The public debate on the future of Judea and Samaria is top heavy with sound bites, but very low on serious examination of national security implications. Conventional wisdom suggests that ballistic missiles and advanced military technologies have undermined the importance of ground barriers, such as the mountain ridges of Judea and Samaria. Is that true?
The US – which has the most sophisticated military power – operates more than 100 overseas military bases and installations, which control significant ground and waterways. Notwithstanding the nuclear and ballistic threats, the US recognizes the fact that all wars have been conventional. Hence, the critical role played by ground forces and ground barriers.
The October 2003 issue of the US Army’s The Land Warfare Papers highlights the vital importance of ground forces and ground barriers: “During the Afghan campaign of 2002 [and Iraq’s war of 2003], precision air strikes were critical, but they neither annihilated opposition nor finished the enemy…In the 1999 Kosovo conflict, the air war created the conditions for negotiation, but it was the ground forces that created stability….In 1995, in Serbia, the threat of airpower did not significantly deter Serbia. It took the ground forces to create the conditions for the Dayton Accords. In 1991, months of strike operations did not achieve a decision [in the Gulf War]. The four day ground war led to Iraqi surrender…. [In 1989, in Panama], the surrender of Noriega was the result of soldiers on the ground…. Ground forces can both destroy and occupy… sustain land dominance and achieve a lasting decision… Remote precision strikes will not achieve such capabilities….” Marine Corp General, J.N. Mattis, Commander of the US Joint Forces Command, reiterated the aforementioned conclusions in his August 14, 2008 Memorandum.
Missiles destroy, but ground forces occupy and bring enemies to submission. Thousands of missiles would devastate Tel Aviv, but a few hundred Arab tanks in Israel’s coastal plain would doom the Jewish State. Such an observation underlined assessments, made by US Generals, on the indispensability of the mountain ridges of Judea and Samaria. For instance, Lt. General Tom Kelly, Chief of Operations in the 1991 Gulf War: “I could not defend this land [Israel] without that terrain [Judea and Samaria]… The West Bank Mountains, and especially their five approaches, are the critical terrain. If an enemy secures those passes, Jerusalem and Israel become uncovered. Without the West Bank, Israel is only 8 miles wide at its narrowest point. That makes it indefensible….”
On June 29, 1967, General Earl Wheeler, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs-of-Staff, submitted to President Johnson a document on “The Minimum Requirements for Israel’s Defense.” According to Wheeler, the historical, geographic, topographic, political and military reality of the Middle East behooves Israel to control the mountain ridges of Judea, Samaria and the Golan Heights. In fact, the dramatic technological upgrading of Arab military forces, since 1967, has made surprise offensive (e.g. 1973) swifter, ballistic missiles significantly more destructive and precise, population centers and IDF bases more vulnerable and the deployment of reservists (75% of Israel’s military force!) much slower and problematic. Hence, the dramatically increasing importance of the mountain ridges of Judea and Samaria in blocking and delaying a surprise invasion, providing Israel’s reservists with more time for deployment (Without reservists, Israel would be lethally inferior to invading Arab forces).
100 US retired Generals and Admirals signed a public advertisement in October 1988, contending that Israel should not withdraw from Judea and Samaria – which could not be demilitarized effectively – lest it fails to provide security to its people. The late Admiral “Bud” Nance defined Judea and Samaria’s eastern mountain ridge (3,000 foot steep slope), dominating the Jordan Valley, as “the most effective tank barrier” and the western mountain ridge (2,000 foot moderate slope), over-towering Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, as “a dream platform for invasion to the narrow coastal plain.”
How vulnerable is pre-1967 Israel, which is dominated by Judea and Samaria topography, which is surrounded by a most violent, unstable, unpredictable and unreliable neighborhood, which has not experienced intra-Arab comprehensive peace or intra-Arab compliance with most agreements for the last 1,400 years, which has never tolerated wishful-thinking?
The width of the 8-16 mile sliver along the Mediterranean equals 1/90 of the width of Texas, the length of DFW Airport, the distance between JFK and La Guardia airports, between Wall Street and Columbia University and between the Pentagon and Mount Vernon, a round trip between RFK Stadium and Kennedy Center and less than the width of Miami, San Francisco and Washington, DC.
During the 1995 Bosnia conflict, the US Army declared a 16 mile “Killing Zone,” in order to secure the personal security of its soldiers. Would Israel’s 8-16 mile pre-1967 waistline suffice to secure the national security of the people of the Jewish State?