Arnon Soffer arrives at our meeting armed with a stack of books and papers. Among them is a copy of an interview I conducted with him three and a half years ago (“It’s the demography, stupid,” May 21, 2004), and print-outs of angry responses the geostrategist from the University of Haifa says he continues to receive “from leftists in Israel and anti-Semites abroad, who took my words out of context.”
The passage that aroused the most ire was as follows: “When 2.5 million people live in a closed-off Gaza, it’s going to be a human catastrophe. Those people will become even bigger animals than they are today, with the aid of an insane fundamentalist Islam. The pressure at the border will be awful. It’s going to be a terrible war. So, if we want to remain alive, we will have to kill and kill and kill. All day, every day.”
A lot has happened since Soffer made that statement, most notably the very withdrawal from Gaza he was referring to and so championed. In fact, the impetus for the pull-out has been attributed, at least in part, to Soffer’s decades-long doomsaying about the danger the Palestinian womb posed to Israeli democracy.
The venue of our follow-up interview last month – initiated by Soffer to gloat about his “predictions having panned out perfectly” – is the Dan Accadia Hotel. Though selected due to its proximity to the IDF’s National Defense College, where Soffer lectures and serves as head of research, it couldn’t be a more ironic location. It was here, after all, that former prime minister Ariel Sharon announced his disengagement plan to the Herzliya Conference.
While nothing seems to be the same since that fateful day in December 2003, Soffer’s convictions haven’t budged an iota. He still holds a deep – what critics might call delusional – devotion to the notion that exiting Palestinian-populated territories is the key to fending off the country’s otherwise destined demise. Well, that, and a fence to keep a majority of settlers in and a flow of inevitable Arab intruders out.
“Israel is like the Titanic,” Soffer bellows with cheerful self-assurance. “I am trying to change its course – prevent it from crashing into the iceberg – and allow it to continue safely on its journey. But up on the Tel Aviv deck, they’re having a big party – a stock-market orgy. And when I try to warn them of the fast-approaching disaster, they tell me I’m being ridiculous or that I’m exaggerating.”
To prove his point, Soffer repeatedly whips out maps to back up his pronouncements, many of which sound purposefully outrageous, such as: “Jerusalem is no longer Jewish-Zionist,” and “Iran is so weak and vulnerable that it’s unbelievable.”
And, in spite of his speaking in absolutes, Soffer does deign to concede that he’s changed his mind about a couple of issues: the Jordan Valley and the Philadelphi Corridor. He no longer supports relinquishing the former, and now believes the latter has to be repossessed.
No small matter, but no matter. The 71-year-old father of four and grandfather of eight still supports every other aspect of what he considers to be a “brilliant maneuver” by Sharon to guarantee a Jewish majority in Israel, with the blessing of the United States.
Challenged, as he was during our previous interview, on Israel’s willingness to do what he prescribes is necessary in the war against Palestinian aggression – i.e. put a bullet in the head of anyone who tries to climb over the security fence – Soffer shrugs. “If we don’t,” he reiterates, “We’ll cease to exist.”
In our previous interview, you made many assertions about what could and should be expected to happen following the disengagement from Gaza. You claim now that everything has played out the way you said it would.
Yes. I said, “The pressure at the border will be awful. It’s going to be a terrible war. So, if we want to remain alive, we will have to kill and kill and kill.”
That statement caused a huge stir at the time, and it’s amazing to see how many dozens of angry, ignorant responses I continue to receive from leftists in Israel and anti-Semites abroad, who took my words out of context. I didn’t recommend that we kill Palestinians. I said we’ll have to kill them.
I was right about mounting demographic pressures. I am also entitled to defend myself and my country. So today, I would update the headline you gave my last interview and call this one: “It’s the demography and anti-Semitism, stupid.”
What about answering critics from the Right, who would argue that in spite of incessant Kassam attacks on Sderot and kibbutzim in the Negev, Israel has barely reacted at all, let alone by “killing, killing and killing”?
Since before the withdrawal from Gaza, I have been saying that we have to fire missiles at anyone who fires them at us; we haven’t been doing that enough.
During our last interview, I asked you whether – with CNN cameras pointing at the security fence – Israel would be prepared to retaliate in the event of missile fire. Your response was: “If we don’t kill, we will cease to exist.”
We are living in a 100-year period of terrorism, and we have another 100 years of terrorism ahead of us. We will forever be forced to live by the sword. We are not wanted in the Middle East, which is why we will have to continue to fight.
The purpose of disengagement was not to put an end to terrorism or Kassam fire. Its purpose was to stop being responsible for a million and a half Arabs who continue to multiply in conditions of poverty and madness. I am thrilled that we are out of there. The Kassams do not constitute a strategic threat, and the Palestinians will get the blow they deserve – though we do have to be cautious, because the situation is complex.
There are many members of the Knesset, and even the government, who continue to consider us responsible for what goes on in Gaza, as the debate over the right response to the Kassams indicates.
Our government has woken up. The only ones making noise are leftists and so-called human rights lawyers who only care about the well-being of cats, dogs and Palestinians, but never about Jews.
It is true, however, that we are faced with a dilemma on how to respond, which is part of the delicate game we have to play.
But, as I said then and say now, the demographic pressure is only growing in Gaza. Wisely, through disengagement, the government was trying to direct that pressure to Egypt-the- horrible, from where arms and missiles flow into Gaza. This way, Egypt would have to deal with it, not us. And that’s what we’re doing.
Hasn’t the flow of arms and missiles from Egypt into Gaza been detrimental to Israel? Isn’t Egypt’s control of the tunnels allowing for an al-Qaida state to be blossoming there? Doesn’t all of this actually endanger Israel?
Al-Qaida’s presence in Gaza endangers both Israel and Egypt, but first and foremost it endangers Egypt. The Egyptians will learn this the hard way, because they know full well what is being smuggled into Gaza.
But Israel gave Egypt control over that border.
That’s true, but let me ask you this: What were the alternatives? They were either for us to be responsible for Gaza or for them to be. Let them wrack their brains over it. Let them be stuck with the consequences.
But are they “wracking their brains over it”? Are they “stuck with the consequences”?
Yes, because when the arms from el-Arish reach Rafah, some go to Nueiba and Sharm e- Sheikh, where there are suicide bombers. Indeed, there are al-Qaida cells throughout the Sinai. We’ve seen how much blood has been spilled there over the past few years. Egypt is paying for that and will continue to pay for it.
When you refer to Egypt, you are talking about President Hosni Mubarak. But what about the Muslim Brotherhood – a powerful and spreading force there?
Every morning, when I read the papers and see that Jordanian King Abdullah II is healthy and Mubarak is still alive, I know we’ve earned another day. I live with the sense that one day we will wake up to the news of a coup in Jordan and Egypt. And woe is the day when insane Islam takes over those two countries. In other words, in spite of everything he does, Mubarak is still among our friends. He’s also got problems.
So, you have said that there is a demographic pressure cooker; that Israel will have to live by the sword for at least another 100 years; and that when Mubarak and Abdullah die, we’re in for worse trouble. Is your response to all of this that Israel needs to keep withdrawing from territory? And if so, then what?
My geostrategic assessment is that Israel is like the Titanic. I am trying to change its course – prevent it from crashing into the iceberg – and allow it to continue safely on its journey. But up on the Tel Aviv deck, they’re having a big party – a stock-market orgy. And when I try to warn them of the fast-approaching disaster, they tell me I’m being ridiculous or that I’m exaggerating. It is said that intellectuals are the most ignorant of all people, and it’s true, because they’re off in their art galleries and don’t know what’s really going on around them. All they see is a mirage.
Look [he takes out a population map of Israel]: First of all, the Israeli Arabs are enclosing the country from the Upper Galilee all the way around. And here in the center, there is the rich, cynical, cosmopolitan “state of Tel Aviv.”
As for the Arabs of the South: They’re the bridge between Gaza and Judea-Samaria. And I want to tell you, if we fail to keep that bridge closed, Katyushas will be launched from Kalkilya to Tel Aviv – right onto the Stock Exchange. Then the party will be over.
What has to be done to keep that bridge closed?
I’ve written a whole booklet on what we have to do to save the State of Israel. Yes, to save it. This “state of Tel Aviv” – this hermetically sealed state – has to be weakened and fast in order to save Jerusalem, which is no longer Jewish-Zionist. As we speak, Jerusalem – a mere 60 kilometers from Tel Aviv – is being betrayed by the 220,000 Jews who ran away from it. It is a national disaster.
How can Tel Aviv be “weakened”?
The government has to decide to close it for the next five years.
Not allowing people to move there sounds pretty totalitarian.
No, I’m not saying we should do what Stalin did. I’m for democracy. What I’m saying is that the government should announce that for the next several years not a single agora of the state budget goes to Gush Dan [greater Tel Aviv]. All money for roads and railways has to go to the periphery. All construction in the center has to cease, while increasing construction in Ma’aleh Adumim and Jerusalem. And, after that, in the Negev. People will be able to live outside Tel Aviv and commute to work and recreation by train. Believe me, once there are half a million Israelis living in Beersheba, there will be plenty of hoity-toity trendy restaurants there, too.
As someone so concerned about demography, how do you see the Beduin of the Negev fitting into this?
If half a million Jews end up living in Beersheba – today, there are 200,000 – it will develop and spread out, reaching the Beduin-populated areas. The Beduin will benefit by becoming part of the larger melting pot of Beersheba.
If the Beduin can become part of the larger melting pot of Beersheba, why can’t the Palestinians become part of the larger melting pot of Judea and Samaria and Jerusalem?
Good question. As long as the entire Israeli-Arab population, including the Beduin, comes to 1.4 million, in a country of seven million total, Jews have a 70-80 percent majority.
In spite of Arab birthrates?
Yes, because Jewish birthrates are on the rise, and Arab birthrates are on the decline. That’s why there’s no danger inside Israel. But once you add the territories, Jews and Arabs are in a demographic tie.
Because of the withdrawal from Gaza, today Jews make up 60% of the Israeli population and Arabs only 40%. If we we wait 20 years, the tie will return.
Is this why you favor further withdrawals? If Israel returns to the ’67 borders – guaranteeing a clear Jewish majority – what then?
That’s not necessary. Thanks to this completely crazy security fence [here he points to another map, and runs his finger along the jagged line delineating it], we have succeeded in reducing the suicide bombings to zero. This by itself is a huge accomplishment. But [former prime minister Ariel] Sharon’s real achievement, which the public doesn’t appreciate, is having included Modi’in, Betar Illit and Ma’aleh Adumim in Israel. In other words, 180,000 Jews remain within greater Jerusalem with American support.
Today there are 270,000 settlers in the territories, and their numbers are increasing, through natural growth and due to Bnei Akiva members moving there. Through Sharon’s cleverness, Jerusalem remains in Israel and 210,000 settlers are within the fence. Only 60,000 remain outside. In other words, 86% of the settlers are at home. This is an unbelievable victory.
So, now you’re asking me – and rightly so – whether we have to evacuate the rest of the territories. Since our last interview, I have changed my mind about the Jordan Valley. I said then that we were probably going to have to relinquish it. I had been persuaded that there was no longer an eastern-front threat, now that Iraq had become friendly, that Syria was rusty and that our strategic peace with Jordan was sound. But then, suddenly, in November 2005, there was a suicide attack in Amman, which showed that there are al-Qaida cells there.
I also said that we would have to hold on to the Philadelphi Corridor in order to prevent an Egyptian-Gazan connection. Now, if we put our hands to our hearts, we have to admit that the IDF failed to secure Philadelphi – a 200-meter wide and 10-kilometer long area, on one side of which is a terrible country like Egypt, and on the other side of which is Iran. According to reliable sources, Iran was already in Gaza 10 months before disengagement. Why am I bringing this up in connection with the Jordan Valley? [President of the Council on Foreign Relations] Richard Haass, who was director of policy planning for the US State Department at the time, told me personally: “We’ll allow Israel to establish a ‘Philadelphi Corridor’ in the Jordan Valley, to guarantee the neutralization and demilitarization of Judea and Samaria.”
But because we failed to secure Philadelphi in Gaza, of course we would also fail in the Jordan Valley.
Aren’t you being unfair to the IDF? Isn’t it the policy that failed?
Look, when England sent the British army to fight Gallipoli [in World War I], the policy was to win. The same applies here.
But the policy in this case was to give Egypt control over the Philadelphi Corridor and the tunnels. It was a political deal between Israel and Egypt.
No. It’s because the IDF failed that we made that deal. That’s why today I think we have to retain control of both the Philadelphi Corridor and the Jordan Valley.
And if we return to Philadelphi, it will no longer be a mere 200 meters. It will have to be widened at the expense of the refugee camps in Rafah, which we will have to destroy, destroy and destroy.
You just said that the beauty of Sharon’s disengagement plan was that America was behind it. But the United States would support neither an Israeli return to the Philadelphi Corridor nor Israel’s retaining of the Jordan Valley.
You’re right. But my gut feeling is that Bush is going to attack Iran before he finishes his term in office.
Recently, when I told members of the [Israeli] government that we will have to hold on to the Jordan Valley, they all said, “It’s too late.”
I say that when it comes to our security, there’s no such thing as “too late.”
In the meantime, we have no choice but to keep Hamas out through military operations like Defensive Shield.
What about Fatah? Is it any less bent on destroying Israel than Hamas?
No. But neither are Israeli Arabs any different in that respect. No Palestinian wants us here. No Muslim wants us here. No Arab wants us here.
Not even Christian Arabs?[He guffaws sarcastically.] Are there any of those left in the Middle East? They’re absconding! They, who used to be the founding fathers of pan-Arab nationalism, have become victims of radical Islam.
Returning to Iran, you believe that demographic imbalance is Israel’s greatest danger in the long term. But isn’t Iran’s soon-to-be nuclear capability a much more immediate and comprehensive threat?
Personally, I don’t believe that if Iran succeeds in developing a nuclear weapon, it will actually use it. Even the most suicidal of those nuts understands that if even a single missile is launched in Israel’s direction, it will provide the opportunity for Israel or for America to execute the strike we’re all waiting for.
Are you saying that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad doesn’t mean what he says about wiping Israel off the map?
Everything that madman says indicates he is hysterical.
Hitler was also hysterical, but that didn’t prevent him from carrying out his plan.
Hitler was hysterical, but in this case, Iran is closed off 360 degrees by the “cowboy” America. I want to tell you: Two missiles on the Iranian islands of Karaj and Siri, and Iran’s entire oil revenue drops from $60 billion to zero. Iran is so weak and vulnerable that it’s unbelievable.
You’re saying that Iran does not constitute a threat.
That’s right. I think it’s much ado about nothing.
So, why would Bush strike before leaving office?
Ahhh… great question. The answer is that I have been speaking as an Israeli, and Iran won’t jeopardize its interests so totally just in order to harm us. Furthermore, if it does direct a nuclear bomb at Israel, it would destroy Jerusalem and the Arabs they care about. It’s not logical. Not only that. The second strike would come from us and the free world, and then there would be no more Iran. Iran won’t commit suicide.
But Bush’s considerations are a different story. The world’s superpower cannot accept that 2/3 of the world’s oil is in the hands of a crazy person like Ahmadinejad.
Your geostrategic assessments don’t seem to take religion into account – global Islam as a genuine ideology on the one hand, and the Jewish belief in the right to the Land of Israel on the other. You even speak of Jerusalem from a demographic perspective, rather than its being the heart of the Jewish homeland.
I definitely do take global Islam into account, as I do the Jewish people’s affinity for Jerusalem. That is why I call Tel Aviv the enemy that betrayed it.
Are you saying that by wanting to live in Tel Aviv, Israelis have brought about the necessity to divide Israel’s capital?
Right you are.
But a person can love Jerusalem without wanting to live there. If, as you agreed, people can’t be forced by the government to reside in a particular place, what are you suggesting – other than territorial withdrawal?
The first thing I’d do is finish the fast train line to Jerusalem. Next, I’d move the IDF Spokesman’s Office, Army Radio, the defense colleges and the offices of the General Staff there, as well as all government industries. Finally, I’d give subsidies for development and hi- tech.
Still, you favor further territorial withdrawals.
I’m originally a Mapainik, which means I’m a pragmatist. Today, I’m in the center, which is why both the Left and the Right attack me. The point is that our young people are leaving the country and we are an island in a sea of Middle Eastern countries. This is why we have to fortify ourselves with a fence. Then, whoever tries to cross it gets a bullet to the head.
But, while Israel is prepared to complete the fence, it is not keen on giving anyone a bullet to the head.
Well, then, we’ll cease to exist.