AnalysisMiddle East peace may be closer as Israel successfully tests Iron Dome

Published 16 July 2009

Peace between Israel and the Palestinians depends on Israel feeling secure enough to make deep territorial concessions to the Palestinians in the West Bank; Israel has been reluctant to make such concessions because of the security risks they entail; the successful tests of Iron Dome, a defensive system against short-range rockets, may ease Israel’s security concerns, making concessions more likely

Winston Churchill said that in the nuclear age, “safety will be the sturdy child of terror, and survival the twin brother of annihilation.” In the Middle East, too, peace between Israelis and Palestinians may depend on the development of a single weapon system: dependable defense against short-range rockets.

Israel’s superiority in conventional arms over all its neighbors combined is such that it is now accepted that the days of large-scale wars in the region — similar to the 1967 or 1973 wars — are over.

Instead of the conventional threat of old, Israel is now facing two threats:

  • An existential threat from strategic weapons (such as nuclear arms in the hands of Iran)
  • Small-scale, harassing attrition war launched by organizations such as Hamas and Hezbollah

The small-scale attrition war comes in two forms: suicide bombers and short-range rockets. The suicide bombing option has been effectively shut down by the defensive fence Israel has built around the Gaza Strip and which it is now completing around the West Bank. Political quibbles about the precise location of the defensive fence notwithstanding (and these are not unimportant quibbles, as Israel chose to build the fence not on the 1967 border, but, in many locations, deeper into the West Bank), there is now an agreement among analysts that the combination of the fence and superb intelligence has made the suicide bombing option no longer available for the Palestinians.

This leaves the last option — short range rockets. As we discuss below, during the past eight years the Palestinians and Hezbollah have fired about 10,000 short-range rockets into Israel. Hezbollah did it in the north and Hamas did it in the south. The rockets’ short range limited the damage they inflicted to small towns in the north and south of Israel. The West Bank, however, sits immediately to the east of Israel’s major population centers. If Palestinians, following an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank, would use the territory to fire thousands of rockets into Israel — the way Hamas used the Gaza Strip after Israel’s 2005 withdrawal from the strip — then all of Israel’s urban centers would come under threat.

Some in Israel oppose any Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank on religious grounds. They are a distinct minority. A poll after poll has shown that the majority of Israelis would be willing to give up most of the West Bank if reliable security measures were in place. Trouble is, a weak and corrupt Palestinian government cannot be relied