IMRA interviewed former senior intelligence officer Brig. Gen. (res.) Aharon Levran, in Hebrew, on December 14th.
IMRA: The IDF’s “security map” is now public and it shows a security area of three kilometers depth as compared to Sharon’s map with a ten kilometer deep security band on the Green Line. What’s the difference from a military standpoint between the two?
I want to say at the outset that I don’t support the concept of a security zone – be it a 3 kilometers or 10 kilometers wide. I also have not seen the maps. But I can definitely say that there are advantages to a 10 kilometer zone as compared to a 3 kilometer zone.
If you have only a three kilometer security zone you put the flight paths from airports within range of anti-aircraft missiles.
IMRA: Netanyahu’s most memorable contribution to the 1992 Likud election campaign was the television spot he did near Ben Gurion Airport in which he made this very point. Ironically, Mordechai’s security map, which Netanyahu reportedly now tends to support, does not include Beit Arieh which is four kilometers from Ben Gurion International Airport.
Levran: Jets taking off from the airport would still be at a low enough altitude to be hit by anti-aircraft missiles in the area of Beit Arieh.
A ten kilometer zone also has significance because it puts the shorter range Katyushas out of range as well as light weapons. Artillery and long range Katyushas would, of course, still be well within target range.
IMRA: Would these weapons truly tilt the scales?
Levran: You don’t need heavy weapons to win. When you consider what has happened to us, the Palestinians have succeed in beating us with the lightest of weapons. Clausewitz defines successful war as gaining one’s goals. And when you consider what the Palestinians have done – the territory which they have gained – then truly they have demonstrated that terror is not simply a nuisance – it is in and of itself a strategic threat. We have already seen how short range light weapons, when used to carry out a campaign of terror, can be just as effective in achieving the Arab’s goals as heavy weapons. After all, terror has achieved something which, traditionally, one side only loses after a crushing defeat – territory.
That’s not to say that I support a ten kilometer zone. I think that it is ridiculous. I spoke with Sharon about this years ago and I thought I convinced him about this but I was wrong. Consider that Sharon was one of the leaders of the anti-Oslo movement. I told him then that his “security zone” approach was mistaken because it creates Jewish “security pockets”. It’s as if you are basically saying that the country isn’t ours but that you want some security areas within which to survive. Forget about the land being ours and ideological matters – they aren’t important – just give me some security. This turned the whole matter from a question of national spirit and ideology to a matter of horse trading – some here some there. This is the way to treat the Land of Israel? The homeland?
He has to do all of this? The leader of the opposition to Oslo – just to sit in the government? He knows that he has a prime minister who is a sham but he continues to sit with him. He has lost all of his integrity.
And the biggest lie of all of these people is “we don’t want to interfere with their lives – let them live their lives.” What is this “let them live their lives?”. They won’t give us solace.
Now there is talk: yes state no state as if it doesn’t matter.
The authority today in an embryo. It can still be aborted. But a state – God forbid. And every day it will get worse. We can’t let things develop this way.
IMRA: Your objection to security areas sounds more like an objection on Zionist rather than security reasons.
Levran: There were once two very smart people in the country – Yigal Alon and Moshe Dayan. Alon and the Alon Plan and he said ‘let’s hold onto areas where there aren’t many Arabs and it will also serve our security needs.’ And Moshe Dayan told him, to paraphrase: but what can you do when those who control the hilltops control Western Israel?
We are going to give up the hilltops? All this talks of security areas sounds so pleasant – that we will be satisfied with having just some areas – just what is really required for our survival.
I would go even further. If I had to chose between holding onto Jerusalem and holding Western Israel I would choose Western Israel. Because we stand or fall depending on if we hold it. It’s not that I am minimizing the spiritual importance of Jerusalem. It is our spiritual survival and symbol of our existence etc.. For years now there are people who say “Jerusalem forever” but are willing to give up the rest.
I maintain that the ideological argument is the stronger one to go into negotiations with. If you argue solely on security grounds you are bound to find your demands whittled away. “Take another cannon instead of land”, they will say. “Take another million dollars”. They don’t understand.
If there was some area which theoretically we could do without it would be one thing. But there isn’t such an area. I need the high ground and the areas from the Alon Plan and the connecting roads. So what’s left? Arab pockets. Fine. Let’s change them all to Area B. Joint control – our security control and they have their own municipal lives. That is the true implementation of our not having anything to do with their lives. Everything else is cities of refuge and traps.
IMRA: “Maariv” reporter Ben Caspit claims that Israel was on the verge of an agreement with the Syrians which would include as one of its provisions that a division of Syrian tanks would be deployed between Damascus and the Golan but that the tanks would not represent a danger to Israel since they would only have a “belly” of ammunition with supplies located at a distance.
Levran: This is ridiculous. Can we really trust Assad. Especially today after the Teheran Islamic Conference? All of these attempts to micro manage arrangement are absurd. You have to look at the situation at the macro level when you want to consider if given arrangement is workable. You have to appreciate the dangers involved in leaving the Golan from a macro level.
IMRA: You were in the army when the Egyptians immediately violated the terms of the cease fire agreement which came at the end of the War of Attrition on the Suez Canal by advancing their SAM sites. How did people react inside the army when the Americans claimed that they needed to study the situation and examine the evidence. Did you know at the time that the Americans were photographing the area the entire time and were fully aware of the situation?
Levran: We were apoplectic. They kept reviewing our photographic evidence. We knew what was happening but, already then, we were caught up in this feeling of dependence on “Uncle Sam” so we couldn’t do anything.
This wasn’t the first time. Recall that the Americans also stalled when the Straits of Tiran were closed to Israeli ships back in 1967.
You have to keep in mind though, that at that time the country was war weary. Sure we enjoyed success with our deep penetration raids in Egypt, but then we lost some Phantom jets and the mood was very low. When the Egyptians violated the agreement the country was not geared to respond.
IMRA: So Israel was happy to get American “black boxes” instead of acting against the missiles?
IMRA: Do you feel that there is any danger to Israel in sharing weapons technology with Turkey?
Levran: The relationship with Turkey is an important one. No one wants to be alone. Not to mention that the alliance with Turkey is designed to weaken the Syrians and the Arab-Iranian camp. We face this problem all the time when the defense industry wants to sell weapons systems. I would say, however, that our policy is to sell systems when we have the next generation of the system for ourselves so that we maintain a technological edge.
IMRA: What’s your view of the Arrow systems? Will they tilt the balance in our favor?
Levran: When you talk of defense against ballistic missiles there are two stages when you can stop them: when they are launching and on re-entry. It is very difficult to stop them while they are in outer space. I would say that while the Arrow system is important, systems mounted on pilotless planes which can shoot down missiles as they launch can also play an important role. If they are not too expensive we could have a considerable number of them deployed. It is difficult, however, from a command and control standpoint to operate continuously at such great distances. It is one thing to carry out a deep penetration operation – as we did in Entebbe and in bombing the Iraqi nuclear reactor, but continuous operation is something else.
I would however, note that some critics of Arrow have incorrectly claimed in the face of a nuclear threat that a system which is not 100% effective is useless.
Consider the situation for the enemy’s standpoint: If they launch a nuclear or other nonconventional strike against Israel they face odds that the missile won’t get through and then they will face an Israeli response. By the way, even if they would succeed, Israel would still be able to launch a devastating counter strike many fold graver. And our enemies have to consider all of this.
IMRA: America has shown its great concern for creating power vacuums. Even in the middle of the Gulf War, the fear of power vacuums stopped America from defeating Iraq. If Israel were to be attacked, would the Americans allow Israel to counter strike with the possibility the move would create a power vacuum?
Levran: You have to consider the conditions which you are describing. Let me tell you something. Before the war in Lebanon, I met with Harkabi, and he said he was concerned about the hundreds of artillery pieces in the hands of the PLO. If the Palestinians were to start firing at the Northern settlements, he argued, the Americans surely would not countenance our invading Lebanon. I explained to him that if the PLO started with us we would go into Lebanon regardless of what America thought. I was right. The same is the case if Israel were to be struck today by such an attack.