More than 1,200 retired senior commanders and officers of the Israel Defense Forces have signed a letter that was sent to all members of Congress on Tuesday endorsing U.S. President Donald Trump’s “Peace for Prosperity” Mideast plan, as well as calling for the application of sovereignty to parts of Yehuda and Shomron, and the Jordan Valley, to secure Israel’s national interests.
Gershon Hacohen, one of the founding directors of Habithonistim ‒ Protectors of Israel, told JNS that “we are absolutely convinced … there is no reason to give in to another withdrawal from places in Judea and Samaria, and the Jordan Valley.”
The organization was established earlier this year to counter the narrative of left-wing former Israeli generals who advocate concessions that endanger Israel’s security. It is also geared to empower the many former officers and officials from all branches of the security establishment who have played prominent roles in Israel’s most recent battles and in the more formative conflicts in the nation’s history, and whose right-wing voices have for years been overlooked.
Hacohen, a major general in the reserves who served in the IDF for 42 years, said the organization exists in part to convince current decision-makers that many of the ideas of international observers and foreign missions to ensure Israel’s security are “an illusion” and cannot guarantee Israel’s security.
He pointed to the U.N. Emergency Force, which was kicked out of the Sinai by Egypt’s President Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1967, as well as the failure of the Egyptians in recent years to stop the smuggling of weapons into the Gaza Strip, which borders and threatens Israel, as an example of the danger of placing Israel’s security in the hands of others.
Opposite the Habithonistim move, a group of former Israeli security officers sent a letter to several Democratic members of Congress in recent weeks, thanking them for their stance against annexation.
The 41 individuals included Yaakov Peri, Ami Ayalon, Tamir Pardo, Shabtai Shavit and Danny Yatom, who thanked them for their stance, which they said was an “expression of true friendship for Israel, and concern for our country’s security and well-being.”
According to Hacohen, without Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria, as well as a military presence in the Jordan Valley, “no one can promise that Judea and Samaria will not become another Lebanon.”
In their letter, the organization stated “as a consistent supporter of Israel’s efforts to meet its security needs, we are certain that you will appreciate our assessment that the ‘Vision for Peace to Prosperity’ represents the most ambitious plan for securing the State of Israel. Security does not have the luxury of fantasy; it is, and must be, grounded in reality.”
The “revolutionary aspect” of the “Peace to Prosperity” vision, “is that it is based on the reality on the ground,” continued the letter. “Resolving the ambiguity of Israel’s status in Judea & Samaria (the West Bank) will not only improve morale, it will provide our commanders with the necessary clarity to effectively secure the region. Every day that Israel does not clarify its long-term intentions in the region is another day that Israel comes under international pressure to retreat from the territory. Israel’s security needs present an almost incomprehensible challenge without the additional uncertainty created by international actors who do not have Israel’s best interests in mind. Hence, the immediate application of Israeli law to the communities in which Israelis live is among the highest national security priorities for the State of Israel.”
‘Educating the public and decisions-makers’
The organization also aspires to raise awareness on Israel’s national security needs and how to meet them, believing they are a top priority and should not be compromised.
Amir Avivi, founder and CEO of Habithonistim, told JNS that “we need to educate the public and decision-makers both in Israel and abroad about Israel national security needs from a non-apologetic Zionistic stand.”
“This is the land of the people of Israel,” he said. “If you can’t explain the importance of the Cave of the Patriarchs [in Hebron], then you can’t explain the importance of Tel Aviv.”
Avivi, an experienced brigadier general in the IDF reserves, noted the perfect timing of the organization’s launch in January, just as Trump announced the launch of the diplomatic aspect of the peace plan.
“Within a few months of our founding,” he said, “hundreds of former commanders, officers and former security officials joined our organization. Now, we have over 1,200, and it is growing every day.”
Avivi believes that Zionism needs to return back to its roots based on security.
“Israel must go back to classic, Zionistic values and classic security approaches,” he said. “Twenty or thirty years ago, there was no difference between the left and right when talking about Zionistic values and security. This is something that changed dramatically in the last 20 years.”
By sending the letter to Congress, the organization hopes to influence the rhetoric in a way that will favor Israel’s position, as well as demonstrate the strong voice on both sides of the debate in the Jewish nation’s security upper echelons.
Acknowledging that former IDF commanders and security officials hold opposite views then himself, Avivi said he is worried about those who think they are Zionistic, but then when they express their views, “you can see they have been influenced by the post-Zionistic worldview.”
He said the difference between Habithonistim and the left-leaning organization Commanders for Israel’s Security “is that we do not deal with tactics. We want to make sure Israel is safe for generations to come.”
“If we do not apply sovereignty, the message to the Arab world, to Europe, to the next [U.S.] administration will be a message of weakness,” he explained. “There is no choice between the status quo or sovereignty. There must be sovereignty because, if not, there will be a serious deterioration in terms of security and the way we are perceived on the international level.”
In fact, he insisted that “there is only one way to go and this is forward with sovereignty.”