Geography & Security

Israel’s struggle for “defensible borders” is unique in international diplomacy. It emanates from both the special legal and strategic circumstances that Israel faced in the aftermath of the 1967 Six-Day War, when the Israel Defense Forces captured the West Bank and other territories in a war of self-defence.

There continues to be a compelling strategic logic underpinning the idea of defensible borders. Israel is in an anomalous situation. It is an embattled democracy that historically has had to defend itself repeatedly against the armies of neighbouring Arab states whose declared goal was nothing less than Israel’s eradication. The Israel Defense Forces could not afford to miscalculate. While other nations, like France or Kuwait, have been overrun, occupied, and nonetheless have survived to reconstitute them, Israel, in contrast, cannot depend on obtaining a second chance. Miscalculation on its part could have had devastating consequences and, thus, its situation is unique.

Terrorism has also been added to Israel’s concerns, in addition to the threat of a conventional military attack. From a strategic-military perspective, then, the right to defensible borders means that Israel must retain a safety zone in order to contend with a range of threats in the future, even if it reaches political agreements with it neighbours.

The idea of defensible borders cannot refer only to the actual borderline itself. It must also include the area behind the border – the border area. When Western countries dealt with the question of creating a line of defense in Cold War Europe, their military planners understood that it is not the “borderline” that is decisive but rather the “defensive depth.” From a military standpoint, this defensive area included the entire width of Germany up to the Rhine (over 200 kilometers). This was to provide an area for retreat, were a defensive battle to be waged, so that a line of containment could be stabilized on the Rhine.

Since no defensive system will remain the same as it was at the beginning of an attack, there is a necessity for sufficient depth for the reserve forces to mass and there is a need for adequate space before enemy forces reaches the strategic interior of a state.

Looking at the question of Israel’s borders strictly from a professional military standpoint, a withdrawal to the 1967 lines will put Israel in a grave situation for the following reasons:

• Israel will not have the ability to defend itself against a conventional military threat should it materialize in the future; given the current state of the Middle East, no one can promise that such a threat will not materialize.

• Israel’s ability to prevent the destruction of its national infrastructure in the event of a missile attack will decline greatly, and its second-strike capability will significantly diminish.

• With respect to terrorism, when facing curved-trajectory weapons – from mortars to rocket fire – the distance of a future border from essential areas of vital Israeli infrastructure is a critical factor affecting the success of such attacks against Israel. Moreover, to prevent other terrorist attacks against Israel, security zones add a critical element to any security fence in order to make it effective against infiltration.

The importance of geography and defensible borders has been voiced by leading international figures from different countries and political camps.