars, through which we were able to clearly show the Arab world that their dream could never be realized. It was inevitable that we be faced with wars in which the Arabs sought a victory that would permit Israel’s total annihilation. We had to fight these wars in such a way that when they ended the Arab world completely understood that the victory it sought was quite simply impossible. At the end of the 1967 war and the Yom Kippur War in 1973, every leader in the Middle East knew that the chances of exterminating the Jewish State by military force were non-existent. When I say that these wars were forced on us by history, I mean that they were the direct consequence of the 1948 War of Independence, at the end of which it had not been definitively established that Israel would exist and endure.
Do you believe that the results of the Six-Day War, especially at the territorial level, are still as important today as at the end of that conflict?
No, because we have signed peace treaties with the Egyptians and the Jordanians, and so for the time being do not need to be concerned about the possible creation of a military coalition between those two countries to attack us. We can count on a certain level of peacefulness, which I would currently qualify as stable on our eastern and western borders. The Arab world is no longer the same as 40 years ago. One of the results of the June 1967 war was the disappearance of Nasser, and today there is no single Arab leader who would be followed by all the other Arab states in launching a military adventure against us. To this should be added the fact that currently it is not our direct neighbors who are playing a key role on the Middle East, but rather more distant countries such as Iran. Therefore the current situation should not be assessed from the viewpoint of the end of the Six-Day War, though the importance of that war at the time must be properly appreciated. We went to war in 1967 with the most unfavorable territorial situation; in 1973 we joined the fighting at a military disadvantage, yet in both cases we had a dazzling victory. Do not forget that following the 1967 war, however incomprehensible it might seem, some Arab leaders still cherished the illusion that they could destroy us militarily. Yet the fact that we had a miniscule territory, and that in 1973 we suffered a massive, surprise attack did not prevent us from achieving spectacular victories. At the risk of repeating myself, I would say that the main achievement of those two wars was that we proved that notwithstanding two major handicaps and against all expectations, that Israel would continue to exist, irrespective of any Arab coalition that might be formed to annihilate us.
That was the position following the 1967 war. However, today the reality on the ground is different. How would you analyze it?
There are in fact several issues to take into account: Iran, Hizbullah and the fact that with the Oslo Accords we committed a major error by importing the PLO’s military into our own territory. We should recall that following the 1982 Lebanon War, we succeeded in banishing them from the region and exiling them to Tunisia. What’s more, of our own volition we abandoned several territorial advantages. We thought it was more important to have a peace agreement with Egypt than to control the Sinai Peninsula. As part of that treaty, we entered into certain military arrangements, which, if the accords are not honored by Egypt, risk making our defense situation more difficult. To achieve a political agreement, we took the risk of losing a buffer zone between Israel and Egypt. Today Sinai is artificially demilitarized and a peacekeeping force under US aegis is stationed there, even though the area remains fully under Egyptian sovereignty. This agreement with the Egyptians represented a first step towards improving our relations with other Arab countries in the Middle East, and to that extent appears to have been positive in and of itself. By the way, it is interesting to note that the Egyptians make a point of honor to comply with most of the agreement’s conditions down to their minutest detail. This treaty opened the doors to negotiations with Jordan, which led to a peace treaty, and our relations with certain Gulf States have improved. These are two things that would never have happened if we had not been able to make peace with Egypt. I also believe that as long as Egypt complies with the terms agreed as it does today, we can expect positive developments in the medium- and long-term.
Do you think that the rampant Islamization that is eating away at Egypt could in time put a question mark over the agreements signed with Israel?
I will answer by quoting President Mubarak, who recently stated that the Moslem Brotherhood and extremists movements were as much a threat to Egypt’s interests as to Israel’s. We hope the Egyptians will find a way of curbing this threat. When circumstances completely change, you have to re-assess the situation. If a revolution took place in Egypt, the entire Middle East would be faced with a new situation and we would have to react as a result. Having said which, it is true that Egypt is being rearmed with modern, sophisticated weaponry by the Americans. As you know, one of the prices we paid to sign the Camp David Accords was just that, that we accept Egyptian rearmament. Its financing is directly linked to American aid to Israel, and the budgets for the two countries are voted at the same time by Congress. I believe that today Israel could easily waive part of the American economic aid, which would result in a reduction in Egyptian military aid. We share President Mubarak’s fear that if the Moslem Brotherhood came to power and gained control of this immense arsenal, we would find ourselves in a very dangerous situation.
You mentioned positive developments in relations with certain Gulf States, but are there any with Saudi Arabia?
Our relations with that country are not good, however, the Saudis understand that stability in the Middle East may sometimes require Israel to take certain actions. Thus when Iran and Syria condemned the war against Hizbullah, which was not started by Israel, Saudi Arabia did not let the Arab League condemn Israel. The Saudis understood very well that it was also in their interest to stand up to radical movements, and they are not one of those financing Hizbullah. But contradictions do not trouble the Saudi regime, and while it is totally opposed to Shiite radicalism, it encourages and finances Sunni radicalism, providing various types of support on the quiet. Having said which, we do not have friendly relations with Saudi Arabia, however, in certain areas we share common interests. However, to date no common action has been undertaken.
How would you assess the situation with Syria?
As far as that country is concerned, in my opinion the 1967 situation, in which Syria was one of the motors pushing for the destruction of the Jewish State, has not changed. There is nothing to indicate that Damascus is prepared to accept the type of military and security arrangements that we entered into with Egypt. For me it is quite clear that we cannot enter into negotiations with Syria in the same way that we did with Egypt. In any case, the conditions are totally different. We can in no way consider relinquishing control of the Golan without agreeing to far-reaching security arrangements, which the Syrians are in no way prepared to accept.
Do you think there is a chance for peace with Syria if Israel without Israel having to abandon the Golan Heights?
I do not think so. However, the day the Syrians are prepared to take serious steps, such as totally abandoning support for terrorist organizations and acceptance of security arrangements that would leave us the possibility of defending ourselves, we could be more flexible about certain parts of the Golan Heights. When all is said and done, to defend itself properly, Israel must retain control of the western part of the Golan. If negotiations are entered into, they must culminate in security arrangements that leave Syria no opportunity to attack Israel. This means the reduction of Syrian forces, controls on their arms systems, an Israeli military presence on the Hermon and many other things. I do not believe that this sort of agreement can be considered in the short- or medium-term, and therefore Israel has no reason to abandon the Golan Heights without having obtained 100% reliable guarantees that would allow it to defend itself if the agreement is violated.
Speaking of Syria involves raising the Lebanon problem. How do you think things will develop in the Land of the Cedars?
The Lebanese have to decide if they want to be come a little Iran or an integral part of the free world. If they want to be a little Iran, that’s easy enough, they just have to let Nasrallah take power. However, if they want to be part of the western world, the Sunnis, the Druze and the Christians must take complete power, because together they can lead Lebanon towards being an open, prosperous country. That is not up to Israel to decide. However, you have to understand that the current situation is the result of a serious setback for the international community. It has refused to keep an Israeli presence in Lebanon and the destruction of Hizbullah. It’s true that we launched the ground offensive very late, but we did it and we were well on our way to finishing off Hizbullah. Unfortunately we were stopped and the world promised us to disarm Nasrallah. But as Israeli intelligence predicted, none of that was done. The promises of the international community were simply a dead letter. The flow of arms to Hizbullah from Iran has been interrupted, but Katyushas, rockets and missiles are being imported in huge quantities from Syria. At the end of the day, Hizbullah will be a State within a State, as it was prior to the Second Lebanon War. It is an independent country and we cannot stop it from committing suicide. Though it goes without saying, if attacked we would react extremely firmly. There can be no doubt that in the short- or medium-term Hizbullah wants to use the arms it has.
What do you consider to be Israel’s situation in respect of the palestinian Arabs living in Judea and Samaria?
Before giving you a precise answer, I would like for a moment to think through with you a hypothetical situation. Let’s imagine that the Six-Day War had never taken place. What would be happening in Gaza and the West Bank? I do not believe the Egyptians would have granted the slightest rights to the Palestinians. In Jordan we would have seen a deterioration in the situation, in which the Palestinian population, which makes up the vast majority of the country, including those living on the West Bank, would have seized power; the Hashemite kingdom would probably no longer exist, because it had been incapable of effectively resisting internal pressures. In a certain way, the 1967 war saved the monarchy and prevented the creation of a Palestinian state. We have no way of knowing if the situation would have been better or worse for Israel. But let’s just imagine for a moment the existence of a Palestinian state with very good relations with both Syria and Iraq, whose frontier, as was the case of Jordan until June 4, 1967, was situated at … Kfar Saba. I am not convinced that Israel’s military situation would have been so much simpler.
To come back to the present circumstances, there can be no doubt that the reality on the ground has deteriorated since the Oslo Accords, because we allowed Palestinian military capacity to be installed in the territories. Thus we have no partner and the PLO states to whoever is prepared to listen that its “moderation” during negotiations has only one purpose, to obtain through dialogue what it has failed to obtain by force. Incidentally, this situation can be clearly seen in Gaza. We evacuated the place fully and the local authorities were thus completely empowered to build something of value. But they just destroyed everything, and that just because of internal corruption and the total lack of will to create a state that ought to have coexisted alongside Israel. What’s more, in Gaza today they are busy creating today a mini-Lebanon, and there can be no doubt that at some point they will make use of the weapons they have. I believe an operation by the IDF in Gaza is inevitable. For the time being, it is cleverer for us not to intervene in the inter-Palestinian fighting. It must be understood that if Israel has to go back into Gaza, it will not recreate Gush Katif but will have no other choice than to settle in militarily for a very long period, in order to destroy on the ground Hamas’s entire military force. To illustrate my thesis, I would ask why are there no Kassam rocket attacks on Kfar Saba, located just 700m from Kalkilya, whose mayor is a member from Hamas? The answer is very simple: we control the ground, we are fighting the terrorists in the area and we do not give them a single chance to get organized to get access to Kassams. There are no differences between the Palestinians living in Kalkilya and those in Gaza. However, the circumstances are completely different between one place and the other, since in Gaza we no longer have control over the ground itself.
I would remind you that in 2002 we had 132 terrorist attacks per month and in 2006 there were 11 for the entire year! We have thus achieved a victory over the terrorist organizations operating in Judea and Samaria. However, to be permanent, the victory requires constant action by the army. We have not solved the problem of Arab terrorism, but we have succeeded in considerably reducing it and getting it under control. We are engaged in an ongoing war and I will never be able to repeat often enough, there is only one way to win: by controlling the ground. Let’s not forget that the bad, current situation, both politically and militarily, is the direct consequence of the major error committed by signing the Oslo Accords.
A last question, what do the palestinian Arabs want?
That can be said in a single word, “more, more, always more”. Whatever we offer, the response and the tactics can be summarized as, “it’s not enough, you have to give us more”. The final objective is clear, the refusal to accept the existence of a sovereign Jewish state in the Middle East.