On October 6, 1973, the Yom Kippur war began with a surprise attack against Israel by Egypt and Syria. After initial successes, the Arab armies were repulsed; two weeks later, Israeli forces had moved deep into Arab territory. The United Nations succeeded in arranging for a cease-fire, which managed to hold on the Syrian front but fell apart in Egypt, where Israeli forces had trapped the Egyptian Third Army and fighting continued. The Third Army was in danger of being destroyed, which would have been a great disaster for Egypt, a disaster that neither the United States or the Soviet Union welcomed, The United States believed that such an outcome would work against establishing a durable peace in the Middle East and would weaken the US position in that region. The Soviets didn't want an Egyptian defeat because they were on the Arab side and had armed and trained the Egyptian and Syrian forces.
Having a common objective for a change, the US and Soviet governments got together and agreed to seek an enforcement of the fractured cease-fire. The United States placed great pressure on Israel to forgo the destruction of the encircled Egyptian forces, but these efforts to stop the fighting tailed As a consequence, the Soviets, feeling that they had been betrayed by the United States, began to prepare for military intervention.
The United States reacted by placing its military forces on a higher level of alert. Several dozen B-52 strategic nuclear bombers were shifted from their bases in Guam to the United States. A super-carrier, the John F Kennedy, was ordered to the Mediterranean, The 32nd Airborne Division was readied for dispatch. All of this was intended to show that the United States was readying itself for a possible confrontation with the Soviets, a confrontation holding the risk of nuclear war.
Finally, the Israelis pulled away from the fighting, and the war ended. But there had occurred a hair-raising crisis that held the threat of escalating to Armageddon for all parties involved. Whether the US or the Soviet government might have backed down had Israel refused to stop the war, we'll never know.
One thing is clear, however. Had the United States, to save Israel, joined in an escalatory process to the top rung of the ladder-to thermonuclear war with the USSR-this would have been insane: America would have succeeded in committing suicide; Israel would have perished under Soviet nuclear attack; and to one extent or another, the world would have suffered from the long-term effects of general nuclear war. Speaking as an American, this is one risk that the government of my country, the United States, should never again take on behalf of Israel (or any other ally, for that matter).
Unfortunately, current US policy toward Israel does not preclude a similar crisis from happening again. This strongly suggests that if the US government is to continue providing Israel with military assistance-and political realities are that it is likely to do so-it should seek to guarantee that a Middle East crisis involving the threat of Soviet intervention can never again arise. This can be accomplished by insisting that Israel change its military posture to achieve a self-defense-oriented capability, and then by assisting in this change. And what I mean by self-defense is a capability where the strategy for Israel's ground forces is solely to make it infeasible for Arab ground forces to invade Israeli territory and for Israel to invade the territory of its Arab neighbors.
I will advance and explain here a defensive scheme for achieving this capability. It does not involve nuclear weapons. Moreover, it can be accomplished in a highly moral fashion, in that the scheme is purely one of self-defense that precludes the ravagings of conventional wars, which have ravaged the Middle East time and time again.
It is not the United States alone, in an effort to prevent a nuclear confrontation with the Soviets, that has an interest in Israel's self-defensive capability. Israel itself, of course, has an acute stake in the matter. In the second half of this century Israel has been in more wars than any other country and presently seems heading toward the next one. As is always the case when a liberal democratic country goes to war, the cost to Israel has been high and little has been accomplished by way of preventing future conflicts.
To be sure, there has been no way for the Israelis to avoid these costs when their very existence has been threatened by an Arab determination to bring about their demise. To defend against this threat they have gone to war time after time, employing a highly offensive military strategy. Time after time, they have sent armored columns deep into Arab countries, sometimes occupying or annexing conquered territory, which has only served to sharpen tensions and bring about conditions for another war.
Throughout these years of Mideast turmoil, the United States has sought to bring peace to the area via diplomacy and by selling and giving arms. Our diplomacy, obviously, has been far from successful. The arms we have provided, mainly to Israel, have been used to bring about tragic levels of death and destruction, and all signs point to our having to supply more and more weapons in a futile quest to bring about a "stable" balance of power, in an area that is perhaps the most unstable on earth.
The tolerance of the American people for this dismal pattern may be nearing an end. President Reagan has declared an "ironclad" commitment to Israel's security, but the US record for maintaining its security commitments has not been ironclad-nor should it have been. When a nation perceives that its own security is best served by reducing or withdrawing commitments to others' security, it should do precisely that. If Mideast countries continue with their past behavior, the only prudent course for the United States may be to pull out of a hopeless morass that imperils its own security.
If the Soviets intrude again in an Arab-Israeli war, this time with vastly improved nuclear capabilities to back up their actions, the survival of the United States would be at stake. Clearly this is a situation where it would be irrational-indeed, intolerable-for us to remain committed to Israel. Clearly, the most responsible thing the United States can do, to ensure its own security, is to make drastic changes in its military assistance to Israel (and to other Mideast countries as well) to prevent such a situation from ever arising. Otherwise, based on the wretched history of this turbulent arena, there is every reason to expect that one of these days a nuclear showdown will arise.
A solution to the Palestinian problem and Israeli withdrawal from occupied territories has supposedly been at the heart of gaining peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors. These objectives constituted the basis of President Reagan's Mideast proposal of September 1, 1982. "Self-government by the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza in association with Jordan offers the best chance for a durable, just and lasting peace," said Reagan at the time. Reagan's proposal garnered precious little support from either side, especially on the Israeli side, and at present has precious little chance of succeeding.
Six years earlier, Israel, then under a Labor government, had contemplated something similar in the form of the Allon Plan, proposed by Yigal Allon, at that time Israel's deputy prime minister and minister of foreign affairs. Under the Allon Plan, the West Bank would be incorporated into a single Jordanian-Palestinian state, and Israel would in turn give up the bulk of the occupied areas. In withdrawing its forces from the occupied areas, Israel would achieve agreement for their effective demilitarization. However, to ensure its security, Israel would hold on to a belt of land at the West Bank-Jordanian border, a strip along the Golan Heights, and a belt in the Sinai Peninsula somewhat west of the 1949 Armistice Line; the purpose would be to establish a military buffer zone-Allon referred to it as a strategic defense zone-against possible attack by its Arab neighbors to the east and west.
In the framework of such an agreement, for geographical reasons, the major threat to Israeli security would come from the east, where, as Allon explained, the entire width of the coastal plain varies between 10 and 15 miles, where the main centers of Israel's population, including Tel Aviv and its suburbs, are situated, and where the situation of Jerusalem is especially perilous. Within these lines a single successful first strike by the Arab armies would be sufficient to dissect Israel at more than one point, to sever its essential living arteries, and to confront it with dangers that no other state would be prepared to face. The purpose of defensible borders is thus to correct this weakness.