One of the oh-so-many depressing things about Israel is the typically low state of what passes for political and strategic discourse and analysis—often even at the highest levels. Consider the implications of Moshe Arens’ column in today’s Haaretz, entitled “For Israel, Size Does Matter.” Arens—a former Defense Minister of Israel!--argues that “[It is] nonsense that territory is unimportant in the age of [nuclear] missiles. Just the opposite is true. Territory is more important than before."
Why is that? Arens explains: “[Even] for the large long-range missiles with large warheads, reducing the size of the target area is a mistake. A good example of the strategic implications of a reduction in size is the transfer of the Sinai to Egypt as part of the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty in 1979, which reduced the area under Israeli control by two-thirds. Although in this case there was reason to believe that this concession would bring a long-lasting peace with Egypt…the full strategic implications of this drastic reduction in area under Israeli control only became apparent with the appearance of the danger of possession of nuclear weapons in the hands of Israel’s enemies in recent years. Without the Sinai, Israel has been turned into a point-target in case of a nuclear attack.”
Arens goes on to argue that any withdrawal of Israel from the West Bank today would have the same consequence: that is, Israel within its pre-1967 lines would not only become more vulnerable to conventional attacks but it would “reduce the size of its target area,” thus turning itself into “a point target” for nuclear attacks.
In other words, when Israel controlled the Sinai, it was safer from nuclear attack because its nuclear-armed enemies could [and would?] attack Israel only there, whereas once it withdrew these enemies would have no choice other than to attack Israel proper. Same with the West Bank.
The question is whether Arens’ argument is merely breathtakingly disingenuous, a cover for his ideologically-inspired hardline position on any Israeli territorial withdrawals—even if they bring peace, as he admits has been the case with Egypt since the Israeli withdrawal from the Sinai in the 1970s!—or whether it is just really, really stupid. One can only hope that the former is the case.