By Bernard J. Shapiro

[Author's Note: Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has followed former PM Ehud Barak, who in turn followed the lead of former PM's Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres in suggesting a separation wall between Israel and the Arabs. It is not a new idea and as far back as 1995, I explained why it won't work. Here is an update of that article.]

The idea of separation has much appeal to an Israeli population feeling threatened daily by hostile Arabs, who since September 2000 have waged a murderous terror campaign against them. The Israeli government has already begun construction of a security fence consisting of a concrete wall and hi-tech devices between Israel and the Arabs in Judea and Samaria. The goal is to reduce the risk of terrorist violence, especially homicide bombing. Some 200 kilometers of the security fence have already been built. In addition to barriers, Arab access into Israel is restricted to ten or more crossings points. The border would be heavily patrolled by Israeli soldiers and border police. Cost estimates range from $1-2 billion.

For many reasons this is the wrong approach to security. It is worth repeating a story I wrote, which appeared in an article entitled, DETERRENCE OR DHIMMIZATION (THE MACCABEAN, January 1995): Back in 1965, in a small meeting room in Tel Aviv, former Defense Minister Moshe Dayan gave a pep talk to a group of RAFI (Rishimat Poalai Israel) volunteers, myself included. At that time, RAFI, a breakaway faction of the Mapai Party, included such notables as former Prime Minister David Ben Gurion and former Defense Minister Shimon Peres. Peres and Dayan had been considered the "hawks" of Mapai and it was no accident that in the 1965 election they supported a strong defense and security policy.

Dayan was always interesting to listen to, but this talk was something special and we paid attention to every word. "The essence of Israel's security in this region (Middle East) is deterrence," he said. "When we formed the State in 1948-9, we were very weak. The Arab States had planes, tanks, heavy artillery and many more soldiers than us. We had very little heavy military equipment. In the period 1949-55, we absorbed almost a million immigrants. Tent cities sprung up all over the country. We were totally disorganized. Had the Arabs mounted another major invasion, we could have lost. We devised a solution to this problem. It was deterrence. Think about being lost in a forest and surrounded by hostile animals. If you light a torch, boldly approach them showing no fear -- they will retreat. But, if you show fear -- they will attack and you are lost. We used this principle to save Israel during those early years. Every time we were attacked, we retaliated ten fold. We showed daring and penetrated deep within their borders to attack our targets. We were fearless, brave, and even a bit bloodthirsty. You know the result. The Arabs were afraid and never mounted a coordinated military campaign against us. Deterrence worked. By 1956 when we invaded Sinai, the Israel Defense Force was not just strong, it was invincible."

The story above was not told just for nostalgia. The lesson is extremely important for the survival of Israel today. Unfortunately Israelis are daily witnessing the consequences of sixteen years of declining deterrence vis a vis its Arab population. In 1987, the intifada presented Israel with a new challenge. It was a new kind of war, but with the same aim of driving the Israelis out of their country. The Israelis fought the intifada with many handicaps, not the least of which were their own rules of conduct. Israeli soldiers failed to cope with attacks by teenage Arab boys. In the course of several years, the Arabs learned that the soldiers would not aggressively retaliate for their attacks. They became emboldened. The Jews living in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza showed great fortitude, enduring thousands of attacks and still tripling their numbers. The serious security failure developed as Arabs became accustomed to attacking Jews and Israeli soldiers. By trying to remain humane in the face of massive attacks, Israel allowed and emboldened the Arabs to more and more attacks. These attacks grew more and more deadly including homicide bombers in the large cities of Israel like Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa, and Netanya. Throwing concrete boulders, Molotov cocktails, and then using firearms at Israelis became the norm of behavior among the Arabs. Progressing rapidly to mines and bombs - human and other. The Israeli government allowed its citizens to be attacked solely because they were Jews. In no other country of the world would such a policy be tolerated.

During the Persian Gulf War Israel allowed Iraq to fire 39 Scud missiles into its major cities without retaliating. This was a major blow to Israeli deterrence in the Middle East. The Oslo Appeasement Agreement of 1993 resurrected a terrorist gang and brought it into the heart of Israel. It then pursued a policy of terror and propaganda to become a fraudulent competitor for the rights to Eretz Yisrael. Of course their goal was never "peace" or a two state solution, but to replace Israel with Palestine "from the river to the sea."

A couple of years ago two reserve officers of the Israel Defense Forces made a wrong turn and ended up in the center of Ramallah, an Arab city. They sought safety in a PA police station. The PA turned them over to a vicious mob of Arabs, murder in their eyes, who beat them to death. Their bodies were mutilated and the Arabs cheered at the bloody hands of the murderers. Deterrence had vanished.

While the Jews may not have been afraid like the man in the forest, the affect of multiple restrictions on the Israeli right of self defense had the same result. That result was to increase the bloodlust of the Arab population and to multiply the Jewish casualties. For Israelis to seek security behind a security fence is a total reversal of the traditional policy of deterrence. From the days of Orde Wingate during the Arab riots of 1936-9, Israeli military strategists have always emphasized the doctrine of striking the enemy deep within his territory. Retaliation, deep penetration raids were the hallmark of the IDF. To return to a siege mentality hiding behind electrified ghetto walls would be the beginning of the end of Israeli independence. No barrier whether the Great wall of China, the Bar Lev Line or the Maginot Line can resist a determined enemy willing to risk money and lives to breach it.

Today, there is a great deal of political opposition to the security fence from the US State Department, President George W. Bush and the Arabs (who oppose anything that might aid Israeli security). My opposition is based on two factors: (1) It is a fallacious security concept and (2) It might be used as way to divide and abandon parts of the Jewish Homeland.

A security fence means nothing in the face of a determined enemy with rockets and mortars. Israel has an enemy willing to sacrifice its youth as human bombs to breach the fence. A fence can easily be dug under with the sophisticated equipment presently being used in Gaza to smuggle weapons.

The so called Road Map is a continuation of Israel's retreat from a policy of deterrence, expression of its sovereign right to military self defense and preemption.

In conclusion, I believe that the only way for Israel and her beleaguered citizens to achieve security, both personal and national, is by reasserting those traditional methods of combat that will re-establish deterrence in the minds of the Arab enemy.


Bernard J. Shapiro is executive director of the Freeman Center For Strategic Studies and editor of its monthly Internet magazine, THE MACCABEAN ONLINE. He is also editor of its daily email broadcast service, freemanlist, of news, political and strategic analysis on Israel and the Middle East.

[Parts of this article were published in the Jewish Herald-Voice (Houston) on April 5, 1995 and in the April 1995 issue of THE MACCABEAN.]

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