The targeting in recent days of senior Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) operatives in response to over 100 rockets fired at Israel just a week earlier marked the beginning of the 16th Israeli Gaza operation in less than two decades. Dubbed “Shield and Arrow,” it’s a vivid reminder of the outstanding intelligence and operational capabilities of the IDF, Shin Bet, and our other security agencies, as well as of the price paid repeatedly by – and the admirable resilience of – residents of Israeli communities in close proximity to the Gaza Strip. It also dispelled any assumption by third parties that Israel’s internal political crisis has weakened it militarily. When hostiles challenge our security, Israelis – of whatever political view – stand as one.
However, this round of fighting is also a reminder that the IDF alone cannot solve the Gaza problem; that such problems do not lend themselves to exclusively military solutions.
The current escalation with Gaza, and last month’s terror incidents in Jerusalem and the West Bank, and, indeed, the tensions ahead of next week’s Flag Day march all accentuate the reality that the Palestinian front calls for constant tending to, for its various detonators can explode at a moment’s notice.
Having dedicated much of our adult lives to defending Israel in the military, intelligence and diplomatic arenas, today we sound a dual alarm. First, the assault on Israel’s institutions and values, in the guise of a “judicial reform,” threatens our democracy, and second, the absence of a decision on our national objective regarding the Palestinians accelerates the slide in the direction of a one-state reality, posting a severe threaten to our security and Jewish identity.
Israel must define its eastern border, preferably in negotiations, but failing that, unilaterally.
These concerns are shared by our 500 colleagues, all retired generals and equivalents from the IDF, Mossad, Shin Bet and police, as well as senior foreign service officers, who comprise ‘Commanders for Israel’s Security’ (CIS). We all view the threat to our democracy as the culmination of a militant process driven, inter alia, by Jewish extremists dedicated to the annexation of the West Bank. For the first time ever, their messianic leaders serve in our government.
This development is a struggle over the soul of Israel. It compels us to sound the alarm both as citizens committed to Israel’s democracy and as retired senior defense officials, committed to its security.
We have reached the conclusion that protecting both necessitates a separation between Israelis and Palestinians. Moreover, it is our professional judgment that the robust security arrangements needed for our defense can be negotiated and put in place in the context of the desired separation between the two peoples.
Between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, there are 14 million people, 7 million Jews, and 7 million Arabs. Either they separate in an eventual two-state solution, or we end up with an ever-conflicted one-state reality.
The continued de-facto annexation of parts of the West Bank leads inexorably to the collapse of the already fragile Palestinian Authority. This in turn will present Israel with a choice between two dreadful alternatives: allow Hamas to seize on the power vacuum and take over the territories or, to avert that, reoccupy the entire West Bank. In either scenario, Gaza is unlikely to remain quiet, forcing Israel to reoccupy the Strip as well. We will then face a fateful fork in the road: grant all Palestinians equal rights, thus forgoing the Jewish character of our country, or deprive them of such rights, thus ceding its democratic nature.
We have no illusions: the conditions for the desired two-state solution are not presently in sight. Nonetheless, it is essential that the option is preserved, first and foremost, by reversing current trends toward a creeping – if not galloping – annexation. Additionally, Israel must define its eastern border, preferably in negotiations, but failing that, unilaterally. Once defined, all those who reside within our sovereignty are to enjoy all rights enshrined in our Declaration of Independence. Beyond that border and all the way to the Jordan River, the IDF will continue to exercise security until security arrangements that satisfy Israel’s needs are negotiated and put in place.
Let us be clear: CIS is non-partisan. When we fought shoulder-to-shoulder we never inquired about each other’s political orientation, nor have we done so regarding our CIS colleagues. Yet, intimately familiar with our country’s security challenges and capabilities, we have all reached three conclusions: first, we are stronger than all our adversaries. Second, as demonstrated yet again with the current Operation Shield and Arrow, there is no military solution to our conflict with the Palestinians. And third, for a secure, democratic, Jewish Israel we must reach an agreement with the Palestinians in a manner that meets our defense requirements while ensuring their sovereignty and dignity.
It is with that analysis in mind, that the struggle to defend our democracy meets our mission of seeking an end to the occupation. Our members are not naïve. Battle-hardened, we know all too well that the road toward a settlement with the Palestinians is neither short nor smooth. But we are convinced that Israel is strong enough to take the risks involved, that the risks of not separating are far greater than those involved in an eventual two-state solution, and that for the future of our country, it is the only road worth taking. We believe that there is no security without democracy, and democracy is unsustainable while we occupy another people against its will.
Our vision is one of a secure Israel that is Jewish and democratic at home and that pursues peace with our neighbors, and we believe that vision shall prevail.
Maj. Gen. (ret.) Matan Vilnai is a former IDF deputy chief of staff, past deputy defense minister, cabinet member under Prime Ministers Barak and Netanyahu, and Israel’s most recent ambassador to China. He chairs Commanders for Israel’s Security (CIS).
Admiral (ret.) Ami Ayalon is a former director of the Shin Bet and past commander of the Israel Navy. He is a member of CIS.
Brig. Gen. (Ret.) Tamir Pardo is a former director of Mossad. He is a member of CIS.
Nimrod Novik is a former special ambassador and diplomatic adviser to Prime Minister Peres. He is a member of CIS and a Fellow at the Israel Policy Forum (IPF).
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