The Palestinian-Israeli “peace process” is about to enter a parlous phase. However much the fraying American-Israeli relationship has been publicly patched up by Benjamin Netanyahu’s talks in the White House with Barack Obama, the fact remains that in the weeks and months ahead, Israel will be asked—or pushed—to take great risks in return for “progress.” In whatever direction events unfold, it is vital to take stock of the fundamental geographical realities of Israel’s predicament. Israel’s Critical Security Needs for a Viable Peace, a new book published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and written by some of Israel’s most experienced military thinkers, begins by laying out the basics:
Israel is a tiny country of about 10,000 square miles, approximately the size of New Jersey in the United States or slightly smaller than Belgium. Compounding Israel’s small size is the fact that 70 percent of its population and 80 percent of its industrial capacity are concentrated in the narrow coastal strip sandwiched between the Mediterranean Sea and the West Bank. To make matters worse, the adjacent hills of the West Bank topographically dominate the coastal plain, which is a relatively flat and exposed area. This provides distinct advantages to an attacker for observation, fire, and defense from an Israeli ground response. And there are many targets located along Israel’s coastal plain: Ben-Gurion International Airport, the Trans-Israel Highway (Route 6) which runs north-south only tens of meters west of the West Bank, Israel’s National Water Carrier, and its high-voltage electric power lines. If the West Bank were to fall into hostile hands, the resulting situation would pose a constant threat to Israel’s national infrastructure.
A great deal follows from this, and not for the defense of territory, but also the protection of air-space and the electromagnetic spectrum. The prime fact is that Israel’s hand is limited. The tiny sliver of a country cannot survive without defensible borders. And the pre-1967 borders are not defensible. The United States, the Europe Union, the Quartet, the G-20, the United Nations can all pressure Israel to yield land for peace. But the country’s strategic vulnerability dictates the limits of what it can and cannot concede. For anyone seeking to understand why military geography is destiny, this book is an excellent place to start.