The idea of separation has much appeal to an Israeli population feeling threatened daily by hostile Arabs. The Israeli government recently advanced an elaborate plan to construct hi-tech fences and new military checkpoints between Israel and the Palestinian West Bank in an effort to reduce the risk of militant violence. Israeli security officials brought the plan before the Knesset a day after Islamic extremists opened fire on an Israeli bus near the West Bank town of Hebron, killing two Jewish settlers and wounding five. The separation plan involves building extensive fences, other barriers and restricting Palestinian access into Israel through eight to ten crossings points. The border would be heavily patrolled by Israeli soldiers and police. Cost estimates range from $300 million to $500 million. An economic report on the draft plan said the cost would be too high and separation would lead to political and economic instability in the PLO areas, perhaps intensifying the danger of attacks from opponents of the Israeli-PLO peace process. Analysts such as Dore Gold, Emanuel Winston and Ze'ev Schiff have discussed many of the reasons why it simply won't work.
For another reason why it 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 attacked. 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 seven 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 emboldened the Arabs to more and more attacks. Throwing concrete boulders, Molotov cocktails, and then using firearms at Israelis became the norm of behavior among the Arabs. 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. Several weeks ago a reserve officer of the Israel Defense Forces made a wrong turn and ended up in the center of Ramallah, a Arab city. He was immediately attacked by a vicious mob of Arabs, murder in their eyes, who almost beat him to death. 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 as 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 Bar Lev Line or the Maginot Line can resist a determined enemy willing to risk money and lives to breach it.
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 director of the Freeman Center For Strategic Studies in Houston, Texas and is editor of its political magazine, THE MACCABEAN. This article was published in the Jewish Herald-Voice (Houston) on April 5, 1995 and in the April 1995 issue of THE MACCABEAN.