The Brutal Reality of the Middle East

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In the punishing sun of the Middle East one is often prone to seeing desert mirages. The climate of the desert is so much harsher than what we find it easy to wrap our minds around, here in the West. The average temperature in Riyadh in the summer is approximately 104 degrees. Without protection, one can easily be scorched.

The seventeenth century British philosopher John Locke felt that the underlying nature of mankind was essentially good and would be constrained by acts of conscience. His contemporary, Thomas Hobbes, famously argued that “life is nasty, brutish and short”, and that people were governed by essentially selfish motives.

Some of President Obama’s statements indicate he is seeing the Middle East through a Lockian view of mankind. However, Israel is forced to survive in what anybody who has followed the events in the Middle East over the past several decades would have to conclude is a Hobbesian neighborhood.

President Obama’s harsh rhetorical tone towards Israel marks a dramatic departure from every single president going back to Lyndon Johnson. The issue at hand is not about borders or settlements or even of the natural growth onto Israeli towns or neighborhoods, the issue is one of maintaining defensible boundaries and the necessary strategic depth for Israel to survive in the age of terrorists, rockets and ballistic missiles.

Seeing the empirical evidence of what has happened to Sderot and other towns of the Western Negav in the light of the Gaza withdrawal, where Kassam missiles are continuously raining down on its population, one would easily conclude that a post-West Bank withdrawal would be a very alluring target for terrorist groups, putting their cross hairs that within striking distance of every major Israeli population center. One attack on Ben Gurian Airport, which would be in easy striking range, could paralyze the country from further air transit and isolate it. Israel’s strategic deterrence would be eradicated, actually increasing the allure of attacks on a very narrow Israel with no strategic depth with which to defend itself.

President Johnson, in the wake of the 1967, Six-Day War seemed to understand this, when he said “an immediate return to the situation as it was on June 4th, before the outbreak of hostilities, “was not a prescription for peace, but for renewed hostilities” What was needed, he said were “recognized boundaries” that would provide “security against terror, destruction and war.”

President Ronald Reagan on September 1, 1982 ,most vehemently argued for Israel’s right for defensible borders when he remarked that “In the pre-1967 borders, Israel was barely ten miles wide at its narrowest point. The bulk of Israel’s population lived within artillery range of hostile armies. I am not about to ask Israel to live that way again.”

President Bill Clinton’s Secretary of State, Warren Christopher wrote at the signing of the Hebron Accords that “a hallmark of U.S. policy remains our commitment to work cooperatively to seek to meet the security needs that Israel identifies.” Adding, “Finally, I would like to reiterate our position that Israel is entitled to secure and defensible borders.”

Finally, in a letter from President George W. Bush to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of April 14, 2004, after Prime Minister Sharon set out his Gaza Withdrawal Plan, President Bush wrote, “As part of the final peace settlement, Israel must have secure and recognized borders, which should emerge from the negotiations between the parties in accordance with UNSC Resolutions 242 and 338. In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli population centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949,and all previous efforts to negotiate a two-state solution have reached the same conclusion. It is realistic to expect that any final status agreement will only be achieved on the basis of mutually agreed changes that reflect these realities.”

If President Obama’s administration believes there is zero likelihood of renewed conflict in the Middle East, then perhaps it would be quite lovely or him to make a grand gesture on the back of Israel as a peace offering to the Arab world However, given the scorching climate within which Israel is forced to live, it is more than likely that the day after President Obama’s grand gesture is made, Israel and Israel alone, will be left out in the harsh desert sun to be scorched.

For a comprehensive discussion of this topic, and for all references, the author would like to refer the reader to the outstanding work of Dore Gold and Dan Diker of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs entitled, “Defensible Borders for a Lasting Peace”, which can be found at

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About the Author

Sarah Stern
Sarah Stern is founder and president of the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET).

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