The Occupied Territories Revisited: the Doctrine of Defensible Borders

It's a puzzle - isn't it? A a tiny state of a few million industrious souls is viewed as a truculent, sneering imperialist bully. Surely there's a story behind such a cognitive burr. Why would we dispute the morality of a nation that retains territory of high military value gained in a defensive war?

At bottom, Israel is seen by its enemies as a blemish on the regional caliphate and a rent in the fabric of pan-Arabism.  This viewpoint was stated with spareness and clarity during the run-up to the 1967 Six-Day War by then Iraqi President Abdel-Rahman Aref who said in a radio interview "The existence of Israel is an error which must be rectified." With refreshing directness, for a head of state, he added "This is our opportunity to wipe out the ignominy which has been with us since 1948. Our goal is clear - to wipe Israel off the map."

The probability of a  negotiated peace is vanishingly small given the philosophical moorings of Israel's neighbors; they will only temporize as they maneuver to eliminate the stain, the "error which must be rectified."  Illustrative is the Islamic principle hudna, for cease-fire, understood to mean a truce that is maintained until the balance of power changes.  A related concept is taqiyya, which is the practice of deception, legitimated by the Koran, to advance Islam geopolitically.

It follows then that Arab strategists reformulated their approach toward the destruction of Israel after their defeat in the Six-Day War. They have, for decades now, waged an economic, diplomatic and propaganda campaign whose object is to isolate Israel and shrink her to indefensible size and configuration.  A key element of this strategy was the refusal to absorb Arab refugees into Arab countries to perpetuate the meme of the homeless, beleaguered Palestinian people.  An early proponent of this retooled approach was Mohamed Haikal, then editor of the semi-official Egyptian newspaper Al Ahram, who pronounced in 1971 that "total withdrawal [from the disputed territories]" would "pass sentence on the entire state of Israel."

In view of such an existential threat, Israel must steady its wavering adherence to the doctrine of defensible borders, a venerable principle of international law dating to the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. As a consequence of the Oslo Accords of 1993, former warrior and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin appeared to shelve the defensible borders doctrine in quixotic pursuit of peace with lifelong terrorist and future Nobel Peace Prize co-honoree Yasser Arafat.  Rabin sought to clarify his position in 1995 when he addressed the Knesset in October, proclaiming "The borders of the State of Israel, during the permanent solution, will be beyond the lines which existed before the Six-Day War. We will not return to the 4 June 1967 lines."  This did not placate the disaffected Israeli citizen who assassinated him two months later, apparently in reaction to Oslo.

The doctrine of defensible borders was reaffirmed last year by current  PM Benjamin Netanyahu, who must face squarely the deteriorating zugzwang tied to Israel's role as an "occupying" power.  Israel's further challenge is to enforce that military defensibility of its borders be self-reliantly robust, as much as possible.  Its security arrangements cannot be dependent on transitory political conditions in the US or the Arab states, whose overt hostility to Israel waxes and wanes but whose ingrained commitment to its destruction is well-nigh a law of nature.


The 1947 UN partition plan for the British Mandate of Palestine knitted together the Gaza, the West Bank and  a region south of Lebanon to form the proposed Arab state, fitted into a patchwork with Israel.  Based on assurances that the Jews would be driven off, Palestinian Arabs followed the lead of the surrounding Arab powers and rejected the partition proposal.  The Palestinian population was composed then of indigenous Arabs and a large influx of recent immigrants.  Some of these new arrivals were Syrians, mainly from the Hauran region, who had been attracted by economic development that the Mandate had spurred.  Others had been encouraged by the Arab states to settle in Palestine expressly to strengthen Arab claims as Israeli statehood loomed.  This influx of  immigrants would later have the effect of inflating the Palestinian refugee count.  Directly following a meeting of the Arab League in Cairo in December 1947, Arab nations formed a joint Arab force, the Arab Liberation Army, that launched a series of military campaigns against the Zionists to thwart or stall Israeli statehood.  A second phase of the war commenced when statehood was declared some five months later.

The Gaza

The unhappy tale of the Gaza Strip illustrates several points central to the defensible borders doctrine. 

During a May 1948 offensive aimed at the capture of Tel Aviv, Egyptian forces advanced northward along the Mediterranean coast, capturing Gaza.  Egyptian forward progress was halted there by Israeli forces.  In short order, armistice lines were established by the UN that were in accord with the then current lines of battle on every frontier. 

There was no formal agreement on international boundaries. Pressure exerted by Britain, France, the US, and the UN was sufficient to make the fighting stop, but the armistice agreement was explicit that the "green" lines were not permanent borders.  Territory was divvied much as chairs are allocated in a game of musical chairs.  And so, when the music stopped, Egypt controlled the Gaza Strip, which it held almost continuously until defeated eighteen years later in the Six-Day War.  The Gaza was in limbo during this period since Egyptian citizenship was not offered to residents nor was there any talk of a Palestinian state.

By any international jurisprudential standard, the Egyptian occupation was illegal since it originated from an aggressive war in defiance of a UN Resolution. It follows from principles of international law that when Gaza was captured by Israel in a defensive war in 1967, its prior illegal status rendered Israel's control legal.  Egypt declined offers to reacquire the Gaza and absorb its population in 1979 when a peace agreement was struck with Israel wherein Egypt resecured the Sinai peninsula.  At that point in the story, there were no national claims, other than Israel's, on Gazan territory. 

The salient principles of international law are crisply put forth in a 1970 essay by Stephen Schwebel who would later be the President of the International Court of Justice in the Hague.  The essay, published in the American Journal of International Law,  first identifies an axiom:

A state acting in lawful exercise of its right of self-defense may seize and occupy foreign territory as long as such seizure and occupation are necessary to its self-defense.

And then zeroes in on the nub of the matter:

Where the prior holder of territory had seized that territory unlawfully, the state which subsequently takes that territory in the lawful exercise of self-defense has, against that prior holder, better title.

Better title. It is a fact that, except for the Sinai Peninsula, each of the territories won by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War -- the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and portions of the Golan Heights -- were seized unlawfully by their prior occupiers, Jordan, Egypt and Syria respectively.

A short digression on the Sinai: The military and diplomatic parry-and-thrust in this desert region illustrates the principle of defensible borders as recognized by UN Resolution 242 that followed from the Six-Day War.  The resolution did not mandate that Israel withdraw to the prewar armistice lines, but rather that it was required to withdraw from  "territories" (and, quite intentionally, not "all" territories and not "the" territories) to "secure and recognized boundaries." These boundaries would certainly be different from the vulnerable armistice lines from which Israel had been attacked.  If Israel had annexed Sinai, it would have been arguably consistent with resolution 242:

The Sinai had been a staging area for a massive armored force, including 900 tanks, in the run-up to the Six-Day War.  To facilitate this mobilization, Egypt had expelled United Nations Emergency Forces (UNEF) from Sinai.  The build-up in the Sinai supported blockades of the Suez Canal and the Straits of Tiran, and menaced the Israeli port of Eilat.  In the aftermath of the Six-Day War, Israel made strategic defensive use of the captured Sinai to secure its southern frontier.  It established a sophisticated early-warning facility at Umm Khashiba in central Sinai.  Of course, a vast swath of desert was freed of a hostile military presence.  Israel enjoyed, for the only time in its history, some measure of what is known as "strategic depth,"  which equates roughly with the reasonable expectation to "live to fight another day" when surprised by a powerful first strike.  Certainly, vis-à-vis  Egypt, Israel now had "defensible borders."

The 1979 peace treaty between Israel and Egypt, which entailed the return of the Sinai -- a "peace for land" gambit, took a novel approach that substituted "security arrangements" for defensible borders.  Such security arrangements were made possible by distinctive features of the Egyptian-Israeli front, notably the low population density of the Sinai and its vast expanses with unobstructed views.  These conditions make it possible to enforce certain treaty provisions, by an independent, non-UN entity.  In the uncluttered landscape, far from everything, it was possible to monitor the forces (i.e. how many troops, what type of armaments, whether military or civilian police, etc.) belonging to each side, in each of several contiguous zones.  But no such favored set of topographical and demographic features exists in the West Bank, the Golan Heights or the Gaza.

To underscore the inherent softness of a peace that is dependent on transitory political conditions, it must be noted that Egypt has received ever more massive infusions of American cash every year since the 1979 treaty, which could be expected to incentivize compliance, but not necessarily deep resolve.  Further, reliance on an enforcement entity, the MFO (Multinational Force and Observers) creates a fragile dependency on a steady mission for such an organization, despite a changing cast of characters.  Lastly,  the security arrangements actually implemented were a pale version of what was envisioned by  Israelis who champion this school of thought; most disappointingly, the Umm Khashiba early warning station was decommissioned.

In any case, the Gaza, with its densely packed urban areas and location near Israeli population centers Ashkelon and Ashdod,  is not like the Sinai.  The current incarnation of the Gaza standoff stems from Israel's August 2005 withdrawal from this 140 square mile territory that runs along 25 miles of Mediterranean coastline. The Disengagement plan had been introduced in December '03 with high hopes; the death of Arafat and the ascension of his successor Mahmoud Abbas to Palestinian leadership seemed to signal new possibilities in Palestinian-Israeli relations.

The Disengagement Plan, which extended to five settlements in the West Bank, was put forth unilaterally (and by Prime Ministerial fiat) by the Israelis, and not as a product of a negotiated agreement with the Palestinian Authority.  Though Abbas endorsed the initiative, with earnest assurances of peaceful intent at the 2005 Sharm el-Sheikh summit, there was no quid pro quo offered to Israel in exchange for its concessions, which seemed to flow from the Second Intifada violence. Under the Gaza provisions of the plan, 21 civilian settlements were leveled, all security forces were removed and more than eight thousand Jews, most native Gazans, were expelled.  Synagogues were left standing as designated holy places but were promptly and enthusiastically destroyed by their new stewards.  Edifices that were more utilitarian, such as schools and hot houses, were similarly objects of impressive destruction.

The Disengagement went much further than the DOP (Declaration of Principles) of the Oslo Accords, which had affirmed Israel's responsibility for its citizens' security within the disputed territories and at border crossings.  In pitch-perfect response to the weakness exhibited by the Disengagement, hundreds of Kassam rockets and mortar shells were fired from the newly relinquished Gaza into Israeli towns and villages, notably Sderot, a once bustling working-class town that has been enfeebled by the constant shelling.

Prior to the Disengagement, weapons smuggling into the Gaza was a major concern; tons of weapons had flowed into the Gaza from Iranian freighters, from Syria, and from Saudi Arabia. But Israel's misguided attempt to placate terrorists was transformative.  Since the Disengagement, Iran has overseen a sophisticated arms smuggling network that is organized by its Revolutionary Guards.  Arms traffic passes through Somalia, Sudan, the Red Sea, and the Nile to the Bedouin tribes in Sinai and finally -- its passage smoothed by corrupt petty officials -- through the system of tunnels at the Rafah-Gaza border crossing that has been a conduit for everything from suicide belts to long-range rockets.

In June 2007, Gaza was further militarized when Hamas, having won a majority in the general Palestinian election in January '06, wrested control of the Gaza from its Fatah rivals. It seems Hamas, which championed terror tactics in contrast to the allegedly more moderate Fatah, was reaping political rewards for driving the Jewish retreat.

Israel's fiendishly difficult security challenges are the stuff of the most abstruse realms of game theory.  To limit  the flow of arms and arms-making materials into Gaza would be nettlesome enough, given the tunnels, the cold peace with Egypt, and the world-wide propaganda squeeze exerted on the seaport blockade.  The blockade has emerged as a cause célèbre among self-described human rights activists, who are not exemplars of rigorous objectivity when picking their fights.

The political stickiness of the blockade was reified by the recent flotilla episode in which Israeli sea authority was defied by a small armada with a crew of provocateurs. The agitprop was the brainchild of Greta Berlin, media maven of such groups as the International Solidarity Movement and Free Gaza.  As the episode unfolded, Israeli navy seals attempted to board one of the vessels, descending in single file tethered to a helicopter above, and were attacked as they neared the deck by pipe wielding peace activists of the Turkish registered Mavi Marmara.   It was a display of  jihadist theater, in which the blockade breakers, equipped with slingshots and steel pipes, engaged professionally trained commandos with sophisticated weapons.  Eight activists achieved martyrdom, a "happy ending" in the words of one passenger/jihadi who was caught on video in the days leading to the final confrontation with Israeli military.  The blockade challenge gone terribly right resulted in a devastating loss of face for Israel and a weakening of the blockade's terms.

The Flotilla Cluster Thump was an episode that Israel could almost certainly have managed with more finesse but which mainly brings into view the special moral standard that is applied to the Jewish state. The world-wide obtuseness to the blockade's legitimate security rationale has been adroitly perpetuated by Israel's opponents who flog her alleged moral deficiencies and adopt Gazans as oppressed mascots.

More sinister is the embedding of Hamas command and weapons factories within civilian residential buildings in the Gaza. Hamas operatives, including high-profile targets, walk among shopkeepers, textile workers, souvenir artisans, and school children. It must be noted also that the terminal points of the Rafah arms-smuggling tunnels are often in private homes.  It's clear that the death of non-combatants is the inevitable outcome of such mixed use of resources, a propaganda booby-trap.

And so, Israel has been backed into absurd rules of engagement that require the placement of warning phone calls to alert residents, both combatants and non-combatants, of impending strikes on weapons plants.  These strikes have the effect of leveling Palestinian homes, another propaganda coup for Israel's enemies.  And Israeli soldiers, in great peril, earnestly knock on the doors of known terrorist compounds to extricate civilians who are often indistinguishable from combatants.  It is a contortionist's pose that makes one cross-eyed to contemplate.

The "West Bank"

In the same manner as the Gaza, the creation of makeshift borders, the "green lines" that delineate certain areas on the west bank of the Jordan River, was rooted in the military facts on the ground, freeze-framed by the 1949 armistice that truncated Israel's War of Independence.  When the armistice was signed, the west bank territory was controlled by Jordanian forces.

Under terms of the 1947 UN partition resolution, some parts of the territory would actually have been within the state of Israel, notably  Kfar Etzion, a long extant Jewish agricultural community, and the Old City of Jerusalem, which issues forth hushed resonance of Judaism's destroyed temples that defined its holiest site.

Still, the great mass of this territory had been proposed as part of an Arab state in the 1947 UN partition resolution. The plan had been rejected by the Arab nations including Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan, all of which attacked Israel within 24 hours of its proclamation of independence.  After the dust settled, Jordan ventured to annex the land it dubbed "The West Bank" and extend citizenship to its residents.  This maneuver was not well received by the international community which, with the exception of the UK (and possibly Pakistan), did not recognize the annexation -- though the local (i.e., Palestinian) population registered no objection to becoming Jordanians. 

Particularly fierce was the opposition from the Arab League, which astutely realized that to absorb the West Bank residents into Jordan would set a precedent for assimilating Arab populations into existing Arab states.  If extended to Israel proper, such policy could lead to an exchange of Jewish and Arab refugee populations, which were roughly equal in size, nullifying the narrative of Palestinians as a beleaguered stateless people.  In due course, Jordan relinquished its territorial claim and withdrew Jordanian citizenship from West Bank residents.  The Arab bloc would now "get its story straight": the West Bank residents were stateless refugees, victims of the Zionist bullies.  Much better this than to absorb them into Jordan (which was and is ethnically Palestinian) as Arab brethren.

The annexation was also rebuffed, with less Machiavellian indirection, by the larger international community, which viewed it as a simple violation of international law since Jordan had captured the land in a war of aggression.

It happens that the last binding legal instrument that established borders enclosing the West Bank was the League of Nations Mandate of 1922, one among a jumble of agreements that disposed of the Ottoman Empire after World War I.  This document explicitly recognized the right of Jewish settlement in all land designated as "the territory of Palestine, which formerly belonged to the Turkish Empire."  Jordan (called Trans-Jordan) was carved from the area east of the Jordan River, by this very same document, suggesting an intent of symmetry.

All future wrangling aside, the Mandate stated that  the territory of Palestine, which included one hundred percent of  "The West Bank," was drawn for the express purpose of  establishing a "national home for the Jewish people."  The provisions of the Mandate were inherited by the League's successor organization, the UN. Despite this, the UN proposed a new Arab state that would include the West Bank, in its partition plan for Palestine.

To be sure, most Jews had been shooed off the West Bank, known in Scripture as Judea and Samaria, decades before the 1947-9 hostilities, mainly as a consequence of pogroms, so the  territory was, by the time the "green lines" were set, predominantly Arab.  Of course both Judea (south of Jerusalem) and Samaria (to the north) have been central to the history of the Jews since their emergence as a nation more than three thousand years ago.  Each is home to sacred burial sites of Jewish patriarchs that are among the holiest sites in Judaism.

In any case, all these niceties were cast aside when Jordan joined the Arab effort to nip in the bud the re-emergent  Jewish state.  During the eighteen year Jordanian occupation, the West Bank area served as launching ground for many attacks by "fedayeen" terrorists on Israeli civilians.  The fedayeen ("men of sacrifice") were mainly recruited, trained and equipped by Egyptian intelligence, but were most often staged from bases in Jordan because of its proximity to population centers in Israel.

The principle of defensible boundaries, as applied to the West Bank, draws on the foundational work of Yigal Allon, the storied native son of Jewish Palestine who master-minded underground commando units during modern Israel's pre-history, strode forth as a steely field commander in its War of Independence and graduated to statesman in a variety of high-level posts including  labor minister and foreign minister.  Allon was a member of the "inner cabinet" during the Six-Day War under a politically weakened Prime Minister Levi Eshkol, whom he would succeed two years later, briefly serving as interim PM  after Eshkol's death. A strategic visionary, Allon was the architect of Israel's defensible borders template, dubbed the Allon Plan, that is still remarkably relevant nearly forty years after its formulation and thirty years after Yigal Allon's death at 61.

The Allon plan sought to resolve Israel's strategic weaknesses arising from the arbitrary delineation of borders that had been mere cessation lines after two wars -- the 1948 War of Independence and the 1967 Six-Day War.  Allon perceived that the 1967 militarization of Arab forces could be directly linked to Israel's topographical exposure to attack from the West Bank hills, the Golan Heights, the Sinai desert and the Gaza.  This vulnerability was intrinsic to the armistice lines that came, like an unwelcome stepchild, with the cessation of fighting in 1949.  With Israel's capture of these strategic areas after the Six-Day War, a new demographic weakness emerged; the tiny Jewish state now administered Arab Muslim population centers, seeming to put in opposition the principles of parliamentary democracy and a Jewish homeland.  It was a double bind.  If Israel retained the acquired territory, it entertained a seething subjugated enemy in its midst.  If it relinquished the territory, it acquiesced to its earlier unlucky situation in which it could be decisively attacked.

This situation is especially acute in the West Bank, whose major topographical feature is a mountain ridge running north-south and rising thousands of feet over the coastal plain to the west and the Jordan Valley to the east.  From vantage points along the Judea-Samaria mountain ridge, an observer gazing down on the coastal plain, would see a narrow band of real estate edging up to the Mediterranean Sea, jam-packed with vital infrastructure, bountiful farm land, an international airport, and 70% of Israel's population.  Most coastal plain residents are concentrated in two cities, Haifa and Tel Aviv, whose skylines would be in plain view.  The coastal plain is home to high tech companies that are the burgeoning young comers of the Israeli economy, all of the major highways that connect its cities and 80 percent of the nation's industrial capacity.  Such a vista would present an impressive array of targets to a hostile military force.

The coastal plain runs parallel to the ridge for a length of 116 miles (187 km) but is only nine to (roughly) twenty miles wide.  There are commanding positions aplenty along the 3,000-foot-high ridge that could be held for extended periods and which envisage a range of highly probable infernal scenarios.  Aircraft at Ben-Gurion Airport are exposed to fire from shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles that would, with a single stroke, cause great loss of life and incapacitate civil aviation indefinitely. Tel Aviv and Haifa are palpably menaced by the prospect of mortars, rockets, and surface-to-air missiles launched from the ridge. Israel's National Water Carrier, and its high-voltage electric power lines are obvious targets of destruction from positions along the ridge, as is the Trans-Israel Highway and other roads vital to troop movement and commerce.  In short, the flat plain that is the very heart of Israel would be exquisitely exposed to killing strikes from the West Bank hills if the 1949 Armistice lines were restored.

A key element of the Allon plan for defensible borders is a geological formation called the Jordan Rift Valley (JRV).  A rift valley is an elongated block-shaped depression of the earth's crust caused by tectonic activity, in this case, quite a few million years ago during the Miocene epoch. The JRV, a sub-section of the aptly named Great Rift that has wowed astronauts from space, runs from Syria to the Red Sea.  It happens that it traverses the eastern base of the West Bank mountain ridge where it couches the Jordan Valley at an elevation of  12-hundred  feet below sea-level, just a bit upriver from the lowest point on the surface of the earth.

The Allon plan makes ingenious use of this topology.  First put forth in 1967 and later refined in the  October 1976 Foreign Affairs, the plan would have ceded most of the West Bank territory, along with its Arab population, to Jordan.  However, Israel would annex a 12-mile security belt comprising the topographically rugged Jordan Valley and the ridge above.  The plan envisions an artful use of the combined height of the ridge and the rift to achieve a 42-hundred-foot barrier that would defend against attackers from the east (Jordan) and retain positions that oversee the coastal plain to the west.  A reasonable extrapolation is that a neo-Allon plan would cede most of the West Bank to a new Palestinian state -- once again, retaining the ridge and Jordan Valley as a security zone annexed to Israel and re-establishing the Jordan River as the eastern frontier with Jordan.


The Golan Heights

The Golan tucks comfortably into the Scriptural boundaries of the ancestral home of the Jews, which served as a model for the modern "Jewish homeland."  Modern Palestine was envisaged by the Balfour Declaration of 1917, which was a statement of intent by the government of Great Britain to restore a safe haven to the Jewish people.  The Declaration, issued by Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour, was conceived as an act of conscience and a response to the virulent antisemitism that scourged Europe in the final days of World War I -- and set off alarm bells in the minds of prescient observers.  The Declaration's vision of a restored Israel was made palpable by early drafts of the League of Nations Mandate that established a territory of Palestine, carved from the defeated Ottoman Empire, that extended from the Mediterranean Sea to modern day Iraq.  The Balfour Declaration had such moral and diplomatic gravitas that it was incorporated into the Treaty of Sèvres.

The British, however, came to view their new mandate as scrip for horse-trading with other powers in the region, awarding land in exchange for geostrategic or diplomatic chits.   In this manner the area east of the Jordan River was sheared off from the Palestine Mandate and offered as a consolation prize to the Hashemite family to ameliorate Britain's earlier insult of awarding a vast territory to the rival Sauds (yes, those Sauds); so began the Hashemite kingdom of Trans-Jordan (now Jordan).

By the spring of 1923 the mandate for Palestine was whittled down to a narrow slice about 8,000 square miles (21,000 km2 ), roughly two-thirds the size of Belgium. The final bargaining chip was the lion's share of the Golan Heights, which was swapped to France and incorporated into the French Mandate in exchange for Mosul, a city on the Tigris that would now be folded into the British parcel earmarked as modern day Iraq.  Britain had learned that large oil reserves had been discovered in the Mosul region in 1918 prompting it to exchange the "worthless" but Biblically significant Golan for the historically Syrian Mosul.  The French mandate would be declared an independent Syria in 1946, without the oil rich Mosul, but with commanding positions in the Golan Heights, a formidable four hundred-plus square-mile plateau that loomed 3000 feet over Palestine.

A small portion of the Golan had remained in the Palestine mandate but much of this was overrun by attacking Syrian forces in the 1948 war. Syria took control of several small but strategic strips of territory that secured its hold on both banks of the Jordan, the shoreline of the Galilee and the Banyas, a crucial water source at the foot of Mount Hermon that flows from its springs.  The Golan watershed is the source of more than half of Israel's fresh water and forms part of the aquifer system that supplies nearly all of it.  The 1949 Armistice had incorporated these strips into a non-contiguous ostensibly demilitarized zone but the DMZ was violated so routinely during Syria's dominion over the Golan that Israel's water supply was under perpetual threat.

Israel asserted the authority of its water utility in the DMZ in the course of various, exceedingly mundane water projects in the Huleh Valley and on Lake Kinneret (Sea of Galilee). It would seem that the competition for water rights between the two countries would be an asymmetrical game in which Syria had little risk; it obtains 85 percent of its renewable water from those twin torrents of the Fertile Crescent, those umbilical cords of civilization, the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.  Syria is also well supplied by the Orontes, which irrigates its northern regions.  Still, Syria  used its domination of the Heights to counter Israel's modest display of sovereignty with a series of actions that marked Syria's 1949 to '67 stewardship of the Golan with a distinctly nasty tinge and set the stage for Israel's reluctant embrace of the doctrine of defensible borders:

In years following the armistice, Syria repeatedly threatened to contaminate the water if Israel pumped from Lake Kinneret.  Syria routinely interfered with fishing and other Israeli water projects on the Lake.  Until forcibly upended by Israeli military strikes, Syria had made great strides in construction projects to divert the Banyas and Hasbani falls to the Yarmouk river -- across the border into Jordan --  to deny this flow to Israel.  Israeli fishermen were picked off by snipers from firing nests in the Golan; Israeli towns below the Heights, such as Ein Gev, were repeatedly shelled.  These actions were directed by the government of Syria and aimed at civilians; they caused 140 civilian deaths, many injuries, and significant damage to the economic fabric of northern Israel.  These are tactics that indicate actual malice and not a cool, considered weighing of Syrian interests.  It is well noted that Syrian measures directed at Israel's use of Lake Kinneret are curiously irrational since the lake is not disputed by any drawing of the Syrian-Israeli lines. The big picture is illuminated by Syria's continued material support for terrorist organizations that include Hezb'allah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, as well as its increasingly close ties to Iran.

Fresh blood: The Jihad Factory

The anti-Zionist ethos within Arab culture is clearly an amalgam of several strains that includes Wahhabism, Islamism, mainstream Islam, pan-Arabism, "traditional" antisemitism, and the "politics of envy" -- a formulation developed by George Gilder in his recent book, The Israel Test.  It is well beyond our present scope, which focuses on Israel's need for defensible borders, to tease out these religious, political and cultural threads. Still, it is clear that the deeply entrenched, metaphysical foundations of much anti-Israel sentiment must impel the little state to take charge of its own destiny.  To rely on fairness and good will from its Arab neighbors, who have very little capital vis-à-vis Israel as measured in these qualities, is destructively naïve and spawns such empty and counterproductive gestures as "the Disengagement" and Oslo; these actions are interpreted as weakness by Israel's enemies.

The germ of the matter is that while Palestinian and other Arab leaders have intermittently taken a "top-down" approach to the "peace" process with Israel -- jetting to conferences, shaking hands, even executing deals, the Arab-Islamic culture has continued to churn out young jihadists at the grassroots level. It is a staple of the formative experience of young Arabs that they are propagandized against Jews and to embrace martyrdom in the Saudi and Hamas funded madrassas on the West Bank and Gaza - and in ordinary public schools.  Israel must be ever mindful of the tenth grade reading text that stirs the youthful spirit, to wit "Martyred jihad fighters are the most honored people, after the Prophet."

The above maps are also found at which sources They are published with the kind permission of Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs: Data based on reporting by Jane's Missiles and Rockets and Israeli government statements to international media outlets.

Contact Harry Kanigel at

If you experience technical problems, please write to