ON January 13, while attention was focused on the American military action in Southern Iraq, an event of potentially far greater importance for Israel and the Middle East was taking place in Paris.
Under the auspices of Unesco, the international community opened the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) for signature. At this ceremony, Foreign Minister Peres signed the agreement which, if enforced, will prevent states from producing and selling material or facilities that can be used to manufacture chemical weapons. It will create a detailed system of enforcement.
The Israeli decision to sign came after a long and difficult debate within the the Foreign and Defense Ministries. Until recently, Israeli political and military leaders viewed most international arms limitation regimes, such as the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), as inapplicable to the Middle East, and even dangerous and counterproductive.
Many analysts and policy-makers feared that if Israel were to sign the CWC, it would be bound by the agreement, while, as recent history has shown, the Arab and Islamic states, from Algeria to Iran, would be able to evade the limitations.
Iraq was a signatory to the NPT, and had accepted international prohibitions on chemical and biological weapons, but these had absolutely no effect, and actually made it easier for Iraq to obtain materials and facilities. The same is true for Libya and the other states.
In addition, there are fears that the agreement is open to abuse in ways that can weaken Israeli security. The terms of the CWC allow other parties to demand "challenge inspections" of facilities that might be suspected of links to the production or storage of chemical weapons.
For examples, Iraq or Libya could demand the inspection of sensitive Israeli installations, knowing that these do not contain any chemical weapons facilities, but seeking to gain unrelated military intelligence. Although the governing board of the CWC can find any such request "frivolous," and refuse it, the CWC process, like the NPT, is potentially vulnerable to manipulation by the Arab and Islamic states.
In contrast, supporters of the CWC argue that from the Israeli perspective, enforceable international prohibitions on the production, storage and use of chemical weapons is a positive development. After the Iraqi use of chemical weapons, and Saddam's threat to "incinerate half of Israel," the rest of the world has finally recognized the insidious nature of these weapons.
By signing (and even co-sponsoring) the agreement, Israel is taking a clear moral stand, along with the US, Western Europe and the other co-sponsors.
Furthermore, the Israeli willingness to sign the agreement, despite the fear of abuse, is an important precedent for future arms control negotiations in the Middle East. If the provisions of the CWC are enforced, and the other states in the region are prevented from producing chemical weapons, while the verification provisions regarding Israel are not abused, this step can provide an important advance in the peace process.
THE Arab states, in contrast, have refused to sign the CWC, even though the entire effort that led to the agreement was prompted by the use of chemical weapons by Iraq and by the growing supplies in the Arab world.
The US and the rest of the major signatories are expected to respond sharply to this refusal, perhaps introducing sanctions and other forms of pressure. However, if the Arab states continue their boycott, and there are no sanctions or repercussions from the rest of the world, and the US in particular, Israeli cynics will have been proven correct. If this occurs, there are likely to be no further Israeli concessions in the arms-control process.
The Arabs, led by Egypt, have justified the rejection of the CWC by linking limits on chemical weapons to demands that Israel sign the NPT and accept limits on nuclear capabilities. Given the massive Arab conventional arsenals, and the threat these pose to Israel, this campaign is seen as an effort to weaken Israeli deterrence and security.
Nevertheless, in his statement in Paris, Peres sought to accommodate the Arabs by noting Israel's willingness to expand regional arms control to all weapons, including conventional arsenals. Nuclear capabilities would also be taken into account, following a stable peace agreement with all the states in the region.
This linkage also marked a major change in policy, and is, in some ways, more radical and controversial than the signature of the CWC.
In the past, Israeli officials have generally avoided public comment on nuclear policy. There is a fear that once the issue is raised, Israel will be stuck on a "slippery slope" that will lead to ever-increasing pressure to sign the NPT, and surrender its ultimate deterrent against an all-out Arab conventional attack. However, by explicitly linking chemical and nuclear weapons, Peres removed the primary justification for the Arab refusal to sign the CWC.
Thus, the CWC provides an important test case for Israel, the Middle East, and the proponents of arms control. If, like the NPT, the terms of the agreement are not enforced, and the process becomes highly politicized, further steps toward arms limitation will become impossible.
However, if the Arab states sign, and the verification provisions are not abused, Israel will be less reluctant to explore other forms of arms control, including, ultimately, the abolition of nuclear weapons in the context of an overall peace agreement.
In arms control, the ball is now in the Arabs' court. But unless
they change their policy, the game may be over.
IN developing a joint approach to the problem of some 400 members of Hamas deported to Lebanon, the Rabin and Clinton governments demonstrated a level of political maturity that bodes well for the future of the US-Israel relationship and the interests of both states.
Ever since the government announced the deportations, and following UN Security Council Resolution 799, the issue was potentially divisive and might have been expected to lead to a direct clash between Jerusalem and Washington.
Indeed, conflict over the expulsions seemed to provide a perfect opportunity for renewing the tension between Israel and America that had been largely absent for the past six months. It was clear that many Arab leaders sought to exploit this tension, in part as a means of rehabilitating Saddam Hussein. However, wiser heads prevailed, and the resolution of this issue has provided a firm foundation for a cooperative approach to solving additional problems that are likely to arise.
Such an outcome would have been difficult, or even impossible, during the days of Bush and Shamir, and credit for the agreement must be shared between Rabin and Clinton. The US, for its part, expressed an understanding of the threats that Israel faces from terrorism. (The first one-sided UN debate took place in the last days of the Bush administration, and might have addressed Israeli concerns more seriously had Clinton been in office. )
In a sharp break from the policy of the past four years, the official US policy statements did not attempt to preach to Israel, or to apply pressure simply to appease the Arabs. The Clinton team realizes that, as the world's sole superpower and the military guarantor for many of the Arab regimes, it can actively reject efforts aimed at the gratuitous isolation of Israel.
In addition, the arrogance and patronizing condescension that had characterized Bush and Baker's relationship towards Israel, even during the Gulf War, is gone. From its first days in office, the new administration put an end to this behavior, and showed an understanding of the need to work with Israel in developing a response to the threat of UN sanctions.
For his part, Rabin did not lecture to the Americans or seek a confrontation with the US, as Shamir might have. In contrast to Shamir and many members of the Likud, Rabin rejects the view that the rest of the world, including the Americans, are inherently hostile to the Jewish state. The current Israeli prime minister, who genuinely views the United States as an ally, rather than a threat, understands the importance of human rights issues for the new administration, and approved humanitarian relief and other measures.
He also appreciates the American desire to avoid a veto in the UN, and offered concessions to make it easier. Rabin has enough self-confidence to accept a limited retreat (still leaving 300 members of Hamas expelled for one year), for which the US could take credit. He knows that Israel's best interests, both political and military, are best served by cooperation, rather than conflict with the US.
Although somewhat belatedly, the Israeli government has began a public relations campaign focused at the US, in order to make it easier for the American government to "sell" the compromise package. In a series of speeches and public appearances, Rabin shifted the emphasis from alleged violations of the Palestinians' human rights to the fight against terror. The public disclosure of the arrest of American-based Hamas leaders and details of their activities was an important part of this process. In contrast, Shamir and other Likud leaders (as well as many Labor party leaders) generally conceded the important public relations battleground to the Arabs.
The key to the agreement was the constant and substantive dialogue between the two governments. From Washington, Secretary of State Warren Christopher as well as other members of the government informed their Israeli counterparts of the American concerns and made suggestions (but, in contrast to former secretary of state Baker and his colleagues, avoided public demands).
For his part, Rabin listened to the American proposals, arguing for what he believed necessary, while accepting changes that would not damage Israel's vital interests. These discussions took place without the posturing or rancor of the past four years.
The relationship between the US and Israel has always been rooted
in shared values and mutual interests. Both are threatened by
fundamentalist terrorism and the militarism and totalitarianism of
Iran and Iraq. The goals of stability and continued negotiations
between Israel and the Arabs are also central to the Americans and the
Israelis. The precedents established in dealing with this issue will
provide a foundation for continued cooperation to serve the interests
of both states.
AFTER the Gulf war, the major arms suppliers in the industrialized world - led by the US, Britain and France - belatedly discovered that the billions of dollars in weapons that they had sold to Middle Eastern despots could be turned against them.
Arms control became the order of the day, and dozens of studies and conferences on the topic were held. The peace talks that began in Madrid in 1991 included a multilateral working group on arms control.
A number of Arab states are participating in this group, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Algeria.
The major question surrounding all this activity is whether the Arab states are serious about accepting limits on their own military forces, particularly conventional weapons. For Israeli security, this is a critical issue. Since the "oil shock" of the early 1970s, Iraq, Libya and Saudi Arabia have spent hundreds of billions of dollars on modern tanks, artillery launchers, combat aircraft and missiles.
Without oil to sell, Israel is not able to keep up, and the massive military forces assembled by the Arabs pose a growing threat to its security.
Yahya Sadowski, a researcher at the Brookings Institution in Washington, argues that economic factors in these states will force them to accept and even seek limitations. In his book Scuds or Butter? The Political Economy of Arms Control in the Middle East, he argues: "The Arab world no longer possesses the economic resources that fueled the arms races of the past. Declining oil prices, overpopulation, economic mismanagement and foreign policy adventurism have wreaked havoc." The economies of Egypt, Syria and Jordan are in terrible shape, and their only way out is to cut military spending.
In addition, the large arsenals have not led to impressive military achievements, but rather, the Arab armies have been dealt a succession of major defeats, including the collapse of the Iraqi army in 1991. As a result, Sadowski continues, "the ability of Arab officers to lay claim to the lion's share of the state budget has been undermined by their declining prestige." He cites evidence that in such countries as Egypt, Jordan and Syria growing civilian demands have forced the military to reduce its share of resources.
In Iran, high unemployment - over 25 percent based on official figures but unofficially estimated to be much higher - and major problems in the economic infrastructure led to the adoption of a five-year development plan that called for the use of all oil-generated income for civilian needs. Even such rich oil producers as Saudi Arabia have growing deficits in their annual budgets, caused in large part by the multi-billion-dollar arms purchases. Sadowski concludes that in all these countries "interest in arms control is growing."
The argument is logical, but the Middle East is not, and there is clear evidence that Sadowki has ignored the realities of the region, and his conclusions are wrong. Despite its economic difficulties, between 1990 and 1992, Syria added 700 T-72 tanks, 48 MiG-29 and 24 Su-24 aircraft from Russia, and 150 Scud-C missiles from North Korea to its inventory.
According to reliable reports, the $2 billion that Syria received from Saudi Arabia during the Gulf war was used to purchase 700 more T-72 tanks, along with 250 Bulgarian-made self-propelled artillery launchers, additional MiG-29s, Su-27s and advanced air defense systems from Russia.
Egypt also continues to purchase advanced weapons, despite the economic and social costs, and a factory to produce American Abrams M-1 tanks is almost ready for operation.
In these states, the failures of the military and basic civilian needs have not produced major changes in economic priorities.
Among the major oil exporters, military spending and arms purchases have not only not slowed, but are increasing radically. Teheran, like Baghdad in the 1980s, has allocated billions of dollars for arms purchases, and spends one-quarter of its GNP on the military. All the available evidence suggests that the current Iranian government will continue to place military acquisitions ahead of economic development.
Similarly, after the Gulf war, Saudi Arabia announced plans to double the size of its armed forces and to acquire the most sophisticated, and expensive, military equipment available.
The major arms producers have also not lost their appetites, but with the end of the Cold War, the Middle East is the major remaining market for highly sophisticated and extremely expensive weapons. Each of the major producers has recently concluded multi-billion-dollar deals to sell arms with at least one primary oil exporter. Former US president George Bush sought to save jobs and his faltering re-election campaign by selling 72 advanced F-15 ground-attack combat aircraft to Saudi Arabia.
A number of European suppliers, including Italy, are eager to do business with Iran.
The evidence indicates that the only arms limitations that interest the Arabs are those that reduce Israel's ability to defend itself against attack.
As a result, the prospects for arms control in the Middle East
AFTER every terrorist act, Israeli government spokesmen, including the prime minister, declare that Palestinian violence is likely to increase as the peace process progresses.
These declarations seem intended to provide some comfort and reassurance, particularly in the absence of any effective policy to end terror. Indeed the rising rate of terrorism is used as an indicator of progress in the negotiations.
With the added implication that terror will end, or at least greatly diminish once peace agreements are signed, the high level of Palestinian violence becomes a temporary inconvenience, something to be endured for a short time.
Unfortunately, there is no basis for concluding that Palestinian terror will disappear with the conclusion of peace treaties, even with a large-scale Israeli withdrawal.
Arab terrorism has existed for decades, regardless of political conditions. From the 1920s to the 1940s, Palestinian mobs periodically attacked and murdered Jews under the British Mandate, and terror continued following the armistice agreements that ended the War of Independence of 1948.
The hatred that fuels terrorism has persisted despite numerous political and organizational changes, and has proclaimed its "achievements" under many names and flags.
The savage violence that erupted in 1929 and continued through the 1930s and 1940s was organized under the auspices of the Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin el-Husseini, and in the 1950s by the fedayeen terrorists in Gaza (then controlled by Egypt). In the early 1960s, the flag of terrorism was raised by Fatah and the PLO; 25 years later, Islamic fundamentalists took the lead, through groups like Hamas and the Islamic Jihad.
Each group has gained support through acts of violence and terror, and in every period and political situation, Palestinian society has continued to support the most violent terrorism. Seen from this perspective, terrorism is the norm, interrupted occasionally by the periodic application of deterrence and counter-force.
Terror is thus unrelated to Israeli borders or policies. Attacks on Jews, simply because they are Jews, can be attributed to deep religious, ethnic and nationalist hatreds.
AFTER decades of violently rejecting the legitimacy of Jewish sovereignty, significant numbers of Palestinians are likely to continue refusing to accept any agreements with Israel, regardless of the extent of concessions from Jerusalem.
Both the Israeli and Palestinian negotiators have ignored the fact that only a fundamental change in the attitude of Palestinian society toward Israel can end the terrorism - and this process should be their top priority.
Such basic societal changes are extremely difficult; in this case, decades of Palestinian rejectionism and denial of Jewish historical rights in Israel must be rejected before the sources of violence disappear.
However, in the peace process to date, beginning with Madrid, Israeli leaders have allowed the Palestinians to set the agenda, which has been exclusively concerned with the definition of autonomy and allegations of "human rights abuses" by Israel.
The Palestinians have not only ignored the issue of terrorism, but have adopted the cause of the Hamas terrorist leaders as their primary issue. At best, they facilely dismiss the brutality and violence of terrorism as a consequence of the "Israeli occupation," ignoring the decades of terror that preceded the "occupation" (which was a result of the 1967 war).
For Israel, the central objective in talks with Palestinians is the neutralization of the sources of terror. If, as Yitzhak Rabin and other leaders claim, the successful conclusion of the peace talks will end the random stabbings and murder, the real sources of this violence must be addressed.
Unless the Palestinians can present a credible and long-term program to reverse the rejection of Jewish historical links to this land, unless they recognize the legitimacy of the State of Israel, these talks have no purpose.
Instead of continuing to distort history and blame Israel for the
existence of refugees, Palestinian leaders will have to confront their
own responsibility. Without tearing out the roots that support
terrorism in Palestinian society, no agreement on autonomy, not even
the creation of an independent Palestinian state, will end terror
ARTHUR Ruppin, who was one of Labor Zionism's icons and "founding fathers," began his political career in the 1920s with the widely held view that Jews and Arabs could join forces to create a "new people." However, reality, in the form of Arab attacks on Jews, soon intruded on this noble humanistic vision.
At first, Ruppin embraced bi-nationalism in the form of the separate development of Jews and Arabs within a single political entity. Arab riots and terror against the small Jewish community escalated, leading Ruppin to reevaluate his views. Breaking with his colleagues, who continued to cling to the naive vision of bi-nationalism, he declared that this was impossible because "the Arabs simply do not want Jews to come to Israel."
By 1936, Ruppin had concluded that "all the Arabs in the Land of Israel oppose the Zionist movement ... and will continue to be our enemies."
Despite all of the attempts to find signs of hope, the evidence is that very little has changed, on either side. Palestinian terrorism continues, and Jewish victims of this ethnic and religious hatred are buried now, as they were 70 years ago. However, in contrast to Ruppin, the Israeli left clings to the naive and ultimately tragic belief that the terrorists are a marginal element of Palestinian society, and that a meaningful coexistence, with an end to terror and violence, is at hand, if only "Israel would be more flexible."
An article by Misha Louvish ("One issue - two sides," March 24) provides a case in point. Louvish claims that despite all the violence, the attitudes of the Palestinians toward Israel have evolved significantly over the past three decades. Ideological rejectionism has been replaced by pragmatism and a willingness to compromise.
In the 1960s, the PLO's National Covenant called for the elimination of the Jewish State, but, according to Louvish, the current willingness to negotiate with the Israelis marks a fundamental change. Just as Egypt agreed to recognize the legitimacy of Israel in exchange for Israeli withdrawal from Sinai, he argues that Palestinian leaders are now willing to acknowledge the legitimacy of Israel in order to gain control over the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
WHERE Ruppin dealt with reality, however painful, the evidence that Louvish presents is marked by contradictions and "short cuts" designed to make the facts fit the desired outcome.
The core of his case for fundamental change is based on the absurd claim that for the Palestinians, the Zionist movement "meant a denial of their right to decide their own future. That was the fundamental grievance that fed the fires of 'religious, ethnic and nationalist hatreds' ..."
This version of history has overlooked all of the compromise efforts, including the 1947 UN partition plan in which the land was to be divided (in a manner that greatly favored the Arabs) and both groups would be able to determine their own future. The Palestinians rejected this division, not because they did not want to "decide their own future," but because they would not afford the Jews a similar right.
This has always been and continues to be the basis for Palestinian terrorism, and is responsible for the stabbings, shootings and other forms of violence.
It is true that now, in contrast to the past four decades, there are some Palestinian leaders who are willing to talk directly and formally to Israelis. Yet, as the continued terrorism shows, this does not mean that Palestinian society has undergone a fundamental transformation in its attitudes toward Israel and in its ultimate goals and objectives.
Sadly, the negotiations have been exploited by the Palestinians to pressure Israel into making unilateral concessions.
The tragedy, for Israel, is that in the context of negotiations, the Palestinians have been encouraged to believe that they can continue to avoid publicly and clearly acknowledging the historical legitimacy of Israel as a Jewish state, and taking concrete steps to counter the sources of terrorism.
According to Louvish "negotiations are the only solution," but negotiations are no solution at all. Beyond the process, he presents us with no substance and warns us not to expect the Palestinians to "suddenly realize that they have been wrong all along," reject violence, and recognize "the legitimate rights and just requirements of the Jewish people."
In asking whether we should "send a vast army of teachers into the schools in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip to teach the youngsters to love the Jews ... ," he, like many others on the left, avoids coming to grips with this central issue.
Nevertheless, in the context of political negotiations, it is the responsibility of the Palestinians to find a means of ending terror. If they want the benefits of a peace agreement, including the "right to decide their own future," the Palestinians bear the responsibility for developing and implementing a program which will eliminate the sources of terrorism.
No one would claim that this will be easy, or that the Palestinian negotiators will embrace this task with enthusiasm, but that does not diminish its importance for Israel.
As Arthur Ruppin would have argued, peace and an end to the
hatred are inseparable, and if Israeli demands for a realistic plan to
end terror disrupt the negotiations, these were not worth pursuing in
the first place.
MIDDLE East arms control talks will get a major boost in the next two months with a series of seminars, conferences and diplomatic exchanges involving the unusual simultaneous participation of Arab countries, Iran and Israel.
A conference sponsored by the United Nations to discuss limits on regional arms is set to open in Cairo on April 18, including addresses from Egyptian Foreign Minister Amr Moussa and Jordanian Crown Prince Hassan.
The United States will send delegates including Dr. Martin Indyk, former head of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and now head of the Mid-East desk at the National Security Council.
Egypt can be expected to renew calls for a Middle East nuclear-free zone designed primarily to force Israel to accept other limitations in the area of nuclear weapons.
Israel, which will have only a small delegation, is likely to counter with demands for Egyptian acceptance of the new Chemical Weapons Convention as a prelude to future talks.
While Israel has endorsed the nuclear-free zone as a long-term goal, it has insisted that - in order to work - any such mechanism must include Iran, Libya and Syria.
Israel has also stipulated that such arms control measures be linked to implementation of peace treaties and normalized relations marking an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Dedicated verification measures - such as allowing Israel to inspect facilities in Iran, Libya and vices versa will have to be developed, but it appears that such steps are still far away.
Meanwhile, Israeli policymakers insist that arms control begin with the enforcement of the chemical weapons treaty enacted earlier this year as well as limitations of the massive numbers of advanced conventional weapons - such as missiles - which threaten peace in general and Israel in particular.
Attempts to get Israel to accede to one-sided concessions in arms control are probably likely to be doomed from the start.
In addition, arms control prospects in the region will suffer from the experience with Iraq which signed every arms control treaty available - and them violated them all - including the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the 1925 Geneva Convention on Chemical Weapons.
The experience with Iraq only underscores the ineffectiveness of current arms control regimes.
UN officials will report to the conference on the failures of its Special Commission that was supposed to disarm Saddam Hussein but has been hampered by Iraqi resistance and obstruction.
Over two years have passed since the US and its allies ended the war against Iraq in return for Iraqi promises to destroy all non-conventional arms and facilities, but the games of cat and mouse continue.
The Cairo conference - which will include representatives from Turkey, France, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iran - is not likely to change any minds, but it may mark the beginning of a dialogue.
After the sessions are concluded, members of the Israeli and Egyptian governments will meet to develop an agenda for the multi-lateral working group on arms control scheduled for mid-May in Washington and a follow-up meeting in Cairo in June.
From the Israeli perspective, in order for the arms talks to succeed, the military threat to Israel from both conventional and available non-conventional weapons, will have to end before Israel can accept any limits on its reported nuclear deterrent.
Israeli officials can be expected to stress that Israel cannot disarm or accept unilateral limitations while threats to its national survival remain.
The arms control process is likely to take years or even decades,
and, meanwhile, participants such as the US, Egypt and Israel will
have to work within the realities of a hostile Middle East - such as
aggressive arms programs in Syria and Iran - and the continuing
threats to Israeli security.
SINCE the end of its war with Iraq, Iran has embarked on the world's most extensive arms-purchasing spree and despite the extensive economic destruction resulting from that war, Teheran's ayatollahs have spent tens of billions of dollars to buy advanced weapons from all available sources.
The new acquisitions include hundreds of advanced tanks, combat aircraft, naval craft and other weapons platforms. Russia has sold Iran two Kilo-class submarines capable of roaming the Straits of Hormuz and the Gulf and reaching the Red Sea and other strategic maritime passages, blocking shipping or executing commando operations.
The bulk of the money, however, has gone to pay for efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction in a program that resembles Saddam Hussein's. Last year, Iran received a number of shipments of North Korean long-range Scud-C missiles and launchers.
These weapons could carry the chemical, biological and nuclear warheads that Iran is seeking and - in the case of chemicals - has reportedly already acquired. The Iranian nuclear program is built on the remains of the infrastructure created under the shah in the 1970s, with the addition of Chinese and North Korean technology and materials.
The threat posed by these acquisitions extends to all the states in the region, including Egypt, Turkey, Russia and the Central Asian republics. Iran is the primary supporter of fundamentalist units operating throughout the Middle East and threatens the stability of many regimes.
The US is watching the developments in Teheran carefully, noting that the Iranian buildup is directed, in large part, at reasserting the Iranian claim to be a major regional power and at evicting the West from the Gulf and Middle East. Recognizing the dangers, and trying to prevent the development of another Iraq, Washington has implemented a policy designed to slow or prevent Iran from acquiring these weapons of mass destruction.
THE IRANIAN buildup and the emerging capability to project strategic power at a significant distance has also caused alarm in Israel. Indeed, politically and rhetorically, the Iranian leaders in Teheran have frequently declared Israel to be their primary target.
After Syria joined the Arab-Israeli peace talks, Iran became the center for the "rejectionist front," violently opposing the peace talks and any rapprochement with the "Zionist regime." This is more than empty rhetoric: Iran provides training and funds for fundamentalists operating in southern Lebanon, Gaza and within Israel itself.
The combination of military capabilities and hostile statements of intention caused Israeli policymakers to respond. In 1992, the Iranian threat was discussed in a series of public statements by the head of IDF Intelligence, Gen. Uri Saguy, Air Force commander Herzl Bodinger and government officials.
These statements seemed designed to deter decisionmakers in Teheran and to press the US into action before another Saddam emerges.
Last January, Prime Minister Rabin revealed intelligence reports estimating that Iran would acquire nuclear weapons in the next 10 years, and called for "an appropriate international effort to prevent Iran from achieving its ends." In an appearance before the Knesset, Deputy Foreign Minister Beilin, who is not known for hawkish views, warned that Iran is "a state that sees terror as a legitimate tool, a state that is not rational and is extreme ..." and called attention to Israel's deterrent capability.
THERE ARE some signs that the message, both from the US and from Israel, is getting through to at least some Iranian leaders and they may be trying to reduce the dangers of a military confrontation before their forces are ready. Some Iranian officials have privately passed the message that, in contrast to the rhetoric from Teheran, Israel is not their major military concern. In one blunt statement, a member of the Iranian government declared that "we are not crazy enough to try to take on Israel."
In response, the Israeli government has also lowered its tone, noting that Israel does not seek a confrontation with Iran.
Nevertheless, estimates of the probability of a military clash in the medium term are still high. As long as the ayatollahs in Iran use threats against Israel to maintain their hold on power and attempt to disrupt the peace process, private reassurances will have little impact.
In the Middle East, verbal threats directed toward a domestic
constituency often assume a life of their own and leaders can get
trapped in their own rhetoric - as occurred in 1967. The messages
from a few Iranian officials are of little significance when weighed
against the growing military capability being acquired by the
fundamentalist regime in Teheran. Both Israel and the US are watching
to see if Iran will match the private reassurances with visible
restrictions in military acquisitions, particularly in the area of
IN 1947, when the UN proposed the establishment of a Jewish and an Arab state, the Palestinians overreached, rejected compromise and attempted to conquer everything. They ended up with nothing.
Twenty years later, after Nasser's promise to "drive the Jews into the sea" led to Israel's occupation of the West Bank, the Palestinians rejected Israel's offer to trade land for peace. In Khartoum, Arab leaders responded to the Israeli proposal by declaring "no talks, no recognition, no peace." They were convinced that, as in 1956, external pressure would quickly force Israel to withdraw to the pre-1967 boundaries, without requiring Arab acceptance of Israel.
They overreached again, and, after 26 years, Israel has not moved.
Now it appears that, for the third time, the Palestinians are in danger of pushing too far and ending up with nothing.
Members of the Palestinian delegation in Washington and the local leadership believe they have the Rabin government "on the run." In the Palestinian view, the expulsion of the 400 Hamas activists did significant damage to Israel's image. And Rabin's confused response to March's wave of terrorism and stabbings is seen as another sign of Israeli weakness, as is the extended sealing of the West Bank and the de facto recreation of the Green Line.
All this has made the Palestinians confident of having the upper hand. This, they believe, is the time to extract major concessions from Israel.
They can point to many signs to show that this is the case. In order to get the Palestinians back to the peace table, Israeli concessions were far-reaching, even unprecedented. Palestinians deported as long as 26 years ago have been readmitted, and 5,000 people have been allowed to stay after expiration of their visitor's permits.
The Palestinians declare that this is the first installment toward exercising the "right of return" for those who fled in the 1948 and 1967 wars, as well as their descendants, and, in the longer term, toward converting the Jewish state into an Arab one.
The Palestinians also interpret the acceptance of Faisal Husseini as head of the Palestinian delegation as a sign of Israeli weakness. Both a resident of Jerusalem and the local leader of the PLO, Husseini had until now been disqualified from formal participation on both counts. Palestinians now see the PLO as legitimized, and are pressing to redivide and claim sovereignty in Jerusalem.
In response to American pressure, generated by the aggressive media campaign focusing on "the occupation" and allegations of "Israeli abuses of human rights," Israel also appears to be retreating and the Palestinians seem to have the upper hand.
Substantively, the Palestinians see Israel's agreement to transfer authority over water and land and to the creation of a local police force as concrete steps toward the establishment of a Palestinian state. At the same time, Israeli leaders have not demanded anything from the Palestinians, and Foreign Minister Peres is widely quoted as saying that the Palestinians have nothing to give.
ALL this has left the Palestinians jubilant and very confident. They are continuing to press their campaign, both in the media, in order to isolate Israel even further, and at the political level.
Palestinian leaders are demanding that the five-year interim stage be skipped and that negotiations begin immediately on the long-term solution, which, for them, means an independent state. They see Israel as too weak and divided to resist and view the US as tired, occupied in the Balkans, worried about Islamic fundamentalism and therefore supportive of their demands.
However, now, as in the past, the Palestinians are reading the political map incorrectly. While Israel might look weak and Rabin may have been confused in his initial reaction to the last wave of terrorism, he recovered well. The closure of the territories is very popular among the Israeli electorate, despite the economic cost The closure may continue indefinitely, leaving the Palestinians in the territories to fend for themselves.
From the Israeli perspective, the Palestinian delegation in Washington is riven with strife, unable to make decisions and threatened from fundamentalists and the PLO leadership in Tunis.
The program offered at the peace talks in Washington was available to the Palestinians a few months ago, and they have gained nothing by drawing out the process.
The relationship between the US and Israel has strengthened, and there is a great deal of coordination and consultation over strategy. The Israeli government did not have to be pushed very far in making its concessions, because Rabin realizes that the time has come to put the Palestinians to the test and see what they can deliver.
From the Israeli side of the fence, it is the Palestinians who look weak and divided. Now that Israel has made far-reaching concessions, it is the Arabs who must deliver - or risk being blamed for the collapse of the process.
The infighting within the Palestinian delegation and its inability to formulate a negotiating position are signs of deep divisions and political immaturity. The addition of Husseini is the last chance for the Palestinians to get their act together and act coherently.
The shrill denunciations from Haider Abdul Shafi and Hanan Ashrawi, continuing even after all the Israeli gestures, and the anti-Israel propaganda that accompanied these efforts to build confidence, created a great deal of anger in the Clinton administration.
The Americans know that in Israel's democracy, no government will be able to make more gestures unless Rabin can show a significant change in attitude among the Palestinians and a clear readiness to end hatred and hostility toward Israel.
The broader danger is that now, as in the past, the Palestinians will misread temporary confusion in Israel as fundamental weakness, or misinterpret Israeli efforts to end the conflict as collapse. The Palestinians are still by far the weaker party in this relationship, and they have the most to prove in this process.
By overreaching and demanding concessions that Israel cannot give
and that would threaten Israeli security, they are likely to end up in
the same situation they found themselves in 1949 and 1967.
THE pessimists (or realists) who have said from the beginning that the "peace" talks are doomed to failure seem to have been right. Despite all the Israeli concessions, goodwill gestures and confidence-building measures, the Palestinians do not seem to be interested in compromise and agreement.
In the recently concluded ninth round of bilateral talks, the Palestinians continued to focus on scoring propaganda points rather than negotiating. First, they reduced the size of their delegation to three, preventing much substantive discussion and deftly preventing Faisal Husseini from taking part. Then, instead of responding to the detailed Israeli proposal on autonomy, the remaining delegates raised the most sensitive issues - the creation of a Palestinian state and the status of Jerusalem.
The Palestinians knew that efforts to place these issues on the agenda would be rejected by Israel, but they were not interested in the substance of negotiations in the first place. In the last days, when the Americans tried to salvage something from this farce by calling for a three-way meeting to discuss a draft of agreed principles, the Palestinians, reportedly acting on orders from Yasser Arafat, did not even show up.
Given the disarray among the Palestinians and their continued inability to negotiate seriously about the terms of coexistence with Israel, it is surprising that the process has lasted as long as it did. In fact, historically, there are few or maybe no examples of a peaceful settlement of an intense ethno-national and religious conflict.
Nevertheless, for over 18 months, Israeli representatives have met with Palestinians. Much of the credit for this lengthy, if ultimately fruitless, effort goes to the US, which believed that the lessons of history could be ignored, at least in the Middle East. Now, after the events of the past weeks, maybe even some members of the State Department, as well as the Israeli Foreign Ministry, will admit that the process may have reached a dead end.
THE question, therefore, is where to go from here. One option is for increased American pressure. Here, the Palestinians and some Israeli officials seem to agree.
Since the Madrid conference in October 1991, the Arabs have called for direct American involvement, and they were pleased when the Clinton administration declared its intention to become a "full partner." They expected exclusive US pressure on Israel, as in the days of Bush and Baker.
However, after the State Department extracted concessions from Rabin, it turned to the Palestinians, who said no. The obstacles to Palestinian cooperation are internal, and it is hard to see what more American pressure can accomplish.
At some point, it will probably be necessary to admit this peace effort, like its predecessors, has failed, and to define the alternatives. Under these circumstances, the best option for Israel may be unilateral disengagement from certain areas that are costly to control and less than critical for security. Rabin and the Labor Party are right that Israel cannot survive as a Jewish state as long as we are responsible for the welfare of 1.8 million Palestinians. The demographic problem is real, and if we cannot negotiate disengagement, we can take steps in this direction without the cooperation of the Arabs.
A proposal along this line has been published by Tel Aviv University's Clinton Bailey, and deserves greater attention. Furthermore, this process has already begun, to a limited degree, with Rabin's freeze on settlements in the densely populated areas of Judea and Samaria and the end to unlimited access of Palestinians to Israeli cities and towns.
Israel does not have to give up military control of the Gaza Strip in order to pull most of its troops out. The IDF can maintain military control of the Jordan Valley and the line of strategic ridges between the valley and Jerusalem without daily patrols in Jenin and the casbah of Nablus.
Unilateral disengagement from parts of Judea and Samaria is not without risks and costs. There are those who argue that Israeli disengagement from the highly populated areas will result in increased terrorism, but this is far from certain. Another concern is that with disengagement, the Palestinians will declare a state and seek to gain international recognition and support. However, without control over any territory outside of these urban clusters, and unable to import or manufacture weapons, such efforts are unlikely to go very far. Rather, either formally or informally, these areas will probably opt for increased ties with Jordan.
Discussion of these concepts is just beginning, and further and
more detailed analysis is necessary before any decisions are made.
However, if the peace talks are reaching a dead end, it is important
to begin to consider alternatives which address Israeli national
interests. The negotiations are a means to an end, and if they fail,
additional and more effective means should be found.
IF efforts to negotiate an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict fail, historians will be able to look back and identify many factors that were responsible for that failure. Many are substantive, including the Palestinians' failure to address Israeli security requirements and the internal conflict and lack of professionalism within the Palestinian leadership.
That said, the single greatest weakness is the nature of the processes that were (and are still) being followed. In retrospect, these will be seen as fatally flawed.
From the beginning, both American and Israeli government officials have referred to these talks as "the last hope" and "the only alternative to catastrophic war." Yet in any negotiating situation, the absence of other alternatives is a recipe for failure.
Anybody who has ever haggled over a used car or strolled through a market knows that the ability to walk away and find a more desirable option is essential to making a deal.
Early on in the process, Palestinian and Syrian leaders apparently concluded - or were led to conclude - that Israel needs peace treaties more than they do, and that they need them on any terms; and that even if it had other options, the Americans would not agree to them. Once the Arab leaders reached this conclusion, any incentives they may have had to make concessions disappeared.
In such circumstances, the Arabs feel there are no inherent limits. Syria can demand all of the Golan Heights, without acceding to the requirements for a "full peace" with Israel.
Similarly, if Israel and the US have no alternative other than an agreement with the Palestinians, the PLO might as well make maximalist demands, including establishing the foundations for a state and changing the status of Jerusalem.
As the peace talks drag on without progress, it is becoming clearer that both Israel and the US could survive without an agreement. Despite declarations to the contrary, a number of alternatives do exist, and many of them are preferable to what the Palestinians and Syrians are demanding.
The status quo ante of October 1991, with full Israeli control of the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan Heights, is only one alternative. The dangers of this option include the possibility of another major war with Syria and continued or even expanded Palestinian terrorism.
The proposals presented repeatedly by the Arab delegations seem to reduce neither of these dangers; they may even increase them. Without real peace, "normalization" and demilitarization, Israeli withdrawal from these strategic territories would be worse for Israeli interests than an agreement.
Still, the status quo ante carries significant costs: these would include continued responsibility for 1.8 million Palestinians, and a continuation of terrorism.
As a result, other options involving limited withdrawal or disengagement from the densely populated centers of Samaria and Gaza are being increasingly considered within Israel.
The conditions for this type of limited unilateral disengagement were created last year, when Israeli settlement activities in these areas were reduced, and strengthened in April with the closure of the territories.
ALTHOUGH never clearly articulated, these moves have given Israel a range of options, should the negotiations fail. Limited disengagement on terms which maximize Israeli requirements may be more beneficial than various autonomy arrangements. In addition, such a step be realized quickly, without tortuous negotiations with the Palestinians.
Similarly, and despite popular perceptions, US interests can be maintained even if the current negotiations fail.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Arabs lost their primary patron. The Iraqi threat to Western interests was largely self-inflicted, as these countries sold Saddam his massive arsenal of weapons and military technology. If Western arms suppliers learn some self-control, regional stability and access to oil can be maintained through a strengthened military presence, independent of the status of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Ideally, agreement on a comprehensive peace agreement that would end the Arab-Israeli conflict would meet everyone's interests. Realistically, this is unlikely as long as the Arabs, especially the Palestinians, maintain a highly distorted view of Israeli and American interests and options.
Should there be a chance of starting substantive negotiations - and the odds are low - this depends on Israel's making it clear that it is prepared to walk away unless its interests are met. Alternative options that can be implemented unilaterally may have the effect of saving the peace process.
Ironically, once Israel has the ability to walk away, the Palestinians and Syrians will have a much greater incentive to negotiate seriously.
And if the talks still fail? The basis for alternative and
acceptable policies will already be in place.
WHEN the Arab-Israeli peace process began, Saudi Arabia was seen as central to its success or failure. This was because, politically and financially, Riyadh has contributed to, and in some ways led, the Arab cause against Israel.
As claimants to the religious leadership of Islam (because of their guardianship of Mecca and Medina), the Saudis, by rejecting the legitimacy of Jewish sovereignty, have played an important role in the religious and nationalist aspects of the conflict.
In the Arab world, the Saudis have been among the major purveyors of antisemitic literature. When Henry Kissinger was US secretary of state, the king lectured him on the danger posed by Israel in terms taken straight from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
The Saudis have closed their borders to Jewish visitors, including prominent senators.
Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have been major pillars of the Arab economic boycott of Israel. Many firms seeking contracts from the Saudis are routinely warned against hiring Jews or doing business with Israel. Without the support of Saudi Arabian petrodollars, the Arab economic boycott would have collapsed long ago.
The Saudis have also used their oil wealth to finance massive arms purchases among the Arab states; they paid for much of Iraq's arsenal, including its nuclear weapons program. The $2b. Saudi Arabia paid to Syria for support against Iraq in the 1991 Gulf war went to buy North Korean missiles and other arms. For many years, Saudi funding also supported the PLO and now goes to fundamentalist terrorist groups, such as Hamas.
For a long period, the Arabists among American and Israeli diplomats, academics, and journalists have tended to apologize for the Saudis, and to attribute virulent anti-Israeli policies to timidity and fear of "being out in front" of the rest of the Arab world. However, in the wake of the 1991 Gulf war, Saudi policy was expected to change radically.
Analysts and policymakers, particularly in the US, assumed that the Iraqi threat had showed the House of Saud its vulnerability and the extent of dependence on Washington. The decade of warfare in the Gulf should also have demonstrated that the major threat to Saudi interests came from the Gulf, not from Israel. And the war also showed that Israel and the Saudis had many common interests.
Initially, the expectations of change and active Saudi contributions to the peace process seemed to be realistic. Saudi leaders, including Prince Bandar Ibn Sultan, Riyadh's ambassador in Washington, met with Jewish leaders and seemed to promise changes.
And the importance of the multilateral talks was based largely on the contribution that key countries like Saudi Arabia could make in establishing confidence between Arabs and Israeli, visibly demonstrating acceptance of the presence and legitimacy of the Jewish State.
YET IN the months that followed the Madrid conference, the Saudis became invisible again, and played almost no role in the multilateral talks or in developing greater acceptance of Israel in the region.
In the working group on regional security and arms control, Saudi opposition has prevented the creation of the Red Sea rescue center, which could have served as a preliminary confidence-building measure. The Saudis are still financing Syria's arms purchases, including long-range missiles from North Korea.
And maps produced for Saudi firms and government agencies, even those distributed overseas, do not contain a hint of Israel.
The Saudis have refused to end participation in the Arab economic boycott. While third parties, most notably the US State Department, have claimed on behalf of the Saudis that Riyadh has pledged to end the economic warfare against Israel, its actions are unchanged.
Despite the dangers posed to moderate regimes like Egypt, Saudi Arabian funds are continuing to flow to Islamic fundamentalists, who have inherited the leadership of the Arab rejectionist front. The PLO is also, ironically, complaining about Saudi funding for Hamas and is seeking US help to restore the flow of funds to it, cut off during the Gulf war.
In the past few weeks, however, signs of change in Saudi Arabian policy are growing again: in the wake of intense American pressures, the Saudi government has leaked reports about a relaxation of the economic boycott of Israel. And the level of Saudi participation in the multilateral working groups was heightened, albeit marginally.
More importantly, in a speech to Moslem pilgrims in Mecca including groups from Iran, King Fahd is reported to have declared his support for peace agreements between the Arabs and Israel. He called for an end to the years of warfare, and conversion of resources now dedicated to warfare into economic growth.
This public statement of support - in Arabic and directed at a broad Arab audience - seems to demonstrate a willingness to play a leadership role in this process.
It is possible to interpret these moves as an indication that the Saudis now realize that, in the long term, warfare and instability pose the major threat to their interests and survival; but these indications are still very tentative, and need systematic confirmation and extension.
A formal and visible end to the economic boycott, a more public and activist role in the multilateral talks and greater Saudi recognition of Israeli legitimacy, would confirm a change in Saudi policy.
But having made a few gestures, the Saudis may also retreat: they may continue to participate in the boycott and maintain all their old policies regarding Israel and Jews.
If this occurs, the prospects for an overall Middle East peace
will diminish further.
THE public relations campaign that marked the anniversary of Rabin's government overlooked its most important accomplishment - the restoration of close cooperation between Jerusalem and Washington.
As a result, many potential crises in bilateral relations were avoided over the past year. While differences of views and even opposing policies are inevitable in any relationship, the Rabin and Clinton governments have been able to accept the legitimacy of these differences and maintain cooperation.
In December 1992, after a series of terrorist attacks led to the temporary expulsion of over 400 Hamas leaders, both Jerusalem and Washington worked to prevent a rift. At the request of the US, Rabin agreed to accept the return of some of the Islamic militants. He realized that such flexibility did not compromise Israel's vital interests, while it strengthened US-Israeli ties. The US, for its part, provided the leadership to gain the endorsement of the UN Security Council.
In April, after greatly increased terrorism, the US accepted Rabin's decision to close of the territories, with all of its implications, as necessary for national security. Despite Palestinian protests and propaganda, there is no pressure on Israel to reverse this policy.
In other areas, particularly concerning the ongoing negotiations with the Palestinians and Syrians, Rabin has also been able to show flexibility in dealing with Washington, while guaranteeing Israel's national interests. Immediately upon assuming office, he froze building activity in densely populated areas of Judea and Samaria, thereby removing one of the Palestinians' primary propaganda cards, and making Washington happy.
In contrast to former prime minister Shamir's approach, which was based on long and fruitless contests over Palestinian representation in these talks, Rabin accepted a greater presence for the PLO and agreed to Faisal Husseini's participation. With respect to Syria, the premier has agreed to the "land for peace" formula (while not agreeing to full withdrawal from the Golan Heights), thus forcing Syria to define the nature of the peace it is offering.
In this way, Rabin prepared the foundation for shifting the burden of responsibility for the outcome of the peace talks to the Arabs. In contrast to Baker and Bush, Clinton and many of his advisers are aware that Arab hostility, and not Israeli settlements, are the "greatest obstacles to peace."
IRONICALLY, just as US-Israeli cooperation has been restored, conflict over the American role in the negotiations has resurfaced. At a crucial juncture in this process, after months of Palestinian "stonewalling," and failure to engage in a serious dialogue with Israel, the US stepped in with a document of its own.
For Rabin, this was an American betrayal of trust. By intervening, the US removed pressure on the Palestinians for direct negotiations and historic compromise with Israel, and seemed to validate Shamir's warnings about the dangers of US involvement.
The perception of Washington's support for Palestinian claims regarding Jerusalem, which would be unacceptable to any Israeli government, has also weakened Rabin domestically. It appears that the US is continuing to reward Palestinian hostility and terror, while important Israeli concessions only seem to create pressure for more.
If these differences with the US lead to increased conflict extending to other issues, Rabin's efforts to restore US-Israel relations will be seen as a failure. However, if the American policymakers recognize the legitimacy of the Israeli position, even if they disagree, and refrain from the pressures and arrogance that characterized communications just one year ago, Rabin's approach will be vindicated.
While such differences are inevitable and will continue, the
critical question is whether both Jerusalem and Washington are able to
focus on the broader interests that they share, and pursue these
interests with mutual respect.
With the rapid developments in the peace process, the role of the US-Israel security relationship becomes increasingly important. In taking risks on the ground and preparing for territorial withdrawal, Israeli defense requirements will increase, and the role of the US in offsetting these risks is vital.
However, a recent report published by the United States General Accounting Office on the Arrow missile defense project serves as a reminder the complexity and sensitivity of the strategic relationship between Israel and the US. The Arrow is an advanced research and development project conducted by Israel, with significant cooperation and funding from the US government. After a number of test failures, including the cancellation of a recent test when the target missile failed, and the future of the effort is uncertain.
The GAO's report was highly critical of the project, and according to press summaries, focused on three main issues; the cost of the project, its objectives, and control over the uses of American technology, (an indirect reference to charges that Israel had transferred know-how or components to other countries). The authors of the report recommend that contracts already signed between the US and Israel be revised retroactively, that funding be reviewed, and regulation over the use of technology be tightened.
The technical information in the report is not new, and the critiques have been heard before, both in Israel and the US. The costs of a research project of this magnitude, whether undertaken in Israel or in the US, involving technologies that have never been tested, are always very difficult to estimate. In this respect, the Arrow is very different from the Lavi combat aircraft, which was also funded by the US for some years, but which involved relatively known systems for which costs could at least be estimated.
Technologically, as many analysts have noted, the prospects for any type of ballistic missile defense system, including the Arrow, are highly uncertain. During the Gulf War, when the US had complete control over the skies in the Middle East, and total technological superiority, the American Patriot missiles failed to intercept a single Iraqi Scud. Ballistic missile defense is extremely complex and costly, involving many different stages, many of which have yet to be developed. The American Strategic Defense Initiative, on which tens of billions of dollars were spent, failed to demonstrate any promising approach to this challenge. In fact, many members of the Israeli defense establishment share this view, and do not expect the Arrow to provide a definitive solution to the threat posed by ballistic missiles.
Since all of this was known, the question is why the US GAO report focused on these issues, when the importance of the Arrow lies elsewhere. This project is not simply another technological pipedream, and its objectives go well beyond the goal of shooting down incoming missiles, and to the heart of strategic cooperation between the US and Israel. This effort began in the late 1980s, following the cancellation of the Lavi combat aircraft, and in the wake of American pressures on Israel to halt exports of advanced military technology to countries such as China and South Africa. In order for Israel to maintain its advanced military industrial base, and to support the operations of Israel Aircraft Industries, which is the country's largest employer, alternatives had to be developed. The research and development phases of the Arrow project provide such an alternative, regardless of whether this system is produced and deployed in later years.
American support for the Arrow also is an important component of Washington's commitment to maintaining Israel's qualitative edge. As US defense firms maintain employment by selling highly advanced technology to Saudi Arabia and other Arab states, the American government has repeatedly committed itself to maintaining Israel's access to advanced technology has increased. This commitment was repeated by President Bush in his first meeting with Prime Minister Rabin in August 1992, and by the Clinton Administration. If the American government were to unilaterally pull the plug on the Arrow project, it would seriously undermine the guarantees that have been made to Israel, but this issue is apparently not even discussed in the GAO report.
The GAO report's reference to charges that Israel has transferred American technology to third countries, in violation of Israeli commitments, is also hard understand. These claims have surfaced periodically since the 1970s, and have never been substantiated. During the period of political tension between the Bush administration and the Shamir government in 1991, a report by the State Department Controller emphasized these charges, which were also highlighted in the press, and a US inspection team was sent. The team, which was given full access to Israeli installations, reported finding no evidence of illegal transfers, and the US Ambassador to Israel suggested that an apology was in order. Such charges seem to surface to support political goals designed to weaken US-Israel strategic ties, and their appearance in a GAO report (without any evidence) suggests similar motivations.
In a broader sense, the fact that a US government agency published a detailed report on a highly sensitive Israeli military project raises some basic questions regarding the relationship between Washington and Jerusalem, and provides a reminder of the fragility of these relations. The Arrow has been discussed in great detail in periodic meetings between officials, and many analyses have been written. While it is true that the US GAO has a responsibility to analyze the activities and allocations of the US government, cooperative ventures such as the Arrow should be handled differently. For example, there is no reason that the Israeli Comptroller, which has been highly critical of Ministry of Defense projects in the past, including the Lavi, should not be brought it, and the report issued to both governments.
In many ways, the strategic relationship and level of cooperation is a barometer of the status of the broader links between Washington and Jerusalem. Israelis are very aware of the level of dependence and vulnerability in this relationship, and examine every nuance and change. Whatever its shortcomings, the Arrow project is the largest and most visible example of cooperation, and the the tone and focus of the GAO report demonstrated a lack of interest in Israeli perceptions, and in the nature of the strategic relationship, and this is not helpful for Israel or for the peace process.
WITH the rapid developments in the peace process, the US-Israel security relationship becomes increasingly important. In taking risks on the ground and preparing for territorial withdrawal, Israeli defense requirements will increase, and the role of the US in offsetting these risks is vital.
However, a recent report published by the US General Accounting Office on the Arrow missile serves as a reminder of the complexity and sensitivity of the strategic relationship between Israel and the US.
The Arrow is an advanced research and development project conducted by Israel, with significant cooperation and funding from the US government. After a number of test failures, the future of the effort is uncertain.
The GAO's report was highly critical of the project, and according to press summaries, focused on three main issues: the cost of the project, its objectives, and control over the uses of American technology (an indirect reference to charges that Israel had transferred know-how or components to other countries. )
The authors of the report recommend that contracts already signed between the US and Israel be revised retroactively, that funding be reviewed, and regulation over the use of technology be tightened.
Technologically, as many analysts have noted, the prospects for any type of ballistic missile defense system, including the Arrow, are highly uncertain. During the Gulf war, when the US had complete control over the skies in the Middle East and total technological superiority, the American Patriot missiles failed to intercept a single Iraqi Scud.
Ballistic missile defense is extremely complex and costly, involving many different stages, many of which have yet to be developed.
Since all of this was known, the question is why the US GAO report focused on these issues, when the importance of the Arrow lies elsewhere. This project is not simply another technological pipe dream, and its objectives go well beyond the goal of shooting down incoming missiles, and to the heart of strategic cooperation between the US and Israel.
This effort began in the late 1980s, following the cancellation of the Lavi combat aircraft, and in the wake of American pressures on Israel to halt exports of advanced military technology to countries such as China and South Africa. In order for Israel to maintain its advanced military-industrial base, and to support the operations of Israel Aircraft Industries, the country's largest employer, alternatives had to be developed.
The research and development phases of the Arrow project provide such alternatives, regardless of whether this system is produced and deployed in later years.
AMERICAN support for the Arrow is an important component of Washington's commitment to maintaining Israel's qualitative edge. As US defense firms provide employment by selling highly advanced technology to Saudi Arabia and some other Arab states, America has repeatedly committed itself to providing Israel with advanced technology.
The GAO report's reference to charges that Israel has transferred American technology to third countries, in violation of Israeli commitments, is also difficult to understand. These claims have surfaced periodically since the 1970s, and have never been substantiated.
A US team in 1991 was given full access to Israeli installations and reported finding no evidence of illegal transfers; and the US ambassador to Israel suggested that an apology was in order.
In a broader sense, the fact that a US government agency published a detailed report on a highly sensitive Israeli military project raises some basic questions regarding the relationship between Washington and Jerusalem, and provides a reminder of the fragility of these relations.
The Arrow has been discussed in great detail in periodic meetings between officials, and many analyses have been written.
In many ways, the strategic relationship and level of cooperation is a barometer of the status of the broader links between Washington and Jerusalem. Israelis are very aware of the level of dependence and vulnerability in this relationship, and examine every nuance and change.
Whatever its shortcomings, the Arrow project is the largest and most visible example of cooperation, and the tone and focus of the GAO report demonstrated a lack of interest in Israeli perceptions and in the nature of the strategic relationship.
This is not helpful for Israel or for the peace process.
Even under the most fortuitous of circumstances, the agreement between Israel and the PLO is not likely to mark the end of the Arab- Israeli conflict. After decades of violence and warfare, and the deep hatred and hostilities that exist, a sudden transformation to peace is not plausible. The euphoria surrounding the collapse of the Soviet Union and predictions of "the end of history" have been replaced by the more sober and realistic understanding that many regions have become more violent and dangerous. Similarly, implementation of the agreement between Israel and the PLO may create conditions for continued or extended warfare and terror.
There are few, if any examples, of major ethno-national and religious conflicts that have been ended through negotiation and compromise. When different groups have competing historic claims to the same land, a long history of warfare and violence, and a deep hatred for each other, the disputes appear to be unending. In the Balkans, Northern Ireland, Cyprus, and the remnants of the Soviet Empire in Central Asia, ethnic conflicts have continued for generations. Even the industrial and "enlightened" West is not immune. In Canada, the distrust and conflict between the French and English erupts periodically in violence.
Historically, such conflicts have only ended after the complete victory of one of the parties, and the elimination of the other, or, as in the case of France and Germany, decisive defeat and lengthy military occupation. This does not mean that peace is impossible; this case may be exceptional, but all of these counter-examples should provide a note of caution and realism for Israeli leaders.
Although optimists can point to progress among some Palestinians, many, and perhaps the majority have still not accepted the legitimacy of Israel, Jewish rights in Jerusalem, and need to compromise. The creation of a Palestinian state will not end the power of radical and irredentist forces, and terrorism is likely continue. Beyond the Palestinians, radical Arab and Islamic groups, from Algeria to Iran, will also continue to Holy War against Israel, or use their opposition to the Jewish State to support claims for leadership in the region.
At best, negotiation and agreements can provide the basis for what academics call "conflict management", rather than the more idealistic peace based on mutual acceptance. If this conflict can be contained, wars prevented or limited, and the extent of terrorism can be significantly diminished, while some cooperation and channels of communication are established, this process can be considered a success. In this sense, US-Soviet relations between the mid-1960s and the late 1980s, and the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty provide useful models. The Camp David accords led to the demilitarization of the Sinai and the establishment of diplomatic relations, and as a result of these measures, despite periodic tensions, military clashes between Israel and Egypt, at least so far.
Based on the texts that have been published, the proposed agreement between Israel and the PLO does not create a foundation for conflict management. The negotiators seem to have failed to anticipate continued conflict, and they did not include provisions for limiting and managing crises. The lack of explicit provisions to deal with terrorism and violence invites conflict. The combination of autonomy and a Palestine police force provide can be expected to be exploited to protect terrorists and inhibit or block Israeli military operations beyond the green line. Terror is likely to increase, Israel will respond, and, as in the case of Lebanon, the cycle of violence will resume with even greater ferocity.
The agreement, which was drafted quickly by a small group, is also very ambiguous, inviting conflicting interpretations. The Palestinians expect quick Israeli military withdrawal, the creation of a state within a short time period, and an official role in Jerusalem, while the Israeli interpretation is quite different. This is, in itself, a likely source of increased conflict, rather than conflict management.
Successful conflict management also depends on the development of working relationships and cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian leaders, to replace the hostile and conflictual relations that have dominated to date. Regular exchanges of information and visible signs of cooperation are necessary. Instead of exploiting crises and threatening violence, the Palestinians will have to work with Israeli leaders to defuse potential conflicts. The foundations for this cooperation must be created before the agreement can be implemented.
In addition, conflict management in the Middle East depends on the committment of the other major powers in this process, beginning with Syria, Jordan and Lebanon, and extending to Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States and North Africa. The rejectionist states, including Iran, Iraq and Libya will increase their support for terrorism and seek allies in another war against Israel. Thus, it is vital that the other states make their peace with Israel now, and develop the mechanisms necessary for conflict management throughout the region. The boycott of Israel and historic refusal to participate in joint efforts involving Israelis must be replaced by close working relationships to prevent the inevitable pressures and crises from erupting into large scale wars.
The most important element in conflict management is the recognition that the transition from decades of war and deep hatred to an immediate and all-embracing "peace" is extremely difficult. As is clear in other parts of the world, the causes of conflict between peoples are deeply rooted, and if they are ignored, they reach the surface quickly. If the agreements between Israel and the PLO lead to an unrealistic sense of euphoria and "the end of history", it will not take long for violence and terror to resurface.
What was the Rabin-Peres entourage doing in Morocco on its way back from Washington after signing the Declaration of Principles with Arafat? The first announcements of this stopover linked the visit with the establishment of diplomatic relations between Israel and Morocco, to be followed immediately by a similar move by Tunisia. In Washington and Jerusalem, press reports suggested that two states in the Persian Gulf (some reports named Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates) would also announce ties with Israel.
The Israeli leaders left Morocco, after a tour of the King's palace and swimming pool, with some symbolic gains, but without the announcement of diplomatic links. After the event, a number of explanations were offered to the press, generally passing off this high-profile event as an Israeli expression of gratitude to the King for his role in facilitating the peace agreement with the PLO. If this had been the purpose of the trip, Rabin and Peres should have headed for Oslo. Despite, or because of these less than satisfying explanations, it seems that while diplomatic recognition had been dangled before Israel, (perhaps to please the Americans), Rabin and Peres left Rabat and Casablanca empty handed.
Future progress in the peace process is closely linked to the pace at which the Arab states formally recognize Israel and establish diplomatic relations. The Arab-Israeli conflict has always had two components; the first involved the Palestinians and competing claims for the land, but the second component was the rejection of the concept of Israel by the Arab states. In 1948, Jordan, Syria, Iraq and Egypt invaded the Jewish state in the attempt to claim the land for themselves and not on behalf of the Palestinians. The more distant Arab states provided support for the Jihad against the Jewish state, supporting the economic war through the Arab boycott, and providing financial assistance (particularly in the case of the oil- rich Gulf states). The Saudi political/religious establishment has always been among the most vociferous and generous supporters of the Arab and Islamic war against Israel.
In fashioning the Madrid process, the United States acknowledged the need to tackle the Arab-Israeli conflict on two levels, or tracks. The first focused on bilateral relations between Israel and its immediate neighbors; the Palestinians, Jordan, and Syria, (Lebanon was included to preserve the fiction of an independent government). The second multilateral track included many other Arab states, with a particular emphasis on Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria. At the time of the Madrid conference, the oil-producing Gulf states owed their survival to the American military shield, and their leaders had indicated a readiness to settle the conflict with Israel in the context of an agreement with the Palestinians. In Washington, particularly before and during the Gulf War, American government officials reported promises from Riyadh and Kuwait to halt the anti- Israeli propaganda and the economic boycott.
To develop this process of communication and regional cooperation, five separate multilateral working groups were created (environment, refugees, arms control, economic cooperation, and water). These groups have met steadily over the past two years, and have made some progress. However, the role of the Saudis and Kuwaitis has been minimal, and members of these delegations often fail to attend meetings. The economic boycott continues, despite frequent American government declarations of policy changes in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. The Saudis, in particular, maintain a very low profile when it comes to direct links with Israel.
From the Israeli perspective, the establishment of diplomatic relations and other visible signs of cooperation are important components of the peace process. In order to demonstrate that regional peace is possible, and that territorial withdrawal will not threaten Israel's security, the major Arab states must begin the process of "normalization" and establish a broad base for cooperation. For Egypt, it is important that other Arab states open embassies in Israel, to end the diplomatic isolation that followed the Peace Treaty in 1979.
Following the mutual recognition between Israel and the PLO, and the beginning of negotiations for Palestinian autonomy and an interim arrangement, it is time for the moderate Arab states to open embassies in Israel and unambiguously end the economic boycott. For years, the continued hostility of the Saudis has been explained in terms of a fear of "being out in front" of the other parties. Now, following the White House ceremony, Riyadh's leaders no longer have anything to fear; the PLO has recognized Israel, and the Arab states are only being asked to follow this lead.
If a number of these Arab states establish diplomatic relations with Israel, and end participation in the economic boycott, the momentum that has been established by the Oslo agreements will be sustained. However, if, even after this breakthrough, most or all of the moderate Arab states maintain their current policies, skeptics in Israel will question Arab commitment to this process. The Rabin government cannot afford to come back from Rabat (or Tunis) empty- handed again. Now is the time for the Arab states to demonstrate their commitment to peace, without further excuses or delays.
FUTURE progress in the peace process is closely linked to the pace at which the Arab states formally recognize Israel and establish diplomatic relations.
The Arab-Israeli conflict has always had two components: the first involved the Palestinians and competing claims for the land, the second was the rejection of the concept of Israel by the Arab states.
In 1948, Jordan, Syria, Iraq and Egypt invaded the Jewish state in an attempt to take the land for themselves, and not on behalf of the Palestinians. The more distant Arab states have provided support for the Jihad against Israel, sending weapons and troops, providing financial assistance (particularly in the case of the oil-rich Gulf states), and through the economic boycott.
The Saudi political/religious establishment has always been among the most vociferous and generous supporters of the Arab and Islamic war against Israel.
In fashioning the Madrid process, the US acknowledged the need to tackle the Arab-Israeli conflict on two levels, or tracks. The first focused on bilateral relations between Israel and its immediate neighbors - the Palestinians, Jordan, and Syria, (Lebanon was included to preserve the fiction of an independent government). The multilateral track was designed to break the wall of isolation against Israel.
At the time of the Madrid conference, the oil-producing Gulf states owed their survival to the American military shield, and their leaders had indicated a readiness to settle the conflict with Israel in the context of an agreement with the Palestinians.
In Washington, both before and during the Gulf war, US government officials reported promises from Riyadh and Kuwait to halt the anti-Israeli propaganda and the economic boycott.
To develop regional communication and cooperation, five separate multilateral working groups were created (environment, refugees, arms control, economic cooperation and water).
These groups have met steadily over the past two years, and have made some progress. However, the role of the Saudis and Kuwaitis has been minimal, and members of these delegations often fail to attend meetings.
The economic boycott continues, despite frequent declarations in Washington regarding policy changes in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. The Saudis, in particular, maintain a very low profile when it comes to direct links with Israel.
FROM the Israeli perspective, the establishment of diplomatic relations and other visible signs of cooperation are essential components of the peace process.
In order to demonstrate that regional peace is possible, and that Israel will be accepted, the major Arab states must begin the process of normalization and cooperation. For Egypt, it is important that other Arab states open embassies in Israel, to end the diplomatic isolation that followed the Peace Treaty in 1979.
Following the mutual recognition between Israel and the PLO, and the beginning of negotiations for Palestinian autonomy and an interim arrangement, it is time for the moderate Arab states to open embassies in Israel and unambiguously end the economic boycott.
For years, the continued hostility of the Saudis has been explained in terms of a fear of "being out in front" of other parties. Now, following the White House ceremony, Riyadh's leaders no longer have anything to fear; the PLO has recognized Israel, and the Arab states are only being asked to follow this lead.
If a number of these Arab states establish diplomatic relations with Israel, and end participation in the economic boycott, the momentum that has been established by the Oslo agreements will be sustained.
However, if, even after this breakthrough, most or all of the moderate Arab states maintain their current policies, many Israelis will question Arab commitment to this process.
The Rabin government needs to be able to point to some tangible
gains in order to sustain public support for the process. Now is the
time for the Arab states to demonstrate their commitment to peace,
without further excuses or delays.
Relations between nations and people often change in short intense bursts, and these are followed by very long plateaus with little movement. At the end of each period of radical change, the system suddenly freezes, without warning, and, in most cases, the old conflicts resurface. Amidst the euphoria surrounding the agreements with the PLO, it is hard for many of the officials involved to imagine a sudden end to this process. However, at some point, whether in weeks, months, or after a few years, the thaw may end, and another long ice age will begin.
In early 1949, the first Arab-Israeli war ended when Israeli forces repulsed the invading Arab armies and occupied parts of Arab territory. In exchange for a cease fire, the Arab leaders agreed to negotiations for permanent peace treaties. The cease-fire agreements were negotiated in Rhodes, and Israeli forces withdrew, but then, this process suddenly froze. Instead of peace, terrorism resumed, and the Arabs began preparations for the "next round" of warfare.
Now, as they move through the negotiations and begin to implement agreements, Israelis are beginning to ask how the Middle East will look if this thaw suddenly ends. Which of the political and economic achievements will be maintained, and what will be the cost (or benefit) in terms of national security?
This process can be viewed in terms of three stages, beginning with implementation of the agreement covering the Gaza Strip and Jericho. If the process ends in its first stage, following the withdrawal of Israeli forces from these areas, but little else, the security costs will be minimal, and the benefits may be considerable. This small area does not provide a viable basis for a hostile Palestinian state, and the additional security threats are very small. Politically, the precedent established by the PLO's recognition of Israel, and the high visibility of the direct contacts between Palestinian and Israeli leaders is important. The nature of the conflict has been changed, at least to some degree, and the Arab effort to deny Israeli legitimacy may have lost some of its force. Jordan, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and other Arab states have recognized the existence of Israel on a de facto, if not a de jure basis.
However, if the peace process ends in mid-1994, in the second stage, following large-scale Israeli redeployment and withdrawal in the West Bank and Jordan Valley, the balance will be reversed. By this time, the Palestinians are scheduled to hold elections, and a radical and revanchist leadership may emerge. Conflict could be renewed at any time, leading to an abrupt end to the peace process at this stage.
Once Israeli military control has ended in most of the West Bank, the establishment of a Palestinian state will be unavoidable. This state could provide a base for the continuation or resumption of the conflict against the Jewish state. Under such circumstances, the differences between various Palestinian groups, such as the PLO and Hamas, can be expected to be forgotten, just as history has erased the lines which once divided factions in Serbia. If conflict resumes, many of the Arab states can be expected to freeze their ties with Israel, and the progress of the previous stage will dissipate.
Optimists, however, led by Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, expect the thaw to reach a third stage. They envision a Middle East Common Market, open borders, and roads and tourism from Jerusalem and Tel Aviv to Amman and Damascus, and from there to Riyadh and Istanbul. They have at least one important precedent; the peace agreement with Egypt has held for 15 years, and Israelis can now drive from Tel Aviv to Cairo. But even in this successful example, the relationship is still precarious, and the challenge posed by Islamic fundamentalists to the Egyptian government could suddenly reverse this progress. In addition, the wide demilitarized zone in the Sinai helps prevent renewed conflict.
In the negotiations with the Palestinians, the second stage is the longest, and is most vulnerable to sudden disruption. Under the current schedule, many years will elapse between the withdrawal and redeployment of the IDF, and the establishment of a network of institutions linking Israel with the Palestinians and the Arab states.
The major objective for the peace-makers now is to shorten the gap between the second and third stages, and lower the chances that the process will end suddenly in the second stage. The third stage can be advanced by creating a network of cooperation and interdependence, including economic and transportation systems, now, before all of the other issues are resolved. At the same time, the second stage can be streched if Israel maintains a significant military presence in the Jordan Valley and along the ridge of mountains that dominates the West Bank, until the Palestinians demonstrate that this presence is no longer necessary for Israeli security. By overlapping the second and third stages in these ways, the probability of a sudden resumption of the conflict can be reduced.
The greatest danger in this process is the assumption that it will continue uninterrupted, and that we have reached the "end of history" in the Middle East. After the euphoria of the secret meetings in Oslo and the "historic handshake" in Washington, it is time for the negotiators to return to the realities of the region, and to avoid creating conditions that would lead to a sudden interruption of this process, and the beginning of another ice age.
RELATIONS between nations and people often change in short, intense bursts, followed by very long plateaus with little movement. At the end of each period of radical change, the system suddenly freezes without warning and, in most cases, the old conflicts resurface.
Amid the euphoria surrounding the agreement with the PLO, it is hard for many of those involved to imagine a sudden end to this process. However, at some point - after weeks, months or a few years - the thaw may end, and the next ice age begin.
In early 1949, the War of Independence ended when Israeli forces defeated the Arab armies and occupied parts of Arab territory. In exchange for withdrawal, the Arab leaders promised negotiations for a permanent peace, but after the Rhodes agreements and Israeli withdrawal, the process suddenly froze. Instead of peace, the Arabs began preparations for the "next round."
Now, as we move through the negotiations and begin to implement the PLO agreement, it is important to ask how Israel and the Middle East will look if the "peace window" suddenly closes. At each stage, we should know which, if any, of the political and economic achievements will be maintained, and the cost (or benefit) in terms of national security.
If the process ends in its first stage, following the withdrawal of the IDF from the Gaza Strip and Jericho, but little else, the security costs will be minimal, and the benefits may be considerable. This small area does not provide a viable basis for a Palestinian state, and the additional security threats are very small.
Politically, the precedent established by the PLO's recognition of Israel, and the high visibility of the direct contacts between Palestinian and Israeli leaders is important. The nature of the conflict has been changed, at least to some degree, and the Arab effort to deny Israeli legitimacy may have lost some of its force. Jordan, Syria, Saudi Arabia and other Arab states have recognized the existence of Israel on a de facto, if not a de jure, basis.
However, if the process continues to include large-scale Israeli withdrawal in the Jordan Valley and a return to the 1949 cease-fire lines, the balance will be reversed. Once Israeli military control has ended in this relatively larger area, the establishment of a Palestinian state will be unavoidable. This state would provide a base for the continuation or resumption of the conflict against Israel.
The differences between various Palestinian groups, such as the PLO and Hamas, will be forgotten, just as history has erased the lines which once divided factions in Serbia. If conflict resumes, many of the Arab states can be expected to freeze their ties with Israel, and the progress of the previous stage will dissipate.
ACCORDING to the Oslo agreement, the IDF will complete its redeployment and withdrawal by July 1994.
As a result, most Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria will be difficult to defend, and movement along roads and highways in this region will be increasingly vulnerable. At the same time, the Palestinians are to hold elections, and a radical and revanchist leadership may emerge. Conflict could be renewed at any time, leading to an abrupt end to the peace process at this stage.
Optimists envision a long thaw, extending to the creation of a Middle East Common Market, roads and tourism from Jerusalem and Tel Aviv to Amman and Damascus, and from there to Riyadh and Istanbul.
They have at least one precedent; the peace agreement with Egypt has held for 15 years, and, with some difficulty, we can now drive from Tel Aviv to Cairo. But even in this successful example, the relationship is still precarious, and the challenge posed by Islamic fundamentalists to the Egyptian government could suddenly reverse this progress. In addition, the broad demilitarized zone in the Sinai helps prevent renewed conflict.
In the negotiations with the Palestinians, the second stage is the longest and most vulnerable to sudden disruption. Under the current schedule, many years will elapse between the withdrawal and redeployment of the IDF and the establishment of a network of institutions linking Israel with the Palestinians and the Arab states.
The major objective for Israeli negotiations is to shorten the gap between the second and third stages, to ensure that if the peace process ends suddenly in the second stage, the dangers to national security will be minimal.
This will require maintaining a major military presence in the Jordan Valley and along the ridge of mountains that dominates the West Bank, and ensuring that this presence can be supported logistically. It is also necessary to maintain the capability to act against terrorists operating out of the major Palestinian population centers.
The greatest danger in this process is the assumption that it will continue uninterrupted, and that we have reached the "end of history."
For more than 25 years, since the 1967 war, Israeli leaders from
all parties have been careful to avoid the mistakes of the 1949
armistice agreements. After the euphoria of Oslo, it is time for the
Israeli negotiators to return to the reality of the Middle East. They
must make sure that the sudden interruption of this process in its
second stage will not lead to the "end of Israel."
IN a recent appearance before a group of American Jews in Boston, Deputy Foreign Minister Yossi Beilin reportedly declared that in view of the peace process, the Jordan River would no longer be Israel's security border. Beilin drew an analogy with the Suez Canal, which, he claimed, was considered Israel's security border on the West prior to the peace with Egypt. If Israel could withdraw from the Suez and live with alternative security arrangements, he argued, the same could be said for the Jordan River.
While Beilin claims that he was misquoted, this position is consistent with his political views and with the implementation of the Oslo agreement. Though the extent of the IDF withdrawal is still under negotiation, many of the statements and policies of government officials seem to mark the abandonment of the Allon Plan.
The strategic importance of the land between the pre-1967 border (the "Green Line") and the Jordan River was clearly understood by Yigal Allon, who served as foreign minister in the early 1970s. Shortly after the 1967 war, Allon developed the outlines of a peace settlement that would allow for Palestinian autonomy in the major Arab cities in Judea and Samaria, while Israel maintained full control over the Jordan Valley and the ridges to the west. The Allon Plan provided the rationale for the establishment of settlements along the Jordan Valley and the ridges.
Now, this relationship has been reversed, and in order to rationalize the abandonment of these settlements, the importance of the Jordan River for Israel's security is being minimized. Ideological considerations have replaced security requirements as the basis for government policy. The left does not like settlements - religious, secular or mixed - and the leaders of the left are seeking to undermine the underlying reason for their presence.
In fact, the Jordan River has been Israel's de facto security border since 1949, and has been recognized as such by the US and other major powers. Prior to 1967, Jordanian moves to station significant ground forces in the West Bank were universally understood as a threat to Israeli security. In the early 1960s, the US agreed to sell tanks to the Jordanians, but only on condition that the weapons remained in the East Bank. When Jordan violated this agreement prior to the 1967 war, the US recognized that Israel was justified in taking action in self-defense.
The IDF's strategy has always been based on the fact that Israel is a very small state, with no strategic depth, and a full-scale attack across any border could easily reach the major cities in a few hours.
A resurgent Iraq, joined by Jordan under a fundamentalist Islamic regime, Syria, and even Iran, which has begun to repair relations with Iraq and other Arab states, could readily launch a major attack. Together, these states have over 7,500 main battle tanks, thousands of artillery and mortar launchers, and hundreds of combat aircraft, outnumbering Israeli regular forces by 4 to 1.
However, by maintaining military control in the Jordan Valley and West Bank, as well as early-warning and long-range intelligence capability, the IDF can maintain its ability to respond to large-scale ground attacks. There is no alternative to the Jordan River as Israel's western security border; if anything, the "red line" beyond which major ground force concentrations threaten Israel, is really further east, near the Iraqi-Jordanian border.
A FULL-SCALE ground attack involving Iraqi troops must be stopped before it gets to the Jordan River, for once the Arabs have a major ground force within a few kilometers of Israeli cities, there is no conventional defense. As long as the Syrian and Iraqi forces maintain overwhelming superiority, Israel will have to ensure that its ground forces, and, more importantly, offensive air power, are capable of destroying large-scale tank and artillery concentrations well before they reach the Jordan River.
Efforts to draw an analogy between the Jordan River and the Suez Canal are highly misleading.
The Suez Canal was never considered a "security border," and this narrow waterway did not constitute a military obstacle, as was demonstrated in 1973. Instead, the Sinai Peninsula was and still is the buffer zone between Israel and Egypt. As long as the Sinai was demilitarized, Egypt could not mount a surprise attack, and when Egyptian troops did move into the Sinai in May 1967, this was clearly a casus belli which led to Israeli pre-emption.
The 1979 peace agreement formalized this arrangement, and the demilitarization of this zone is critical to Israeli security and regional stability. Unfortunately, while the Sinai Desert provides a buffer zone more than 200 kilometers wide, the area between Israel and Jordan is much narrower.
If the Allon Plan no longer represents Labor Party policy, and the Jordan River is no longer considered to be Israel's security border, the question is what will replace them.
Perhaps Syria and Iraq will be persuaded to cash in their "peace dividends," demobilizing hundreds of thousands of troops, and converting thousands of tanks, missiles and chemical weapons into consumer goods. Indeed, if such radical changes are incorporated in the peace agreement, security borders will, in fact, no longer be necessary. There is, however, no indication that Baghdad and Damascus are interested in such peace dividends.
Treaties, agreements, handshakes and polite diplomatic conversation do not provide a substitute for military security. In the Middle East, diplomacy can only work when supported by a strong military capability.
Official statements indicating that the Israeli government is willing to abandon its eastern security border do not serve the cause of peace.