Israel can gradually relinquish control of the Jordan Valley as part of a peace deal with the Palestinians and manage the subsequent security risks, three former IDF generals told The Jerusalem Post this week.
The retired generals, all members of the Council for Peace and Security, cast doubt on the claim that the Jordan Valley is today an essential strategic asset.
Brig.-Gen. (res.) Shlomo Brom, former director of the Strategic Planning Division of the General Staff and a senior researcher at the Institute for National Security Studies, called for “leaving the slogans behind” and a purely strategic discussion of the consequence of leaving the Jordan Valley.
Classic military threats from the east, characterized by an invasion of organized Arab armies, vanished by the early 1980s, he argued, and in recent years, “the reality has changed completely.”
Iraq as a military power has disintegrated, and it will take “many years” before it can reappear on the military map.
The threat of an Iraqi task force moving through Jordan to attack Israel is nonexistent.
“There are no Iranian army divisions threatening us. Iran does not have the ability to project ground-based military power,” Brom said.
“It bought some Russian tanks, but most of its investment is in surface to surface missiles, its navy, and its nuclear program,” he added.
The Gulf Arab states are in a form of partnership with Israel, and Jordan itself has an interest in maintaining a strategic partnership with Israel that goes beyond the peace treaty, Brom said. Syria may have thought of using Jordan as a staging ground to strike at Israel in the past, but this threat is gone, too.
At the same time, Brom said, the IDF has been at the forefront of a revolution allowing it to observe and strike targets at a distance like never before.
He stressed the rapidly changing nature of firepower and maneuvering, the introduction of long-range, standoff weapons available to a range of platforms, and intelligence capabilities that allow Israel to observe developing threats in real time; meaning that a future threat can be dealt with differently.
“This changes the way of thinking,” Brom said.
Asked about the threat of Jordan becoming a failed state, allowing hostile military or terrorist forces to transit through it towards Israel, Brom said that in such a scenario, the whole of Jordan would become a battlefield.
Developing threats should be struck well before they reach the Jordan Valley, he added. “It [the Valley] is today an artificial strategic asset,” he said.
“My impression is that even [Prime Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu and [Defense Minister Moshe] Ya’alon understand this.”
The second type of threat inherent in leaving the Jordan Valley centers on the possibility that it will turn into a second Philadelphi Corridor, like that on the border between Gaza and Sinai, under which countless weapons have been smuggled into the Strip. Not only weapons might cross the Jordan Valley, but also “information and terrorists as well,” Brom warned.
This can be answered through the introduction of a third party, a reliable military force like NATO, to staff border passages, and to respond to intrusions along the border in between the passages. As for the border areas between passages, Brom envisaged a gradual process, in which Israel would first control the border, then international forces, and finally, after years, Palestinian forces would control their own border, after Israel becomes convinced that they are capable and willing to do so.
“In the first years, Israel must be there to see what is happening. If things works out, it can relinquish control to a third party,” he added.
“If you look at who staffs border passages, who is there? Police and customs, not military. Customs finds smuggled goods,” Brom said. A reliable third party wouldn’t endanger itself or fight, and Israel can monitor events through surveillance, he added. “This has to be done correctly. If entities like NATO take part, it will underline the international commitment to border security.”
Maj.-Gen. (res.) Nati Sharoni, former IDF Southern Command chief of staff and ex-chief of the military’s Planning Directorate, added, “The Jordanian side has an interest to prevent weapons smuggling.”
Brig.-Gen. (res.) Gadi Zohar, former head of the Terrorism Arena for Military Intelligence, and current president of the Council for Peace and Security, stressed that the IDF would have to remain in the valley during the initial stage. “If we see that the agreement works, we can move to the next stage. Israel’s sensitivity to this is understandable.”
While the IDF should remain for a time between the Jordan River and Route 90, there is no need for Israeli settlements there, he said, adding that from a military point of view, “These are a burden.”
Sharoni said, “If we’re wrong, it would take the IDF a maximum of 48 hours to get a division to the Jordan Valley. And this is a reserves division, not a regular division that would take much less time.”
Asked what would happen if a future Palestinian state became a failed state, Brom said, “This ties in to a wider question of what happens if the agreement falls apart and rocket fire comes out of West Bank cities. Then there would be a need for another Operation Defensive Shield, to reenter the Palestinian cities. That’s the big risk, leaving places like Tul Karm. The risk is that they’ll manufacture rockets in Nablus. This is a far heavier price we’d be risking than leaving the Jordan Valley.”
Sharoni concurred, adding, “The government must manage risks, and decide which risks to take in exchange for which benefits. When you examine the risks versus the gains here, the pluses are that, under an agreement, Israel can become a full member of the community of nations and the Arab world.”
Zohar argued that “those who do not want an agreement speak of keeping the Jordan Valley. When you start peeling away the significance of that, you realize that if Israel offered land swaps in exchange for keeping the Jordan Valley, it would give the PA enough land to get to Beit She’an. That’s untenable.”
“We need a clean security discussion, and time, to see if an agreement works,” he added.
Sharoni warned that freezing the situation could lead to bigger risks than those inherent in leaving the Jordan Valley.
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