Defensible Borders for A Lasting Peace: “Is Pre-emptive War an Option in Place of Strategic Depth?
The main alternative strategy which some military professionals advocate to make up for the weakness of the 1967 lines is that of “taking the war to the enemy’s territory” by having Israel carry out a pre-emptive attack, conduct a war on enemy territory, and, by doing so, create the necessary depth for defense. However, this approach makes the acquisition of an adequate defensive capability conditional on a difficult political decision: to launch a war and conquer territory beyond a state’s own political border. There is no guarantee that a future leadership will take such a decision. It is instructive, in this context, to recall that in 1973, Prime Minister Golda Meir had trouble deciding on a limited air strike, even after the Egyptians and the Syrians had already deployed their forces to offensive positions to Israel’s south and north. Who can guarantee that a future Israeli government would decide in time to pre-empt an enemy attack – especially if there are already political arrangements in place? If the threat to Israel were to emanate from states that formally were signatories to peace treaties, the chances that an Israeli government would violate them with pre-emptive action are nil.
That is why in the political agreement with Egypt, Israel insisted on the creation of demilitarized zones and limited forces areas in the Sinai Desert. This provided Israel with a safety net in the event that there was a change of intent on the Egyptian side in the future. Two hundred kilometers of desert, containing no significant army, gives Israel a certain amount of forward depth, within the territory of a neighboring state. It is clear, however, that there is no possibility of creating a similar space in the West Bank on Israel’s eastern border, which is far closer to the most vital elements of Israel’s strategic interior than is the case with the Egyptian border. In the narrower West Bank, Israel must already be positioned with its forces, utilizing the high terrain available, as well as other unique topographical conditions, in order to create an adequate defense in the event of the emergence of a threat from the east.
While a policy of pre-emptive attack could theoretically create the necessary depth for defense, if the threat to israel were to emanate from states that formally were signatories to peace treaties, the chances that an Israeli government would violate them with pre-emptive action are nil.
In general, from a professional military standpoint, it would be a serious error by those responsible for Israel’s security to rely on a future Israeli decision to launch a pre-emptive strike in order to gain the necessary depth to defend Israel from an imminent threat. Israel’s security cannot be based on the certainty that such a “counter-attack in advance” will be conducted. Thus, it is impossible for Israel to rely on its defensive capacity at the 1967 “green line” on its eastern border.”