FNC
Chuck Nash and Col. Bill Cowan
You sited a shift in Israel’s Defense Force to the Mediterranean Sea.  What types of vulnerabilities will Israeli ships face there? —  Peter (Boston, MA)

Chuck Nash: The potential military threats to Israel are from countries that do not have very sophisticated navies in comparison to the current Israeli Navy.  The future navy of Israel would be even more capable and thus superior should they make the decision to increase their strategic defensive depth at sea.  The most significant of the threats would be attack from surface combatants using cruise missiles similar to the US HARPOON or the Russian anti-ship missiles.  The submarines of these potential threat nations are not currently a significant threat.

Col. Cowan: If history serves as an example, expanding their navy will probably result in adversaries with deep-water access expanding their navies also.   Those who don’t abut blue water will be encouraged to develop or procure new strategic systems which can offset whatever the new Israeli capabilities bring, such as their own new long-range missiles.  In addition, a new navy will likely encourage the Israelis to do as other navies have done — expand their sphere of influence beyond the Mediterranean.   From a strategic defensive perspective, a more capable and sophisticated navy is in Israel’s best interests.  What the threats are remains to be seen.

What is your understanding of Israel’s rationale for the placement of the West Bank fence?  What is the protocol that allows deviations from the Green Line? — Aaron (Blacksburg, VA)

Chuck Nash: The three criteria for placement of the fence are:
 1. Green Line: keep as close to it as possible, but include as much of the....
 2. Jewish population inside the fence line while making certain that the ...
 3. Time to respond to an intrusion is such that IDF forces could get to the area before any intruder flees into the protected area.

Thus the fence could follow the Green Line until it has to deviate to pick up a Jewish population center and/ or create a security buffer.  See http://www.seamzone.mod.gov.il/Pages/ENG/default.htm

Col. Cowan: It’s important to consider the fact that one of the reasons for the current placement of the fence could well be to establish a negotiating position which has room to give something back to the Palestinians without marginalizing security.

Do you think the Israelis are prepared for the demographic shift in the growing Palestinian population? — Lenny (Rockville Centre, NY)

Chuck Nash: They certainly see it coming and are thus trying to establish a peaceful situation so that there is a settlement to this issue sooner rather than later.  This is also a desire due to the horrific acts that are being carried out without the killing of civilians.  They realize that having their people killed is dreadful and that acts against the terrorists that kills innocent civilian bystanders is tragic and places the Israeli government in a bad light.  This is a lose-lose situation and they want it solved.  The fence is seen as a way to separate the threat out (there have been zero suicide bombers from Gaza into Israel) and thus allow a defusing of the situation and give an opportunity for cooler heads to prevail.

Col. Cowan: If peace can’t be found, the Israelis certainly see the threat posed by a growing Palestinian population.  Ironically, so do the Jordanians, where Palestinians make up a majority of the population.   Despite continued setbacks in the peace process, it’s always important to note that there are people on both sides of the conflict who want to see a peaceful resolution.  It’s the radicals who refuse to let it happen.   The fence lessens their ability to strike at random at innocents.

You describe the sophisticated settlement, Ariel.  Are Palestinians allowed to purchase real estate there?  If certain settlements are so sophisticated that the likelihood of them being dismantled is nil, what do you see as a solution? — Sean (San Diego, CA)

Chuck Nash: We were told with great emphasis that Ariel was built on land that was former Jordanian government land lost to Israel during the 1967 war or purchased from the previous owners when the West Bank fell under Israeli control.  It is important to remember there are several stages of this "settlement" building.  Ariel was one of the early settlements (settled in the early 1970s...more than 30 years ago) NOT one of the "illegal" settlements that have been causing the recent problems.  It is indeed a very sophisticated city and forcing out longtime residents and turning it over is not something that one can expect Israel to do.  It would be a breach of faith with the 18,000 people who moved there at the request and encouragement of the government.  Many of the new settlements are NOT supported by the Israeli government and are considered illegal.  This has caused a domestic political problem for the Sharon government, as he is perceived as not supporting the settlers.  In fact, many of the recent settlements are nothing more than tents on a hillside and were built by far right-wing groups to be intentionally provocative.

Col. Cowan: In addition to simply being a serene, sophisticated environment, Ariel boasts a technology center, which employs Palestinians who cross over daily from the West Bank to work there.  It seems doubtful that any of them would want to leave their own surroundings to move into a Jewish community.

As to being dismantled, it’s unlikely, and indeed difficult to comprehend, why long-term settlements like Ariel would or even could be dismantled. They are stable, productive, and contribute to both sides.  In contrast, the illegal settlements, often made up of no more than tents or shipping containers, are an attempt by the ultra-right-wing groups to undermine the peace process.  In seeking peace, the Israeli government has an obligation to remove these settlements, and indeed has started the process already.

Do you find a lack of unity among Israelis over a future vision for the country?  What does the majority see as the future? — Keith (Slate Hill, NY)

Chuck Nash: They clearly don't know.  They are hoping for the best but realize that hope is not a plan.  It is difficult to think grand thoughts when you are constantly under pressure...the threat of danger tends to make one think closer in.  This is where a politician with vision and credibility - someone who is not involved in the daily struggle and shouldering the responsibilities - needs to step up and present ideas.

Col. Cowan: The old adage that “any two Israelis have four opinions on the same topic” applies here.  The complexities of what the Israelis are facing on a day-to-day basis, indeed what they have faced since their founding in 1948, make it difficult to forge a consensus on a future vision.  What’s important to note is their resilience – their ability to adapt, adjust, and react to opportunities or situations, both good and bad.  Captain Nash talks about their need for an exceptional leader, one who can push aside parochial interests and forge new relationships with the Palestinians and the rest of the Arab world.  He’s right.

What steps do you see the U.S. could make to better the chances of success for both sides? — John (Tacoma, WA)

Chuck Nash:  The immediate problem is that every time things get close to reaching a point of stability, the violence starts up again and "derails the peace process."  That is where the fence can help.  It will help keep the bombers on one side and the Israelis on the other to buy time to get the peace process going without deadly interruption.  Far from discouraging the fence, the U.S. should support it as a temporary security measure.

The U.S. can only assist the parties involved by trying to keep open the dialog.  If the parties agree to a course of action and would like assistance in implementation, then the U.S. should get involved with mustering the international support to help.  There is no solution that the U.S. can dictate, we don't really understand the depth of the problem and trying to put it in simple terms does not simplify the issue, it clouds it.

Col. Cowan: This is a question best answered by Marc Ginsburg or Dennis Ross, as they often do on FOX.  The bottom line is that the U.S. has to remain engaged with both sides, and with all parties who have influence in the region.  Unless and until a peace agreement is found, the U.S. will find itself in various stages of conflict throughout the region.

Retired U.S. Navy Captain  Chuck Nash is a military analyst for FOX News. Nash retired from the Navy in 1998 after serving more than 25 years as a naval aviator.

Bill Cowan is a FOX News Channel contibutor and an internationally acknowledged expert in the areas of terrorism, homeland security, intelligence and military special operations.