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Netanyahu’s Border War

TEL AVIV – Binyamin Netanyahu’s furious rejection of US President Barack Obama’s proposal to use the 1967 borders as the basis for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute – frontiers that he called “utterly indefensible” – reflects not only the Israeli prime minister’s poor statesmanship, but also his antiquated military philosophy.

In an era of ballistic missiles and other weapons of mass destruction, and in which the planned Palestinian state is supposed to be demilitarized, why is it so vital for Israel to see its army “sit along the Jordan River”? If such a tripwire is really necessary, why shouldn’t a reliable international force carry out that task? And how can hundreds of isolated settlements spread amidst a hostile Palestinian population ever be considered a strategic asset?

Netanyahu should, perhaps, have studied the lessons of the 1973 Yom Kippur war on the Golan Heights before denouncing Obama’s idea. When the war started, the first thing the Israeli army command sought was the evacuation of the area’s settlements, which Israel’s generals knew would quickly become an impossible burden, and an obstacle to maneuver, for their troops. Indeed, the last war that Israel won “elegantly” – in the way that Netanyahu imagines that wars should be won – began from the supposedly “indefensible” 1967 lines.

That is no accident. Israel’s occupation of Arab lands in that war, and its subsequent deployment of military forces amidst the Arab population of the West Bank and close to the powerful military machines of Egypt in the south and Syria in the north, exposed it to Palestinian terrorism from the east. At the same time, occupation denied Israel’s army the advantage of a buffer – the demilitarized zones that were the key to the 1967 victory against both Egypt and Syria.