Reprinted from The Jerusalem Post of April 1, 1998
It has been said that history is the history of missed opportunities. This is certainly true. For example, Jews could have, en masse, immigrated here after the Balfour Declaration or the Six Day War. Were 10 percent of the more than 500,000 Jews who fought in WWII to join the fight in Palestine in 1948, the results would have been different. "So," says Ezer Weizman, "bear the consequences of your deeds or the lack thereof." He's right.
Where the Arabs are concerned, the same philosophy should apply. They were not satisfied with the severance of Trans-Jordan in 1921-2 or the Golan Heights in 1923. They did not even accept the Peel Commission's partition plan, accepted by the Jews, that left the Zionists with a mini-micro state between Tel Aviv, Haifa and the Jezreel Valley.
They did not accept the UN partition plan of 1947. They broke the 1949 Rhodes Armistice Agreements on the morrow of their signature. Egyptian president Nasser broke his 1957 cease-fire accord in 1967, starting the Six Day War. The Syrians broke over 400 cease-fire agreements signed between 1948 and 1967.
So, is the issue really "territories for peace?" Let's assume, in spite of all evidence, that it is. We face a situation where an exasperated US is about to coerce Israel to return to the same lines they guaranteed before 1967, "with minor modifications" - a guarantee they reneged on.
The issue deserves a general survey. For 1967 borders, a 1967 security policy should be accepted as a "datum line" - a basis for setting policy. Back in February 1967, then-deputy premier Yigal Alon issued a defense policy statement in which he stated loud and clear that, in view of the crushing Arab superiority in size and armament, Israel is entitled, if need be, to take the initiative and preempt by surprise, so as to survive.
Note that since May 15, 1948, no major war has been fought by Israel with the Arabs of Western Palestine, who ceased being an organized force. All major wars since then have been fought with various pan-Arab coalitions, whose threat is existentialist, the main reason for a "defense imperatives map" to this day.
But since Alon's policy statement, a number of facts have changed. First, in the spring of 1967, both the US and UN reneged on their formal obligations, i.e. guarantees of the Sinai demilitarization and freedom of the seas. US, UN or other third-party guarantees, therefore, are of a temporary nature, not to be accepted as building blocks for a permanent peace.
Also in 1967, then-premier Eshkol projected weakness. Nasser became overconfident due to his huge Soviet arsenal and a belief in his own charisma. He adopted a policy of brinkmanship and took one step too far. The conclusion here is that solid deterrence is a sine qua non for peace with totalitarian states.
Moving on to 1973, the Israeli government erred in its assessment of Arab threat, an error that ended in the Yom Kippur nightmare. From this we can conclude that any peace agreement has to prevent a government error from becoming a death warrant.
And since 1967, the Arab order of battle has dramatically increased. Syria, for instance, had 97 fighter aircraft in 1967, 326 in 1973 and 480 planes plus 100 attack helicopters in 1996. It had 1,300 tanks in 1973 and 4,800 in 1996. It had a few Frog short-range ballistic missiles in 1973 and over 600 longer-range SCUDs (plus a manufacturing facility) in 1996/7, etc.
Roughly the same rates apply to other Arab states. The Arab/Iranian arms purchases account for 42 percent of the world's arms trade, about 2,800 percent more, per capita, than anybody else. This rearming did not slow down during the 1993-1996 Oslo euphoria. Does this mean anything?
BUT despite all these vast changes in Arab military strength and the huge technological advances in weaponry, the US, with Europe in tow, is seeking to revive the old Rogers Plan that Israel could not accept before. Due to Arab acquisition of SAM missiles, Israel has lost the element of surprise, because the air force has to spend one to three days "clearing" these missiles before launching a major operation, thus giving Israel's intentions away.
But the Arabs maintain their 1973 equivalent of surprise preemption, being able to stall Israeli reserve mobilization through ballistic missile bombardment of urban centres and PA guerrilla activity. Confined to its 1967 lines, Israel would face the largest concentration ever of efficient firepower per kilometer of front, and of missiles per square kilometer of surface, not to mention weapons of mass destruction.
Nobody doubts President Clinton's friendship to Israel, [Editor's Note: I doubt his commitment to Israel. He does have a commitment to a Peace Now Israel which would be taken over by the Arabs. And of course, he would say that he was sad about that, and then give a nice eulogy.] but US political expediency and a misreading of the Middle East map may, when considering the present day Arab arms build-up, bring about an untenable solution.
Remember, Mr. Clinton, that when the fog clears from Foggy Bottom rhetoric, the facts are that Israel's aims are survival while the declared pan-Arab goal is Israel's elimination.
(c) Jerusalem Post 1998
Yoash Tsiddon-Chatto is a military and strategic analyst.