Thursday, July 14, 2011

Bad borders, good neighbours

Today, as US, European, Russian and UN officials meet in Washington to discuss the future of the Middle East peace process, Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, remains adamant that a peace deal premised on returning to Israel's pre-1967 borders poses an unacceptable risk to its security.
He is right: The country's 1967 borders are not militarily defensible. But his use of this argument to reject the only viable formula for Israeli-Palestinian peace -- a negotiated two-state solution based on mutually agreed upon land swaps -- is wrong, and it does not serve Israel's security interests.
Israel needs peace with the Palestinians, and that will likely require a return to the 1967 lines with a few adjustments. These borders can be made defensible if they come with a security package consisting of a joint Israeli-Palestinian security force along the West Bank's border with Jordan, a demilitarized Palestinian state and a three-way Israeli-Jordanian-Palestinian defense treaty. Combined with such a package, the balanced formula President Barack Obama outlined in his May 19 speech can give Israel the security it needs and deserves.
Until June 1967, Israelis feared that a swift Arab military move could cut Israel in two at its narrow "waist" -- an area near the city of Netanya, where the country is less than 10 miles wide. By doing so, Arab tanks and artillery could have reached Tel Aviv within a few hours. In the 44 years since, the geography has not changed, but the threat has.
Today, there is a menace we did not face in 1967. Short- and medium-range rockets, mortars and missiles supplied by Iran are making the lives of Israeli civilians a nightmare. Thousands of these rockets have been launched from Gaza into Israeli towns and villages since Hamas wrested control of Gaza in 2007; and if an independent Palestine emerges on the West Bank, these weapons could find their way there, too.
That is why the border between the West Bank and Jordan must be made impenetrable. This cannot be done remotely, from the 1967 lines; it will require a joint Israeli-Palestinian military presence along the Jordan River.
Such joint military activity would not violate Palestinian sovereignty and could be modeled on Israel's current coordination with Palestinian security forces in the West Bank. It would be far more effective than deploying an international force. After all, UN forces in southern Lebanon have failed to prevent a colossal military buildup by Hezbollah since Israel withdrew from the area in 2000.
Second, the Palestinian state must be demilitarized. No tanks, artillery or missiles can be deployed within its boundaries. In the absence of this weaponry, international guarantees will ensure Palestine's security and territorial integrity.
Third, an Israeli-Jordanian-Palestinian defense treaty is necessary to safeguard their common strategic interests. Joint military planning and sharing early warning systems to prevent threats from Iran, its proxies and other jihadist forces in the region would cement this treaty.
This security package would make the 1967 borders defensible, and keep Palestine from becoming another launching pad for terror. Moreover, an Israeli-Palestinian agreement would bring about a dramatic, strategic change in the Middle East. It would remove the obstacle preventing moderates in the region from uniting against militant Islamist extremists and lay the groundwork for a new strategic alliance in the region, including the Persian Gulf countries, which are natural business partners for Israel, Jordan and Palestine.
As a result, Israel would be able to extend its hand to new democratic and secular governments in the Arab and Muslim world. And those committed to Israel's destruction would be confronted by a new alliance with enormous economic and military power.
I have devoted more than three decades of my life to defending Israel, from the Litani River in Lebanon to the western bank of the Suez Canal in Egypt, and I would never support irresponsible, hazardous solutions to Israel's security problems. I don't believe durable peace in the region is possible unless Israel remains the strongest military power between Tehran and Casablanca.
We have no choice but to protect ourselves in a perilous world of aggressive Islamist fanatics and complacent, confrontation-averse Western democracies. But nurturing settlements in the West Bank and maintaining an occupation in order to protect them is not the proper way to do it.
Following that path will lead to disaster. Israel could become a binational state of first- and second-class citizens at war with each other; a third Intifada could break out, damaging Israel's economy and destroying Palestine's nascent infrastructure; or the pro-negotiation policy of the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, could collapse, allowing Hamas to take power in the West Bank. If this happens, the doomsday prophecy of rockets raining down on Ben-Gurion International Airport just might be fulfilled.
To avoid this fate, we must embrace the proposals of our American friends, end this conflict and allow Israel to become an active member, rather than an isolated actor, in the rapidly changing Middle East.

Arctic may be ice-free within 30 years

Sea ice in the Arctic is melting at a record pace this year, suggesting warming at the North Pole is speeding up and a largely ice-free Arctic can be expected in summer months within 30 years. The area of the Arctic ocean at least 15% covered in ice is this week about 8.5m sq kilometres - lower than the previous record low set in 2007 - according to satellite monitoring by the US National Snow and Ice Data
Centre (NSIDC) in Boulder, Colorado.
In addition, new data from the University of Washington Polar Science Centre, shows that the thickness of Arctic ice this year is also the lowest on record.
In the past 10 days, the Arctic has been losing as much as 150,000 square kilometres to sea a day, said Mark Serreze, director of the NSIDC.
"The extent [of the ice cover] is going down, but it is also thinning. So a weather pattern that formerly would melt some ice, now gets rid of much more. There will be ups and downs, but we are on track to see an ice-free summer by 2030. It is an overall downward spiral."
Global warming has been melting Arctic sea ice for the past 30 years at a rate of about 3% per decade on average. But the two new data sets suggest that, if current trends continue, a largely ice-free Arctic in summer months is likely within 30 years.
That is up to 40 years earlier than was anticipated in the last Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessment report.
Sea ice, which is at its maximum extent in March and its lowest in September each year, is widely considered to be one of the "canaries in the mine" for climate change, because the poles are heating up faster than anywhere else on Earth.
According to NSIDC, air temperatures for June 2011 were between 1 and 4C warmer than average over most of the Arctic Ocean.
The findings support a recent study in the journal Science that suggested water flowing from the Atlantic into the Arctic ocean is warmer today than at any time in the past 2,000 years and could be one of the explanations for the rapid sea ice melt now being observed.
Computer simulations performed by Nasa suggest that the retreat of Arctic sea ice will not continue at a constant rate. Instead the simulations show a series of abrupt decreases such as the one that occurred in 2007, when a "perfect storm" of weather conditions coincided and more ice was lost in one year than in the previous 28 years combined. Compared to the 1950s, over half of the Arctic sea ice had disappeared.
What concerns polar scientists is that thicker ice which does not melt in the summer is not being formed fast as the ice is melting. On average each year about half of the first year ice, formed between September and March, melts during the following summer.
This year, says Jeff Masters, founder of the Weather Underground climate monitoring website, a high pressure system centred north of Alaska has brought clear skies and plenty of ice-melting sunshine to the Arctic.
"The combined action of the clockwise flow of air around the high and counter-clockwise flow of air around a low pressure system near the western coast of Siberia is driving warm, southerly winds into the Arctic that is pushing ice away from the coast of Siberia, encouraging further melting." Sea ice has an important effect on the heat balance of the polar oceans, since it insulates the (relatively) warm ocean from the much colder air above, thus reducing heat loss from the oceans.
Sea ice also has a high albedo - about 0.6 when bare, and about 0.8 when covered with snow - compared to the sea - about 0.15 - and thus the loss of sea ice increased the absorption of the sun's warmth by the sea.