Molad - the Center for the Renewal of Israeli Democracy

Analysis
12.12.2017 position paper by Molad
 

Israeli Security Pays Price for Settlements

Most Israelis believe that the West Bank settlements are good for national security. Molad’s new study shows that the opposite is true
Click here to download the full report  
Click here to read the article in Haaretz about the report (English) 

The greatest challenge to Israel’s security is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Inasmuch as the conflict revolves around land, it is inextricably intertwined with the settlements in the West Bank. Yet for many years, Israel has lacked responsible public debate over the settlements’ impact on national security. Molad’s new study analyses this issue in depth, based on facts, figures and input from Israel’s top defense experts. 

The myth that the settlements provide Tel Aviv with a first line of defense is so pervasive that more than half of Israelis believe that the settlements are good for security. This is due to a misguided conflation of Israeli military control over the West Bank with the presence of Israeli civilians there. Our study shows that far from helping keep Israelis safe, the settlements actually take a heavy toll on Israel’s national security

Israel’s top defense experts agree that while the settlements may have played a security role in the past, this is no longer the case. Far from help defend the country, the scattering of Israeli civilians throughout the West Bank now encumbers the work of security forces, drains the defense budget, and complicates IDF work by lengthening lines of defense. Protecting Israeli civilians in the heart of Palestinian territory detracts from the IDF’s ability to fight Palestinian terrorism against Israel proper.

Israelis may choose to pay this price for the existence of settlements. But they cannot make an informed choice insofar as public debate remains devoid of fact-based arguments and responsible analysis.

This study is based on research conducted by Avishay Ben-Sasson Gordis, a retired major with Israel’s Defense Intelligence and a policy analyst with Molad who is currently pursuing a Ph.D. at the Harvard Department of Government. On professional security matters we also consulted experts such as Maj. Gen. (res.) Amos Malka, Maj. Gen. (res.) Moshe Kaplinsky, Maj. Gen. (res.) Gadi Shamni, Maj. Gen. (res.) Noam Tibon and Brig. Gen. (res.) Baruch Spiegel. 

Key findings:
  1. Israel’s civilian presence in the West Bank (settlements) must be clearly distinguished from its military control over the area (IDF and ISA or Shin Bet). Thanks to efforts by the settler lobby, the Israeli public misguidedly conflates security operations with civilian life in the West Bank. In fact, the settlements do not work for national security – rather, the country’s security services work for them. 
     
  2. The strategic assumptions underlying the 1967 Allon Plan lost relevance at least 15 years ago. The security logic of the 1960s is no longer relevant due to geopolitical changes in the Middle East, Israel’s military prowess, and the altered role of civilian communities in wartime. 
     
  3. The settlements hold security forces back from defending Israel proper against Palestinian terrorism:
  • Much longer lines of defense. A highly conservative estimate puts the current boundary between Israel and the West Bank at five times longer than it would have been without the settlements. Having to protect Israeli civilians in the heart of the Palestinian population greatly reduces the IDF’s ability to defend Israel proper. 
     
  • More than 50% (sometimes as much as two-thirds) of active IDF forces are deployed in West Bank – more than on all other fronts put together (Lebanon, Syria, Gaza, and the Jordanian border along the Arava). The unique task of guarding civilians living deep within hostile territory requires especially large forces. 
     
  • Most forces deployed in the West Bank do not fight terrorism against Israel but guard settlements. An estimated 80% of IDF forces in the West Bank engage in settlement guard duty, while the remaining 20% defend Israel proper (within the 1967 borders).
     
  • Despite the proven security benefits of the Separation Barrier, settler leaders are preventing its completion for political reasons. As a result, 40% of the barrier remains incomplete 15 years after construction began. 
     
  • The settlements also hinder the IDF’s preparedness for emergency, drain security resources, generate ongoing disagreement between the settler leadership and the defense establishment, burden the IDF with sabotage acts by Jewish terrorists, and – in general – are a divisive element in Israeli society.

Click here to download the full report