Israel: Why Land Matters, Part III

By IndepthAfrica
In Middle East
May 16th, 2012
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It is an undisputed fact that Israel’s army reserves are the backbone of the IDF in times of war. The question, therefore, is: how does Israel buy the 48 hours it must have to fully mobilize and deploy its army reserves?

Israel’s citizen army naturally mobilizes its reserve troops where they live. This means primarily an “L” shaped land mass, from Jerusalem at one end and Haifa at the other with Tel Aviv in the middle. Along this short and narrow strip resides some 70 percent of Israel’s population (and 80 percent of its industrial base) and therefore, about 70 percent of the nation’s reserve soldiers (as well as 70 percent of its labor force).

Even before Israel has the opportunity to field the full complement of its army, including its reserves, in time of war, Israel must prevent this area from being overrun by an invading enemy. Should the enemy forces succeed in cutting into the “L”, the damage to Israel’s mobilization and deployment process might well be beyond repair. Worse, if the invasion force cannot be stopped before the fighting reached the main cities, Israel would have lost the war.

This grave situation is recognized by Israel’s military, even if not fully grasped by all its politicians. In 1952, IDF Chief of Operations General Yitzhak Rabin ordered IDF Chief of Planning Colonel Yuval Ne’eman (who helped organize the IDF into a reservist-based army, developed the mobilization system, and wrote the first draft of Israel’s defense doctrine) to conduct an exercise to test the IDF under conditions of a surprise attack, under the then-prevailing 1949 ceasefire lines, i.e. the pre-’67 lines known today as the “Green Line.”

The maneuvers were organized, and the ensuing results were a disaster. During the exercise, Israel’s first president, Dr. Chaim Weizman, passed away. The exercise was then cancelled to deal with the State funeral that had to be carried out. However, by that time the exercise’s “invading force” had conquered Petach Tikva and Ramat Gan, two cities surrounding the approach to Tel Aviv proper (the distance from the pre-’67 ceasefire lines to the outskirts of metropolitan Tel Aviv is a mere 11 miles), and had yet to be stopped in its tracks. It is this nightmarish situation that hung over Israel’s neck like the Sword of Damocles until the 1967 Six Day War and the extension of Israeli control over the Biblical mountain ranges of Judea and Samaria.

Imagine further, how much worse in reality the results of the 1952 exercise could have been if Israel’s enemies, large and small, added to the invasion force barrage after barrage of missiles onto Israel’s main population centers.

The “Land for Peace” concept, accepted and unquestioned in Western capitals (and by Israel’s political Left), if implemented, would seriously weaken Israel, even clearing the path to its ultimate destruction. The areas already given over to the control of the Palestinian Authority (and now also Hamas) has considerably complicated Israel’s defense in an all out war situation. Further territorial concessions would prove catastrophic.

The missile age has not made strategic depth irrelevant, it has made it even more vital. The advanced weapons systems and missiles now in the hands of the Arabs, make the threat of the reduction of Israel’s size back to pre-’67 dimensions potentially devastating. Permitting such a diminution would also be a foolhardy move on the part of the Western democracies. A truncated Israel, forced to concentrate all its defenses on high-population areas, would effectively become useless to those it currently serves so well as a major linchpin in the Western global strategy against the threat from radical Islamic expansionism.

Advocates of Israeli withdrawal from these critical territories proffer the solution of a “demilitarized zone” in the “West Bank” region. Practically speaking, such a zone is meaningless. Even if members of the more than a dozen official militias and security forces currently operating in the Palestinian Authority refrain from carrying out terrorist attacks themselves, the “unofficial” terrorist groups who operate freely with shoulder launched rockets and worse, would still fire at Israeli school buses and at aircraft taking off and landing at Ben-Gurion International Airport outside of Tel Aviv (about 7 miles from the pre-’67 lines). Thus the threat to Israel’s national security would not be removed.

Even if all of Samaria, for example, was devoid of any military personnel – Arab or Israeli — it would take a motorized Arab invasion force no more than 2-3 hours to cross the Jordan River and roll up at the outskirts of Tel Aviv with any number of armored divisions.

The only way to prevent such an occurrence is for Israel to control the Samarian mountain passes, because the best intelligence apparatus in the world cannot guarantee to sufficiently deliver advance warning (48 hours) to fully mobilize and deploy the necessary forces to repel a full-scale invasion.

The 1973 Yom Kippur War is proof of that. Even when the signs were clear, six hours passed before the Israeli government gave the IDF General Staff the go-ahead for a full-scale reserve call-up. By that time, it was too late. Had Jordan entered the war, Hashemite forces would have made it into Jerusalem within a few hours with only a meager IDF force to deal with on the road from Jericho to Jerusalem. Imagine today when Jericho and the surrounding areas are potentially and assumedly in enemy hands in case of all out war. Israel can ill-afford to take chances or rely on luck. Not with national survival at stake.

A properly coordinated surprise attack by the armies of the main Arab/Islamic confrontation states could easily spell the end of Israel within 3 hours of the invasion – with Syrian, Jordanian, Iraqi and even Iranian troops battling Israel’s home-guard troops in Afula, Kfar Saba and Jerusalem. Israel’s only hope, its only possible strategy, is for its small standing army to be able to pin down and stop such a surprise attack by invading enemy forces before they reach the Jewish State’s heavily populated areas. The sole solution to Israel’s dilemma is the general retention of the administered territories.

The way in which a smaller force can stop a larger force is by catching said larger forces’ columns of motorized vehicles (tanks, half-tracks, trucks, etc.) in a bottleneck. The mountain passes of Judea and Samaria are the only such existing obstacles. Israeli control means a better than even chance of the IDF’s small standing army to block the advance columns of a surprise invasion force, thus buying Jerusalem the time required to call up the reserves needed to beat back such an attack.

Israel’s leadership has to remind our friends in the West, and especially in Washington, that responsible national security planning for Israel is based not only on the current political situation, but also takes into account possible changes – even long term – in the intentions of Israel’s increasingly unfriendly Arab neighbors.

It’s an either-or situation: Either Israel retains Judea and Samaria, thereby controlling its vital mountain passes, high ground and strategic depth, or it doesn’t, in which case, the disastrous consequences of Israel’s 1952 military exercise might well become a reality.

Yedidya Atlas is a veteran journalist specializing in geo-political and geo-strategic affairs in the Middle East. His articles have appeared in such publications as The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Times, Insight Magazine, Nativ, The Jerusalem Post and Makor Rishon. His articles have been reprinted by Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and in the US Congressional Record.

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