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Strategic Excuses for Israel’s Occupation of the West Bank

Introduction

On January 18th, Netenyahu rejected any talks for an independent Palestinian state, a position contrary to even US foreign policy [1]. In this context, the West Bank, with its distinctive topographical features, emerges as a critical area of focus. This article delves into the military strategic reasons why occupation of the West Bank is considered crucial for Israel. By examining the terrain and its implications for defense and offense, we can gain a deeper understanding of the underlying strategic motivations behind the the occupation of the West Bank and Israel’s denial of a Palestinian state.

The High-Ground

The West Bank includes a series of highly elevated hills that overlook the narrow coastal plain of Tel Aviv [2]. The strategic value of high ground in military operations, recognised as early as ancient China in Sun Tzu’s ‘Art of War’, offers numerous tactical advantages [3] . Elevated terrain provides a superior vantage point, allowing defenders to spot and respond to enemy advances earlier. This position also enhances the effectiveness of projectiles; gravity aids in creating efficient, descending trajectories for both direct and indirect fire, making it harder for enemies to retaliate. Natural and architectural barriers on high ground, such as walls and rugged terrain, offer significant protection. Defensively, an elevated position limits enemy sightlines, aiding in concealing key assets. It also facilitates effective defensive strategies like flanking maneuvers and creating choke points, as attackers struggle with the challenges of an uphill assault. The importance of high-ground to Israel is nowhere more evident than the fact that occupied settlements often take the more elevated areas in the West Bank [4].

A heat map showing the elevation of historic Palestine.

Strategic Narrowness

Tel Aviv, Israel’s cultural and economic hub, is situated on a narrow coastal plain. As the most populous city, it contributes significantly to the nation’s economy, accounting for nearly half of it [5]. Including its metropolitan area, known as the ‘Gush Dan’ region in Hebrew, the area is home to about 4.1 million people, or 44% of Israel’s population [6]. This region’s strategic importance is highlighted by its location: at its narrowest, the distance between the West Bank and the Mediterranean Sea is just 8.6 miles, passing through Gush Dan. This proximity raises security concerns, as a Palestinian military presence in the West Bank could theoretically divide Israel into two, severely impacting both its economy and the operational capacity of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). For context, during the operation on October 7th, Hamas managed an advance of 14 miles out of Gaza at its furthest point [7].

Conclusion

The strategic significance of the West Bank to Israel’s national security is clear from a military standpoint. The high ground it offers not only provides a commanding view over the critical areas of Israel’s heartland but also presents tactical advantages that have been valued in military theory for centuries. The proximity of the West Bank to key Israeli economic and population centers, especially Tel Aviv and the Gush Dan region, underscores the importance of this area in terms of national defense and security. As Israel continues its bombardment of Gaza, the West Bank still remains a pivotal factor in its strategic calculations. The historical, geographical, and military aspects all contribute to the understanding of why Israel continues to expand its occupation of this region and their denial of Palestinian self-determination.

[1] Sky News. (2024). Benjamin Netanyahu rejects calls from US for Palestinian state after Gaza conflict. [online] Available at:https://news.sky.com/story/benjamin-netanyahu-rejects-calls-from-us-for-palestinian-state-after-gaza-confl ict-13051317.

[2] Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. (2008). Military-Strategic Aspects of West Bank Topography for Israel’s Defense. [online] Available at: https://jcpa.org/article/military-strategic-aspects-of-west-bank-topography-for-israels-defense/.[3] Tzu, S. (2020). Art Of War. S.L.: Flame Tree Publishing.

[4] Steves, R. (2013). Settlements in the West Bank, from an Israeli Point of View. [online] Rick Steves’ Travel Blog. Available at:https://blog.ricksteves.com/blog/settlements-in-the-west-bank-from-an-israeli-point-of-view/.

[5] כלכליסט – דף הבית – הודעת שגיאה. [online] Available at: www.calcalist.co.il/real_estate/articles/0.

[6] CBS, CENTRAL BUREAU OF STATISTICS. (2022). Available at:https://www.cbs.gov.il/he/publications/doclib/2022/2.shnatonpopulation/st02_25.pdf.

[7] BBC (2023). How Hamas staged Israel lightning assault no-one thought possible. [online] Available at: /https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-67046750.