The former ambassadors and decorated soldiers met with U.S. National Security Council in Washington with an appraisal of Israel's security needs significantly different from the prime minister's.
A group of former Israeli army officials and diplomats visited Washington Monday, claiming that a peace agreement with the Palestinians is urgent in spite of, and because of, regional turmoil, and that contrary to what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claims, the 1967 borders are, in fact, defensible.
The group visited the White House on Monday and met with the National Security Council Director for Middle East and North Africa Steven Simon, and were to have meetings later in the evening with acting Middle East envoy David Hale and officials at the Pentagon.
Former Israeli diplomat Ilan Baruch. Photo by: Emil Salman
Among the group participants were Major General (Ret.) Natan Sharoni, a battery commander in the Sinai Campaign and a battalion commander during the Six Day War who later became Head of Planning for the IDF and Ambassador Alon Pinkas, who served as Consul General of Israel in New York.
Joining the two was Ambassador Ilan Baruch, who served with the Israeli Foreign Ministry for more than thirty years and stirred a public debate in Israel when, upon his resignation, he penned an open letter critical of Israeli government policies.
Others in the group include Colonel (Ret.) Shaul Arieli, who was Commander of the Northern Brigade in Gaza, and was responsible for the evacuation and transfer of the Gaza Strip to Palestinian control in 1994 and distinguished soldier Brigadier General (Ret.) Nehemiah Dagan.
Major General (Ret.) Shlomo Gazit, who was head of the Assessment Department in IDF Intelligence and later became Coordinator of Israeli Government Operations in the Administered Territories and Attorney Gilead Sher, the legal representative for the Shalit family also joined the group.
“We are here because we feel that we are running out of time, and there is no actual status quo,” Sharoni told Haaretz Monday. “The dynamic is such that we must act quickly so that we don’t find ourselves facing actions that cannot be corrected.”
“We are here because we are concerned that the Jewish state won't remain Jewish and democratic. Thirty years from now, Jews will be one-third of the population from Jordan to the Mediterranean. And the culture that is developing in Israel these days suggests that the one-third will control the two-thirds,” he said.
The second issue that concerns the group is that no credible critics have dared to counter Prime Minister Netanyahu's claim that the 1967 borders are “indefensible”.
“It has already entered the Israeli political lexicon as an axiom”, Sharoni said. “We think it's misleading. The 1967 borders are defensible, we just need to define – defensible against what? It's true they are indefensible against rockets from Iran, but so is all the territory of Israel.”
“They are indefensible against terror and Hezbollah rockets,” he added. “But to say that the strategic depth of the Jordan Valley will save Israel, that is a deception.”
Sharoni said that what has traditionally constituted the ‘Eastern front’ against Israel is now non-existent.
“Iraq doesn't have the capacity to send ground divisions against us; we have peace with Jordan, and Syria won't go to war against Israel by herself. I am sure the prime minister knows it – but he probably doesn't want to make any use of this information,” Sharoni said.
Sharoni responded to a question from Haaretz concerning a possible threat emerging on the Eastern front ten years in the future, dismissing the supposed necessity of maintaining sovereignty over a part of the West Bank to act as a buffer zone in the event of an attack.
“Do we actually need to control the Jordan Valley to confront these threats? To move one or two IDF divisions to seize control of the Valley takes up to 36 hours. With our deterrence and mobility, there is no problem with it. If it will be a demilitarized zone – if something happens, there is enough time to get there.”
“And the Palestinians need Jordan Valley to develop as a viable state, especially if they want to absorb refugees. IDF can protect any borders, it's just the question of developing the right strategy to do it,” Sharoni continued.
“It is folly to measure strategic depth in another 1000 kilometers – when our entire country doesn't provide strategic depth, and frankly, I don’t think any country in the world today does, against the current threats,” added Sharoni.
“In 25 years, we had five wars with Egypt, from different territorial positions, and before there was a peace agreement, no borders deterred them from going to war against us,” said Colonel Arieli. “Control of the territory can be replaced with advantages of other security arrangements.”
“What scares us is that our current leadership has no courage and no pragmatism necessary to deal with the challenges,” he added.
“I have warm sentiments for Nablus and Hebron”, said Maj.Gen. (ret.) Gazit, referring to two West Bank cities that are populated almost wholly by Palestinians.
“I would love to have all of the Land of Israel. But we need to understand the difference between the defensible borders - and viable borders,” said Gazit. “If the Palestinian state is not viable – we shoot ourselves in the leg”.
A White House National Security spokesman told Haaretz following the visit, “Meetings like this are a routine part of our work. Our officials meet with a wide variety of groups and delegations on an ongoing basis.”