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The Atlantic Monthly
Tuesday, October 26th, 2004


Defending Israel: A Controversial Plan Toward Peace

by Martin Van Creveld

A review by Benjamin Schwarz

Like all other honest assessments of Israel's strategic situation, this slim book offers no support to either hawks or doves, or to either the Israeli or the Arab positions, as conventionally defined. The best-known and arguably the most highly respected civilian commentator on Israel's military affairs, Van Creveld coolly analyzes the country's security policy and geostrategy. He concludes that Israel's military preponderance over its Arab neighbors is stronger than ever, and is in fact growing. He further shows that—providing Israel deploys sensing and surveillance technologies at its disposal—its withdrawal from the occupied territories will enhance, not vitiate, its security. But he also convincingly demonstrates that unless it builds a security wall (bolstered, again, by high-tech sensors, and roughly following the pre-1967 border), Israel "will almost certainly be destroyed" by Palestinian terrorism and the growth of its Arab population. (Palestinians, he points out, are in fact already exercising the "right of return" by marrying and having children with Israel's Arab citizens. Of course, even if a wall blocks a de facto right of return, Israel's Arab citizens already make up about 20 percent of its population. This large and rapidly growing hostile group within its pre-1967 borders represents a long-term and potentially catastrophic threat to the Jewish state's safety, to say nothing of its democracy. Van Creveld doesn't address this problem, but his response would almost certainly be typically grim: that the existence of a future dire threat is no reason not to forestall a more pressing one.) His strategic appraisal, which Israel's defense and intelligence establishment widely shares, demolishes the arguments of those who hold that a wall can't be effective, just as it renders ridiculous the propagandistic view of Israel as David surrounded by Arab Goliaths. Van Creveld has a reputation within Israel as something of a dove. But even as he reveals that much of the rhetoric in discussions of Israel's borders and of its military balance with the Arab states is unwarrantedly pessimistic, in evaluating Israel's dismal strategic prospects he concludes by summoning the infamous phrase of Likud's founder, the clear-eyed and ruthless Zeev Jabotinsky: unless Israel "builds an iron wall" between itself and the Arab world, Van Creveld avers, "it can have no future." This seems to be the only realistic option, but make no mistake: this is a strategy of no exit.

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