Reprinted from The Jerusalem Post of -- April 7, 1998

GEOGRAPHICAL DEFENSES

The Buried Memo

By Bernard Smith

Without the West Bank, Israel is only eight miles wide at its narrowest point. That makes it indefensible.

Put aside the Sharon and Mordechai maps and focus on another, drawn by a group of disinterested military experts. On June 19, 1967, the United States secretary of defense directed the highest level of the armed forces, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to prepare a memorandum, free of political considerations, detailing the minimum territory Israel required "in order to permit a more effective defense against possible conventional Arab attack."

Basing its determination "on accepted tactical principles such as control of commanding terrain, use of natural obstacles ... and provisions of defense in-depth," the Joint Chiefs advised the following.

Israel should retain the Golan Heights, several sections of Sinai, the Gaza Strip and the land west of "a defense line generally along the axis Bardala-Tubas-Nablus-Bira-Jerusalem" then turning "southeast to a junction with the Dead Sea at Wadi el Daraja," (this being more than half of Samaria, contiguous with a thickening of the Jerusalem corridor), and all of Judea south of Jerusalem. The memorandum was explosive.

These extensive minimal requirements conflicted so severely with American foreign policy that the JCS document remained classified until 1983 and its contents ignored by seven presidents. US national interests, as perceived by the State Department and based on business and Cold War demands, required that Israel cede the land taken by the IDF in June 1967.

The US doctrine of withdrawal almost to the 1949 armistice lines led to Resolution 242 adopted by the UN five months after the Johnson administration received the JCS memo. The fact was that the military logic of Israel's territorial defense requirements was of small consequence when compared with the need to pacify the Arab countries. The JCS memo was buried.

Nevertheless, the US rejected the idea of a PLO state until the Oslo Accords forced the State Department to reverse its position. The intention to create an Arab state, implicit in the accords, opened the competition between the US, the European Community and a half dozen Middle Eastern countries for influence in a weak, dependent, irredentist country should it become a reality.

Together with the American interest in seeing an end to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, this motivates US pressure to ensure Israeli withdrawal from strategic territory. Thus, the American government does not need anyone resurrecting the 1967 memorandum.

On the other hand, the Israeli leadership, now focusing on Israel's security needs, should be publicizing the memorandum, which supports its contention that Judea and Samaria are vital to Israel's defense. While it is possible (though incorrect) to attribute ulterior motives to right-wing Maj.-Gen. (Res) Ariel Sharon's military assessments, none can challenge the recommendations of the top leadership of the US military on political or ideological grounds.

IN the years since the JCS memorandum, similar unbiased, expert opinions have been voiced. One of the most authoritative was heard shortly after the Gulf War in 1991. Lieutenant-General Thomas Kelly, a former director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff and an armored corps officer, stated, "... the West Bank mountains, and especially their approaches, are the critical terrain. If an enemy secures these passes, Jerusalem and all of Israel becomes uncovered. Without the West Bank, Israel is only eight miles wide at its narrowest point. That makes it indefensible."

Geographically, defensible means mountains, wide rivers, thick forests, which impede enemy advances or help deter invasion. It means expanses requiring days for tanks to cross. Israel has none of these except the hills of Samaria and Judea. Without them, it becomes flat like Holland and Poland, encouraging assault by armored forces. Some dovish Israeli generals, fully aware of this, have sought, but not found solutions to their dilemma of Judea and Samaria, save that which is inadequate or patently unacceptable to the Palestinian Authority. The fact is that there is no alternative to Israel holding the high ground and depth provided by these areas.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff memorandum, embodying these factors, is a weighty document, describing what Israel must incorporate at the very minimum for its defense, then, now and in the future.

It is the obligation of the Netanyahu government to reveal its contents to the Israeli people and remind the US Congress of what the State Department would rather it forget. With the current preoccupation with maps, there is no better time than now.(c) Jerusalem Post 1998

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Bernard Smith is a well known military and strategic expert. Appeared originally in the New York Post of April 5, 1998

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