Reprinted from The Jerusalem Post of April 13, 1999

THE PANACEA OF DEMILITARIZATION

By Bernard Smith

The word seems to have more therapeutic value than Valium or Prozac.
But it can have lethal side effects.

With May 4 approaching, Israelis will be focusing on the possible declaration of a Palestinian state. Subjected for 50 years to the burdens and pressures of a stifling socialist socioeconomic system compounded by terrorism, periodic war and the threat of national extinction, Israelis long for relief. Peace through the Oslo process is the palliative seducing them to accept an Arab state on land they claim as their own. Even a section of Jerusalem may ultimately not be too high a price.

Yet, there is an undeniable problem. Israelis are also apprehensive, disturbed by the vision of an irredentist, undemocratic, corrupt, unstable state, which, in combination with the armies of other Arab countries, could pose a danger to their very existence. How to resolve the conflict? Simple. Introduce a factor which alleviates the anxiety by denying one aspect of the problem. Demilitarize the new entity. No army, no weapons platforms - no threat.

There's that wonderfully reassuring, calming word again. Demilitarization. We hear it every time a politician, academic or reserve general advocates territorial concessions. The word seems to have more therapeutic value than Valium, Prozac or sleeping pills. Worse yet, people believe demilitarization acts like a vaccine. Inject it and the body politic is immune to war. But, beware. It can produce a lethal side effect.

History reveals that demilitarized territory is eventually remilitarized. There is no reason to suspect any future deviations from this trend. The Egyptian example offers a prognostic and a warning. The Egyptians have attempted to restructure the demilitarization of Sinai by seeking the elimination of the Multinational Force and Observers - the guarantors of the military limits in the desert set down by the peace treaty - and the positioning of Egyptian soldiers along the border with Israel. (They also practice large unit crossings of the Suez Canal - not a treaty violation, but hardly a peace-loving gesture in the spirit of demilitarization.)

A more obvious indicator is the Palestinian Authority's flagrant violation of the demilitarization clauses of the Interim Agreement of September 1995. According to Israeli sources, the PA is stockpiling weapons prohibited by the accords. Its embryonic army - also forbidden - is "training in the use of formations of teams and squads for defined missions like gaining control of an area of land, holding down a post, and attacking an IDF post or settlement." (Gal Luft, The Palestinian Security Services: Between Police and Army)

Only the naive believe that Yasser Arafat is not building an army. In fact, he recently confirmed what Israeli sources already revealed when he declared that the PA is prepared for armed conflict should Israel employ force to prevent the creation of a state. For such warfare to be politically productive, Arafat's military must hold out long enough to inflict sufficient IDF casualties and induce international intervention. This cannot be achieved with assault rifles, pistols and light machine guns. By issuing his threat, Arafat is admitting he possesses heavier weapons, such as anti-tank missiles, anti-aircraft missiles and land mines.

Usually, prophecy is a risky business. But if a weak PA is already breaching the demilitarization clauses of the Oslo Accords, there is no doubt that a sovereign state of Palestine, a United Nations member no longer in fear of Israeli intervention, would fracture the demilitarization terms of a final agreement with Israel. Within five years of independence, there will be a well-trained Arab army west of the Jordan River, equipped with mortars, artillery, advanced anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles, and after 10 to 20 years, with tanks and fighter planes. This army - which many Israeli politicians still aver will not emerge - could very well tip the balance in favor of an invading Arab coalition. It is patently evident that demilitarization will not deliver Israelis from their dilemma. If they decide to yield territory, they will have to search for a different, more effective, guarantee of security.

Israelis had better rethink the results of creating an Arab state carved out of 70 to 90 percent of the territories. It is not the means to achieve lasting peace and a less pressured existence.

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Bernard Smith is a member of the board of directors of the Jerusalem Institute For Western Defense.



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