Remembering Six Days in 1967

The anniversary of Israel's Six-Day War is a reminder why it cannot return to armistice borders.

"We shall destroy Israel and its inhabitants," declared Palestine Liberation Organization leader Ahmad al-Shuqayri. "As for the survivors -- if there are any -- the boats are ready to deport them." A half-million Arab soldiers and more than 5,000 tanks converged on Israel from every direction, including the West Bank, then part of Jordan. Their plans called for obliterating Israel's army, conquering the country, and killing large numbers of civilians. Iraqi President Abdul Rahman Arif said the Arab goal was to wipe Israel off the map: "We shall, God willing, meet in Tel Aviv and Haifa."

This was the fate awaiting Israel on June 4, 1967. Many Israelis feverishly dug trenches and filled sandbags, while others secretly dug 10,000 graves for the presumed victims. Some 14,000 hospital beds were arranged and gas masks distributed to the civilian population. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) prepared to launch a pre-emptive strike to neutralize Egypt, the most powerful Arab state, but the threat of invasion by other Arab armies remained.

Israel's borders at the time were demarcated by the armistice lines established at the end of Israel's war of independence 18 years earlier. These lines left Israel a mere 9 miles wide at its most populous area. Israelis faced mountains to the east and the sea to their backs and, in West Jerusalem, were virtually surrounded by hostile forces. In 1948, Arab troops nearly cut the country in half at its narrow waist and laid siege to Jerusalem, depriving 100,000 Jews of food and water.

The Arabs readied to strike -- but Israel did not wait. "We will suffer many losses, but we have no other choice," explained IDF Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin. The next morning, on June 5, Israeli jets and tanks launched a surprise attack against Egypt, destroying 204 of its planes in the first half-hour. By the end of the first morning of fighting, the Israeli Air Force had destroyed 286 of Egypt's 420 combat aircraft, 13 air bases, and 23 radar stations and anti-aircraft sites. It was the most successful single operation in aerial military history.

But, as feared, other Arab forces attacked. Enemy planes struck Israeli cities along the narrow waist, including Hadera, Netanya, Kfar Saba, and the northern suburbs of Tel Aviv; and thousands of artillery shells fired from the West Bank pummeled greater Tel Aviv and West Jerusalem. Ground forces, meanwhile, moved to encircle Jerusalem's Jewish neighborhoods as they did in 1948.

In six days, Israel repelled these incursions and established secure boundaries. It drove the Egyptians from the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula, and the Syrians, who had also opened fire, from the Golan Heights. Most significantly, Israel replaced the indefensible armistice lines by reuniting Jerusalem and capturing the West Bank from Jordan.

The Six-Day War furnished Israel with the territory and permanence necessary for achieving peace with Egypt and Jordan. It transformed Jerusalem from a divided backwater into a thriving capital, free for the first time to adherents of all faiths. It reconnected the Jewish people to our ancestral homeland in Judea and Samaria, inspiring many thousands to move there. But it also made us aware that another people -- the Palestinians -- inhabited that land and that we would have to share it.

As early as the summer of 1967, Israel proposed autonomy for the Palestinians in the West Bank and later, in 2000 and 2008, full statehood. Unfortunately, Palestinian leaders rejected these offers. In 2005, Israel uprooted all 8,000 of its citizens living in Gaza, giving the Palestinians the opportunity for self-determination. Instead, they turned Gaza into a Hamas-run terrorist state that has launched thousands of rockets into Israel. Now, the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank intends to unilaterally declare statehood at the United Nations without making peace. It has also united with Gaza's Hamas regime, which demands Israel's destruction.

In spite of the Palestinians' record of rejection and violence, Israel remains committed to the vision of two states living side by side in peace. But peace is predicated on security and on our ability to defend ourselves if the peace breaks down. Such provisions are crucial in the Middle East, where the governments of Israel's neighbors might change tomorrow. As such, we seek the demilitarization of the Palestinian state as well as a long-term IDF presence along the Jordan River to prevent rocket smuggling, as has occurred in Gaza. Moreover, we need defensible borders to ensure that Israel will never again pose an attractive target for attack.

For this reason, Israel appreciates U.S. President Barack Obama's opposition to unilaterally declared Palestinian statehood and negotiations with Hamas, which refuses to recognize Israel, uphold previous peace agreements, and disavow terrorism. Similarly, we support the president's call for the nonmilitarization of any future Palestinian state that must be capable of assuming "security responsibility." In his recent address to a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu affirmed the president's statement that the negotiated border will be "different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967."

Forty-four years after Arab forces sought to exploit the vulnerable armistice lines, it remains clear that Israel cannot return to those lines. And 44 years after the United Nations, through Resolution 242, indicated that Israel would not have to forfeit all of the captured territories and must achieve "secure and recognized boundaries," the unsecure and unrecognized armistice lines must not be revived. Israel's insistence on defensible borders is a prerequisite for peace and a safeguard against a return to the Arab illusions and Israeli fears of June 1967.

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Pakistan's Black Pearl

The hype about a Chinese-built port on the Arabian Sea says more about Islamabad's desperation than it does about Beijing's imperial ambitions.

State visits between friendly countries seldom produce surprises or unscripted moments, but the recent trip to China by top Pakistani officials managed to do just that.

Upon returning to Islamabad, the defense minister, Ahmed Mukhtar, made two eyebrow-raising announcements: first, that Beijing had agreed to take over operation of Gwadar port in Baluchistan, and, second, that he had invited the Chinese to build a naval base there. China's leaders, seemingly caught unaware by these statements, promptly denied them

Nevertheless, Mukhtar's seemingly ad-libbed remarks revived the debate about China's ambitions in southwest Asia. For example, last week, a Wall Street Journal opinion piece provocatively titled "China Breeds Chaos" claimed that "China wants to get into the great-power maritime game by operating ports throughout the Indian Ocean." Is Gwadar an isolated case or an important platform for the projection of Chinese influence in the region?

For much of the past decade, a theory called the "string of pearls" has gained currency, with proponents suggesting that Beijing is seeking to expand its influence by developing a "string" of commercial ports and listening posts -- "pearls" -- along the rim of the Indian Ocean. The term seems to have been first coined by defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton in a 2005 report "Energy Futures in Asia" and elaborated upon by dozens of armchair strategists since. A 2006 study from the U.S. Army War College described this purported strategy as a "manifestation of China's ambition to attain great power status and secure a self-determined, peaceful, and prosperous future" and hailed the development of Gwadar's port -- then in its early stages -- as a "win-win prospect for both China and Pakistan."

But is it?

It is easy to understand why Beijing would be keen to build and operate a port in southwest Pakistan. Gwadar's strategic location at the crossroads of the global energy trade -- opposite the Strait of Hormuz at the mouth of the Persian Gulf -- offers Beijing a handy transit terminal for Middle Eastern energy imports. With the Middle East likely to remain the largest source of China's crude oil imports, a significant portion of this supply will continue to transit the Indian Ocean. China therefore has an obvious interest in securing vital sea lanes. A commercial port facility offers a relatively uncontroversial means to achieve an important energy security objective.

Some have taken the "string of pearls" vision a step further, suggesting that military factors are also at play. In particular, some observers have claimed (so far without much evidence) that China is constructing naval bases at Gwadar, among other places. For example, Robert D. Kaplan writing in Foreign Affairs in 2009 claimed: "The Chinese government has already adopted a 'string of pearls' strategy for the Indian Ocean.… It is building a large naval base and listening post in Gwadar, Pakistan, … a fueling station on the southern coast of Sri Lanka … and a container facility with extensive naval and commercial access in Chittagong, Bangladesh." (Kaplan seems to have changed his assessment since then.)

It all makes sense -- in theory. A naval base in Pakistan would be a strategic asset for China. As a rising power, being able to project power in the Middle East and parts of Africa -- regions on which it is heavily dependent for natural resources -- is undoubtedly attractive. A naval base would also enhance China's influence in Central Asia, another area of increasing importance for Beijing. Also, with U.S.-Pakistan relations under strain and with American troops due to begin drawing down from Afghanistan in 2014, some, such as Nayan Chanda in a recent Times of India article, argue that China will look to seize an opportunity to fill a power vacuum.

But the truth is that Beijing is treading carefully, and with good reason. A combination of compelling economic, security, and political factors ensure that a fully functioning commercial port -- let alone an operational military base -- remains a distant prospect.

By far the most obvious deterrent to development is the endemic instability in Baluchistan province. Despite being the largest (and arguably most mineral-rich) of Pakistan's four provinces, Baluchistan has suffered decades of neglect by the central government. Chronically underdeveloped and beset by a low-level insurgency led by Baluchi nationalists, the situation on the ground has worsened considerably in recent years. Baluchis complain bitterly of Islamabad's naked exploitation of their province's natural resources and its seeming disregard of local interests.

Although much of this opposition is aimed at the energy industry, Gwadar has also become a focal point of protest. Hopes that the construction of the port would generate development and employment opportunities for locals have been dashed. Instead, most of the jobs created were handed out to members of other ethnic groups. Moreover, during the port's construction phase, members of Pakistan's military and civilian bureaucracies appropriated vast tracts of prime coastal land around Gwadar, according to an International Crisis Group report.

Widespread anger has regularly flared into violence. In 2004, for example, three Chinese engineers were murdered in Gwadar, and in 2007, a bus carrying Chinese engineers was bombed in the southern town of Hub. An already tense security situation in Baluchistan has deteriorated over recent years as the insurgency has spread into non-tribal areas such as the southern Makran belt, where Gwadar is located. As a result, all foreign visitors require permission from Islamabad to visit the region. This is often tricky, though not impossible.

Baluchistan's lack of modern infrastructure poses another obstacle. Regardless of how sophisticated or efficient its new port might one day become, its usefulness to Beijing will ultimately hinge on how smoothly goods can be transported the 2,000 or so kilometers to and from the Chinese border. Already, the absence of road links between Gwadar and the rest of Baluchistan has hampered commercial activity. A local media report in January 2010 noted that the central government has been forced to subsidize the high cost of transporting goods from the port to other parts of the country. For an economy dependent on external funding, this state of affairs bodes ill for Gwadar's future.

Even if China takes matters into its own hands by financing the construction of a road from Gwadar to the provincial capital of Quetta, as a Forbes article last year observed, security will remain a key challenge.

It comes as no surprise therefore that business activity in and around Gwadar has been slow. The ambitious vision articulated by former President Pervez Musharraf -- to turn the port into a Dubai- or Singapore-style trade hub -- seems to have fizzled out. Gwadar is open for commerce, but only up to a point.

Having become operational shortly after the Chinese completed the first phase of development in 2007, the port only received its first commercial cargo ship almost two years later, in July 2009. It has not seen much use since; a local newspaper noted last year that some port equipment had already started to rust. A planned second phase of (again Chinese-led) development has yet to begin, suggesting that Beijing may have other priorities.

Indeed, both financial and diplomatic considerations are likely to discourage China from deepening its involvement in Gwadar. These same factors make it doubly unlikely that Beijing would seek a military presence there.

The undefined but presumably substantial cost of establishing a naval base in an unstable part of a volatile country is one obvious deterrent. Such a financial commitment would in turn necessitate an open-ended political commitment, one that China's traditionally circumspect strategists would not undertake lightly.

Motivating their caution is Beijing's wariness of adding new sources of tension in Sino-U.S. relations. The Pentagon, already unnerved by China's rising military expenditures and its emerging naval dominance of the South China Sea, would not look on benignly were the People's Liberation Army Navy to drop anchor in Gwadar.

Might China someday seek a naval presence in Gwadar to protect its vital energy supply lines and possibly challenge Indian naval domination? It is perhaps with this eventuality in mind that China built the port in the first place. All indications, however, are that the Taiwan Strait and South China Sea will remain the focal points of Chinese maritime strategy for the foreseeable future.

For now, Pakistan's bold claims about China's commitment to develop Gwadar have less to do with Beijing's foreign-policy ambitions and more to do with Islamabad's desire to show Washington that it has other powerful friends. After the humiliation and hurt feelings caused by the United States' unilateral action against Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in early May, Islamabad's clumsy effort to play the "China card" was a blatant face-saving maneuver -- as Beijing's immediate rebuff made clear.

In public, Chinese officials expressed sympathy and solidarity with their South Asian ally, but the Economist reports that in private, they urged the Pakistani government to cooperate with the United States. At a time when Beijing is jousting with Washington over a variety of issues -- from exchange rate issues to freedom of navigation in the South China Sea -- it has no interest in adding another point of friction.

Pakistan remains a very important ally, but China has too much at stake to be dragged unwittingly into Islamabad's soap opera with Washington.

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