Looking back on my time in Israel, the major lesson that stands out to me relates to geography. Geography is a tyrant that threatens the peace process, shaping all the advice that one could provide when commenting on Middle East peace. Combined with the presence of constant spoilers in the form of extremist actors, I returned sobered on the prospects for lasting peace in Israel.
We were able to take escorted tours of both the Golan Heights, as well as a West Bank settlement.
In looking at the suburbs of Tel Aviv from the West Bank, you can easily imagine how the Israelis would fear a far more deadly repeat of the situation in the southern part of the country, where Hamas and other militant groups out of Gaza fire rockets towards population centers.
|Looking down from a West Bank settlement on the area near Tel Aviv|
The Iron Dome system provides good air defense, but is prohibitively expensive in the long run. From the Israeli perspective, what is the guarantee that a peaceful Palestinian state could control its territory and prevent such attacks? I believe that it couldn't, and groups like Hezbollah would try to provoke an Israeli return to the West Bank that politically it could not pass up.
The same issue of geographic tyranny applies in the Golan Heights, where a highly unstable Syria is threatening to engulf the whole region into war. Israel has the capacity to defend itself from the Syrians, but there is no incentive to withdraw from the Golan Heights as long as the regime and its allies (i.e. Hezbollah) are overtly hostile, and their survival in power uncertain. Even if Assad falls in Syria, the aftermath of the Libyan and Egyptian revolutions shows that, if played out in Syria, an even worse scenario can unfold on your border.
|The small yellow sign marks possible landmines on the Golan Heights|
|Difficult terrain on the Israel-Lebanon border|
|A clear view of the controversial security wall near Jerusalem|