Israel: Security in a Small Country

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described Israel as “a small country, one of the smallest”. That is true, but only part of the story. As Bibi added “Israel is strong, but it’s much more vulnerable [than the US].

Bibi Boehner
Netanyahu addressing US Congress,
March 2015

Size: Israel is about 20,000 square kilometers, using the 1949 Armistice Lines, or 22,000 including the eastern part of Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. It puts it on par with El Salvador, ranking 153rd in terms of land size.

Shape: Israel is very narrow along a significant stretch of its commercial center – only 15km across. Indeed, the slender, jagged shape of the country yields over 1,000km of borders. The ratio of land size to borders ranks Israel as the 15th smallest country in the world.

Neighbors: Most of the very small countries have very few neighbors. The smallest countries and territories, the Vatican, Monaco, San Marino, Liechtenstein, St. Martin, Andorra, Gibraltar and St. Maarten only border one or two countries. However, Israel has SIX neighbors: Lebanon; Syria; Jordan; “West Bank”; Egypt; and Gaza. By way of comparison, most countries with six neighbors are much larger (such as Argentina, which is over 130 times as large). Just beyond Israel’s borders, Turkey and Qatar openly support the Jihadist Hamas party in Gaza.

Status: Israel is unique in having a hostile relationship with most of its neighbors. All six of the surrounding countries are part of the Arab world and have launched wars against Israel at various times since the founding of Israel in 1948. Gaza (run by Hamas) openly calls for Israel’s destruction. Syria (and its puppet state Lebanon) have been in an ongoing state of war with Israel for years. Both countries are supported by Iran which has also called for Israel’s destruction and is on the verge of obtaining nuclear weapons. Syria itself was also building a nuclear facility before being stopped by Israel.

Other small countries with six bordering countries, like Oman, have not been repeatedly attacked by its neighbors.

Capital city: Israel is unique in having its capital questioned by the global community. While much of the world recognizes the western part of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, countries have not moved their embassies to the city. No countries recognize Israel’s annexation of the eastern part of Jerusalem.

Israel is also unique (except Nicosia, Cyprus which is also a contested capital city), in having its capital sit on the border of another territory. Compare the small countries of Belize and El Salvador, whose capital cities are 50km and 80km, respectively, from the closest neighboring countries. By way of comparison, the entire width of the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea is only 75km.

Israel is small and narrow, surrounded by countries that have repeatedly gone to war against the country and have threatened its existence. Its capital city is besieged by the global community that doesn’t recognize it, wants to divide it and place it on an international border, which all countries in the world avoid for security reasons.  Such a vulnerable country needs particular protections.

Security in a Vulnerable Landscape

For a country like Israel to have security and remain a viable country, a number of items would need to be established, if a Palestinian state were to be created:

  • No military for such Palestinian state, only local police
  • Israel would maintain full control of air space for its air force
  • Israel controls the borders
  • No division of the capital Jerusalem, and Israel further annexes land to the east of the city through to Ma’ale Adumim
  • Israel annexes land to the security barrier, which has helped maintain security over the past decade
  • Very limited land given from Israel to Palestine (the 1949 armistice Lines were arbitrary so there is no reason to maintain a quid pro quo in swapping land) as the Israeli landscape and topography are already too vulnerable
  • Hamas must be expelled from the Palestinian government and banned as a political party
  • Palestinian Authority must assume control of Gaza and EGL (East of the Green Line)
  • No negotiations with Syria on the Golan Heights for at least a decade after a Palestinian state is created. No negotiations if Iran obtains a nuclear weapon and/or continues to threaten Israel

While Israel has built an incredible democracy and thriving economy in the midst of a turbulent region, the size, shape and neighborhood require ongoing safeguards.

Related First One Through articles:

A Viable Palestinian State

Israel cannot solely rely on treaties – witness Ukraine in 2015

Obama’s cavalier approach to Israel’s security 

Obama does not consider Israel’s security to be time sensitive

Liberals and conservatives on Iran’s WMDs

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