Students on the Regent’s MA International Relations programme were treated to a discussion with Major-Gen Amnon Reshef, a retired IDF major general, and founder of Commanders for Israel’s Security (CIS).
Introduced to the room by Professor Yossi Mekelberg, Major Reshef served as the 14th Brigade Commander in the Yom Kippur War and as Commanding General of the Armored Corps from 1979 to 1982, before founding Commanders for Israel’s Security in 2014, which he now leads.
A non-partisan movement comprising the overwhelming majority of available retired IDF generals and their Mossad, Shin Bet (Security Agency) and Police equivalents, CIS are united in the conviction that an eventual two-state agreement with the Palestinians, as part of a regional security framework, is essential for Israel’s security as well as for its future as the democratic home of the Jewish People.
Professor Mekelberg said: “It’s really a pleasure to welcome you to Regent’s, where the issues of peace and security really are at the heart of our ethos. We encourage both our students and staff to be active and proactive as global citizens.
“Across Europe, we are commemorating the centenary of the end of the First World War – what’s known as the Great War. There is a big debate about whether or not we should wear the poppy – some say it glorifies war. I beg to differ, I think it should remind us all of the horrendous price of war; the bloodshed and the destruction it brings with it.
“Nobody knows more about this bloodshed and the sacrifices than those who served on the front line, as Major Reshef did. No one is more effective in advocating lobbying than those who have experienced the battle and the loss first hand.”
Major Reshef said of CIS: “According to Israeli law, we are not allowed to support, or be against any political party, being an NGO. We don’t have any kind of personal interest – not political, not economic. We have just a very basic major interest – to protect the future of Israel as a secure and democratic country, with a solid Jewish majority.”
CIS’s vision is that the Government of Israel shall initiate a regional process to consolidate political-security arrangements with the Palestinians and the Arab States. These arrangements will grant Israel permanent and recognized borders that ensure Israel’s security, its solid Jewish majority and the democratic character of the state for years to come.
“In our vision, which was composed in late 2014 just after I wrote an open letter to the Prime Minister, we believe that the only viable solution is the two state solution.
“When we speak about the two state solution, it’s a slogan that covers a lot. It took us about a year, until October 2015, when we had to realise that once you try to approach the Israeli public with the two states, you lose your audiences. You start with this statement, and the immediate reaction is to say ‘we don’t have a partner’. Then you’re entering in to an endless discussion or argument.
“One must admit – it has already taken 50 years – when the Israeli public was, in a way, brainwashed about the so called Palestinian story, and why? It was the labour party who started it. It was my friend, Ehud Barak, former Prime Minister, who came back from Camp David stating ‘there is no partner’.
“It’s not just the current right wing coalition that are speaking about the two state solution, it was also the labour parties and some other coalition governments.
“We realised that if we cannot approach the Israeli public by debating and arguing about the two state solution, we should come with something else, and we came with a kind of intermediate plan called Security First. It’s a combination of security, civil economic measures and the rest is political statements.”
The ‘Security First’ plan outlines that Israel must take independent action in the spirit of the CIS to:
- Improve the security of its people;
- Restore credibility to its commitment to a two-state outcome;
- Improve the country’s standing regionally and internationally;
- Start a gradual process of separation from the Palestinians;
- Preserve conditions for a future two-state agreement.
The origins of the movement go back to 2014 when a number of senior, retired officers called upon the Prime Minster to adopt the Saudi Peace Initiative as a basis for negotiations and to set in motion a peace process with the Palestinians. Their call, entitled A Letter to the Prime Minister (published in Yediot Aharonot on 31 October 2014) was signed by 103 senior officers with the IDF rank of Brigadier General and above – or with parallel ranks in the Israel Security Agency, Mossad and Israel Police.
Since then, more than 100 more senior officers from all of Israel’s security services have joined the movement (for a full list click here). In the ensuing months, members of the movement formulated a number of security and political initiatives, while consulting colleagues in the Arab world and western countries. These proposals have now been submitted to Israel’s decision makers and the general public.