Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Defensible Borders

June 29, 1967

Defensible Borders

Memorandum for the Secretary of Defense

Subject: Middle East Boundaries

Signed: Earle G. Wheeler, Chairman,
Joint Chiefs of Staff,
29 June 1967

Appendix: Discussion of Key Israeli Border Issues; Map

Ed. Note: The following memorandum was declassified in 1984
and "Security Affairs" published it then. Now, as the U.S., Israel,
Jordan and other interested parties discuss the possibility of and the
conditions for an international peace conference, the chief purpose of
which is to settle border issues between Jordan and Israel, it is
important to review the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff assessment of secure
borders for Israel, as well as specifying adjustments in the 1949
armistice lines needed to make Israel militarily defensible. A check
with the Pentagon indicated that no revision of this memorandum has
occurred or has been completed.

Memorandum for the Secretary of Defense

Subject: Middle East Boundaries

1. Reference is made to your memorandum, dated 19 June 1967,
subject as above, which requested the reviews of the Joint Chiefs of
Staff, without regard to political factors, on the minimum territory,
in addition to that held 4 June 1967, Israel might be justified in
retaining in order to permit a more effective defense against possible
conventional Arab attack and terrorist raids.

2. From a strictly military point of view, Israel would
require the retention of some captured territory in order to provide
militarily defensible borders. Determination of territory to be
retained should be based on accepted tactical principles such as
control of commanding terrain, use of natural obstacles, elimination of
enemy-held salients, and provisions of defense in-depth for important
facilities and installations. More detailed discussions of the key
border areas mentioned in the reference are contained in the Appendix
hereto. In summary, the views of the Joint Chiefs of Staff regarding
these areas are as follows.

a. The Jordanian West Bank. Control of the prominent high
ground running north-south through the middle of West Jordan generally
east of the main north-south highway along the axis
Jenin-Nablus-Bira-Jerusalem and the southeast to a junction with the
Dead Sea at the Wadi el Daraja would provide Israel with a militarily
defensible border. The envisioned defensive line would run just east of
Jerusalem; however, provision could be made for internationalization of
the city without significant detriment to Israel's defensive posture.

b. Syrian Territory Contiguous to Israel. Israel is
particularly sensitive to the prevalence of terrorist raids and border
incidents in this area. The presently occupied territory, the high
ground running north-south on a line with Qnaitra about 15 miles inside
the Syrian border, would give Israel control of the terrain which Syria
has used effectively in harassing the border area.

c. The Jerusalem Latrun Area. See subparagraph 2a above.

d. The Gaza Strip. By occupying the Gaza Strip, Israel
would trade approximately 45 miles of hostile border for eight.
Configured as it is, the strip serves as a salient for introduction of
Arab subversion and terrorism, and its retention would be to Israel's
military advantage.

e. The Negev-Sinai Border. Except for retention of the
demilitarized zone around Al Awja, and some territory for the
protection of the port of Eilat, discussed below, continued occupation
of the Sinai would present Israel with problems outweighing any
military gain.

f. The Negev-Jordan-Aqaba-Strait of Tiran Area. Israel's
objectives here would be innocent passage through the Gulf of Aqaba and
protection of its port at Eilat. Israel could occupy Sharm ash-Shaykh
with considerable inconvenience but could rely on some form of
internationalization to secure free access to the gulf. Failing this,
Israel would require key terrain in the Sinai to protect its use of the
Strait of Tiran. Eilat, situated at the apex of Israel's narrow
southern tip, is vulnerable to direct ground action from Egyptian
territory. Israel would lessen the threat by retention of a portion of
the Sinai Peninsula south and east of the Wadi el Gerafi then east to
an intersection with the Gulf of Aqaba at approximately 20/20' north

3. It is emphasized that the above conclusions, in
accordance with your terms of reference, are based solely on military
considerations from the Israeli point of view.

For the Joint Chiefs of Staff


Earle G. Wheeler


1. The Jordanian West Bank

a. Threat. The Jordanian-Israeli border is 330 miles in
length-extending from the Gulf of Aqaba northward to the Dead Sea,
thence following the armistice demarcation lines and the Jordan River
to the Syrian frontier. This border area has traditionally been lightly
held by military forces and defenses consisted mainly of small, widely
separated outposts and patrols and, therefore, afforded and area where
launching of saboteurs and terrorists into Israel was relatively easy.
During the period January 1965 to February 1967, a total of 53
incidents of sabotage and mining activity took place along this border.
These activities resulted in three killed, 35 wounded, and damage to
houses, roads, bridges, railroads and water and electric power
installations in Israel. Instances of exchange of small arms fire
occurred quite frequently. The majority of these events took place from
the Mount Hebron and Aravah areas where the Jordanian authorities did
not take sufficient measure to protect against line crosses and
saboteurs. The high ground running through the middle of West Jordan
overlooks Israel's narrow midsection and offers a route for a thrust to
the sea which would split the country in two parts.

b. Requirements. A boundary along the commanding terrain
overlooking the Jordan River from the west could provide a shorter
defense line. However, as a minimum, Israel would need a defense line
generally along the axis Bardala-Tubas-Nablus-Bira-Jerusalem and then
to the northern part of the Dead Sea. This line would widen the narrow
portion of Israel and provide additional terrain for the defense of Tel
Aviv. It would provide additional buffer for the air base at Beersheba.
In addition, this line would give a portion of the foothills to Israel
and avoid interdiction by artillery in the Israeli villages in the
lowlands. This line would also provide a shorter defense line than the
border of 4 June 19 67 and would reduce the Jordanian salient into
Israel. It also provides adequate lines of communication for lateral

2. Syrian Territory Contiguous to Israel

a. Threat. The border between Syria and Israel extends
approximately 43 miles. It extends from a point on the Lebanese-Syrian
border to the vicinity of Baniyas, south to Lake Tiberias, the south
along the eastern short of the lake to the Syrian-Jordanian border.
During the period January 1965 to February 1967, a total of 28 sabotage
and terrorist acts occurred along this border. In addition, there were
numerous shellings of villages from the high ground overlooking the
area southeast of Lake Tiberias. Casualties were seven killed and 18
wounded. Control of the dominant terrain affords Syria a military route
of approach into northern Israel; however, the greatest threat in this
sector is from terrorism and sabotage.

b. Requirement. Israel must hold the commanding terrain
east of the Bounday of 4 June 1967, which overlooks the Galilee area.
To provide a defense in-depth, Israel would need a strip about 15 miles
wide extending from the border of Lebanon to the border of Jordan. This
line would provide protection for the Israeli villages on the east bank
of Lake Tiberias but would make defending forces east of the lake
vulnerable to a severing thrust from Jordan to the southern tip of the
lake. The Israelis would probably decide to accept this risk. As a side
effect, this line would give the Israelis control of approximately 35
miles to the Trans Arabian pipeline.

3. The Jerusalem-Latrun Area

a. Threat. These areas have been the scenes of intermittent
trooubl3e over the years as both Jordanians and Israelis have been
illegally cultivating lands in the area between the lines. Only one
serious incident occurred in this area during the period January 1965
to February 1967.

b. Requirement. To defend the Jerusalem area would require
that the boundary of Israel be positioned to the east of the city to
provide for the organization of an adequate defensive position. On the
other hand, if Jerusalem were to be internationalized under the United
Nations, a boundary established west of the city could be defended in
accordance with the concept of paragraph 1, above.

4. The Gaza Strip

a. Threat. During the period 1948-1956,
prior to the Suez war, Egypt mounted numerous infiltration's and
terrorist raids from the Gaza Strip. However, with the establishment of
the United Nations Emergency Force in 1957, based in the Gaza Strip and
along the Sinai border, the situation has been quiet. Only three events
of sabotage occurred in this area during the period January 1965 to
February 1967. The Strip, under Egyptian control, provides a salient
into Israel a little less than 30 miles long and four to eight miles
wide. It has served as a training area for the Palestine Liberation
Army and, despite the few incidents arising in this area of late, it is
significant to note that one of the first actions by the Israelis in
the recent conflict was to seal off the area from the Sinai.

5. The Negev-Sinai Border
a. Threat. This area has not presented any border problems since
establishment of the United Nations Emergency Force in 1957. The
demilitarized zone around Al Awja, containing the main north-south,
east-west road junction in eastern Sinai and the major water source in
the area, is the principal feature providing military advantage.

b. Requirement. Except for an adjustment of a portion of
that boundary tied to the defense of Eilat, discussed below, and
retention of the demilitarized zone around Al Awja, no need is seen for
Israeli retention of occupied territory in the Sinai.

6. The Negev-Jordan-Aqaba-Strait of Tiran

a. Threat. There were only five incidents of sabotage in this area
during the period January 196 5 to February 1967. Israel's chief
concern in this area is free access through the Strait of Tiran and the
Gulf of Aqaba and the protection of Eliat, Israel's chief oil port and
trade link with the West African counties. Eilat, being at the apex of
Israel's southern tip, is vulnerable to interdiction from Egyptian

b. Requirements. To provide Israel with sufficient depth
to protect the boundary should be established approximately 20 miles to
the west along the Wadi el Gerafi, south to its head waters, then east
to a point on the Gulf of Aqaba at approximately 29/20' north-south
latitude. In the event of an international guarantee for free passage
of the Strait of Tiran and the Gulf of Aqaba is provided, provided,
Israel would feel compelled to occupy key terrain in order to contain
the entrance to the Strait.

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