Will Israel Risk Giving Up Control Of The Jordan Valley?
One of the main issues of dispute in current peace negotiations between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is whether a newly created Palestinian state will have an army that can defend its borders. Abbas is demanding a militarized Palestinian state, void of Jews, and with no IDF presence on any of its borders.
The demand of a militarized Palestinian state is in direct opposition to what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared in his speech at Bar Ilan University in June 2009:
"The territory under Palestinian control must be demilitarized with ironclad security provisions for Israel. Without these two conditions, there is a real danger that an armed Palestinian state would emerge that would become another terrorist base against the Jewish state, such as the one in Gaza. We don't want Kassam rockets on Petach Tikva, Grad rockets on Tel Aviv, or missiles on Ben-Gurion airport. We want peace. In order to achieve peace, we must ensure that Palestinians will not be able to import missiles into their territory, to field an army, to close their airspace to us, or to make pacts with the likes of Hezb'allah and Iran. On this point as well, there is wide consensus within Israel. It is impossible to expect us to agree in advance to the principle of a Palestinian state without assurances that this state will be demilitarized. On a matter so critical to the existence of Israel, we must first have our security needs addressed."
Netanyahu also said in that speech that Israel needs defensible borders. Now, at the peace table, Israeli interlocutors stipulate that Israel must have an IDF presence on the eastern border with Jordan. This is something the Palestinians vehemently oppose. But, Israel's position on this is not new. In the past, Israeli government leaders came up with the same critical assessment.
In October 1995, former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin declared, "The security border of the State of Israel will be located in the Jordan Valley, in the broadest meaning of that term."
Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak said in September 2012: "Israel's objective should be to maintain control of continuous Jewish settlement areas, of the Jordan River Valley, and of the heights overlooking Ben Gurion airport."
Former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said the Jordan Valley was so vital to Israel's security that Israel must control it in the future. He made his remarks in 2001, addressing Israeli residents of the Jordan Valley during his election campaign.
But, Sharon also said at the time that, if elected, he would not dismantle a single Jewish settlement in the territories. Obviously, that prophecy did not come true.
Netanyahu recently hired former Israeli Ambassador to the UN Dore Gold, as his main foreign policy advisor. Gold has spoken out, strongly, on Israel's need to have defensible borders, and the importance of the Jordan Valley remaining in Israel's hands. He declared in July 2013: " Israeli control of the Jordan Valley is not only needed for defense against conventional attacks, but also for neutralizing the growing threat from advanced weapons that can be smuggled to terrorist organizations."
The liberal politicians in Israel's government and in the Opposition are not too happy about this particular sticking point in the negotiations. Yet, one can recall a similar debate about borders when former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon decided to withdraw from the Gaza Strip in August/September 2005. That unilateral withdrawal was not only controversial because it uprooted thousands of settlers from their homes, Sharon also abandoned a very important and strategic area along the outer perimeter of the Gaza Strip called the Philadelphi Corridor. He did this against the advice of most of his generals at the time.
Jews had to abandon their homes and businesses in Gaza. Their empty synagogues became terrorist museums. And, the Philadelphi Corridor became an open door for terrorist infiltration by Hamas and other Gaza radicals. Weapons smuggling from Iran surged and rockets became the new threat to Israeli border towns.
Israel does not want to make that mistake again.
It is not only the retreat from Gaza that upsets many Israelis. They also remember when Ehud Barak led the IDF to abandon its post in south Lebanon in the year 2000. Hezb'allah filled that vacuum. Today, 1 out of 10 homes in south Lebanon is equipped with a rocket launcher storage facility. In the future, Hezb'allah will attempt to launch those rockets against Israel's northern civilian population. The terrorist group expects that Israel will hesitate to retaliate because to do so means that Lebanese civilians and their homes will be in the line of Israeli fire.
Peace negotiators have suggested bringing in international forces to protect the eastern border with Jordan. But, international forces did not stop Hezb'allah from building up its terrorist network on Israel's northern border, nor stop Hamas from taking over the Gaza Strip in the south.
Wherever Israel withdraws its forces or civilians, that land becomes the flashpoint of terror against the Jewish State. Terrorists test the IDF's skills, willpower, and manpower along the new frontier trying to push through electric fences and security walls. They plant bombs to kill IDF soldiers or infiltrate towns to carry out terrorist attacks.
In many cases, populated areas along Israel's borders have become the first line of defense. Soldiers and civilian volunteers help keep terrorists out. Israeli intelligence agents receive information of potential attacks from those frontline communities and the IDF is able to stop terrorist operations before they happen.
Withdrawing settlers from their homes and communities in the Jordan Valley would leave an IDF presence void of intelligence capabilities. Israel would still be vulnerable to terrorist infiltrations through Jordan.
It is imperative that Israeli leaders review past mistakes of former government leaders, such as Sharon, who did not listen to the advice of experienced generals in the field.
Ariel Sharon was a decorated general who fought in many of Israel's wars, and who defended the nation like a mighty warrior. But, when he became a politician, pragmatism set in. And, he abandoned his post -- the Philadelphi Corridor. Let's hope that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who also fought on Israel's battle fields, doesn't abandon his post -- the Jordan Valley.
Israel cannot afford another mistake. Indefensible borders is a risk too great for the Israeli government to take in final peace negotiations... not when it comes to the safety and security of the only nation state of the Jewish People in the world.
C. Hart is a news analyst reporting on political, diplomatic, and military issues as they relate to Israel, the Middle East, and the international community.