Brought to South Africa under the auspices of the Friends of Tel Aviv University’s visitors program, Maj. Gen. Aharon Yariv quickly makes it clear that he is a soldier who prefers peace to war. He knows what war is all about.
He served in the Hoganah, was a British captain in World War II. commanded the famous Golani Brigade, was military attache in Washington, directed Israeli military intelligence, graduated from the French Army Staff College, advised Premier Golda Meir on terrorism and was a special assistant to the Chief of Staff during the Yom Kippur War, headed the Israeli delegation at the kilometer 101 cease-fire talks with Egypt, and later entered first the Meir Cabinet and then the Cabinet of Yitzhak Rabin before resigning to establish and head Tel Aviv University’s Center for Strategic Studies.
Yariv’s thinking — whether speaking or writing — is marked by a consistent clarity, a fearless logic and a flair for drawing the right conclusions. The fact that he is at present outside any party political arena seems to have increased rather than detracted from his authority as an analyst of Israel’s strategic position, his point of departure in his current series of talks.
ISRAEL MAY LOSE MILITARY EDGE IN NEXT DECODE
At this point, says Yariv, Israel has been fortunate in maintaining the military balance vis-a-vis all her neighbors, except Egypt. Israel has maintained and sustained this balance through its awn efforts, but also to a growing extent due to U.S. aid by way of both dollars and military hardware. However, over the next five to 10 years Israel’s defense is going to be a more difficult matter.
For one thing, inflation aside, the cost of carrying on the arms race is increasing. A war-plane that cost $5 million a few years ago now costs 10 times more for current models. But Israel’s antagonists also have at their disposal both the Russian and Western arms markets. In addition, the Arab states have large standing armies and are not as dependent mobilization as is Israel. Those armies may not be as efficient as Israel’s armed forces, but they can and do operate their ever more sophisticated weaponry.
In war it is not only the kind of weapons system that matters. Israel has come to rely on more skilled manpower. Yet the Jewish State has always tried to enjoy an edge in the area of superior weapons systems, mainly of Western origin. But now Egypt can obtain U.S. weaponry, as can hostile Saudi Arabia, while Iraq and Syria can obtain hardware elsewhere in the West.
NO NEED FOR PANIC
There is no need for panic, however, Yariv says. Indeed, Israel should continue to maintain the military balance — even after most of its neighbors have signed peace treaties. Yet he predicts that the effort is going to become increasingly more difficult to maintain. While Egypt is for now, and hopefully for always, out of the fray, the rejectionist states and their friends are not.
In the Arab east, Syria has vowed to redress the military balance now that Egypt is out of the war party. Damascus maintains a tank force equivalent to that of NATO and has the biggest of the Arab air forces. Iraq’s expeditionary forces amount to six armored divisions and their paraphernalia includes up to 1500 tanks. Jordan is likely to have 1000 tanks by 1985 and now has a quality air defense. Saudi Arabia is beginning to be a military factor which for the first time has to be taken note of.
“If no progress is made in struggling for peace on Israel’s eastern front,” Yariv warns, “we may have to face those forces.” Beyond the Arab east there is Islamic Iran and Pakistan, and in North Africa there are hostile states such as Libya and Algeria.
There is a further element in the situation awaiting Israel if there is no pecan Iraq’s nuclear program. Though Baghdad is unlikely to have a nuclear bomb ready within five years, unless the more advanced Pakistan helps, it is a consideration to be ignored.
All this does not mean that Israel has no alternative but to capitulate. “Never,” says Yariv, adding that what it does mean is that it is just going to be more difficult for Israel to depend only on its military assets, to rely only on the force of arms. Israel also possesses political assets, and if peace is required the price will have to be paid for It.
GAP IN THINKING ON PEACE
Yariv perceives a large gap in the thinking on peace between Israel and its neighbors. Egypt, he says, won’t be satisfied with any separate peace with Israel. Cairo will require an understanding on the difficult issue of the Palestinians and autonomy. Some Arabs want all of Palestine for the Palestinians, and some Jews want all of the land of Israel for the Israelis. If there is no realism, and if even a wait-and-see attitude is adopted, then the problem becomes even more difficult of resolution. Yariv feels that while Israel should not pay any price for a settlement, he does advise that the sooner the issue is tackled the more favorable will it be for Israel.
“Here his suggestion is akin to the Allon Plan for the West Bank — the main part of the price Israel may have to pay to achieve a settlement. He would recommend a gradual, phased withdrawal by Israel, but with reasonable amendments to the borders for the sake of Israel’s security.
Jerusalem will have to remain the united and undivided capital of Israel. He would like Jordan to be brought into the current tripartite peace process — together with Israel, Egypt and the U.S. The Palestinian refugee problem ought to be solved, which he sees as a basis for a settlement, and he would perhaps consider recognizing the Palestinians as a separate notion. Even then he foresees difficulties, but at least it contains possibilities for movement in the peace process.
If the Palestinians and their supporters fail to relate to such a plan, then perhaps Moshe Dayan’s idea of making a unilateral gesture on autonomy might be brought into play — to make the Arabs relate to a new reality.
While he approaches the problem of peace mainly from a military point of view, he understands that it is not the only view that deserves consideration. Yet something has to be done to avoid complete isolation, even estrangement from the U.S. which provides Israel with a valuable umbrella in the East-West struggle, Yariv observes. The issue of the Palestinians has to be faced. It will not go away. They will not emigrate to South Africa nor elsewhere. So, it is better to face up to the challenge now rather than later, Yariv advises.
An Israeli naval vessel and Palestinian terrorists exchanged fire off the south Lebanese coast Wednesday night. There were no injuries to either side.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.