In his final speech to the Knesset in October 1995, two weeks before he was assassinated, prime minister Yitzhak Rabin presented his vision for a Palestinian “entity” that would be “less than a state.” Rabin made it clear that Israel would “not return to the June 4, 1967, lines,” and he pledged that Israel would retain control over the Jordan Valley “in the broadest meaning of that term.” He explicitly stated that Israel would not freeze building over the Green Line.
By contrast, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu today advocates the establishment of a Palestinian state; has largely frozen settlement building; and insists only upon “maintaining Israeli military forces along the Jordan River.” Netanyahu’s cautious formulation – Israeli forces along the Jordan River – means something other than full sovereignty, and clearly less than what Rabin intended.
Tellingly, Netanyahu has failed to promote the development of Jordan Valley settlements. I have learned that he has quietly hinted to prominent businessmen that they might not really want to invest in the development of Dead Sea north shore hotels.
Netanyahu’s government also has turned a blind eye to the seizure by Fatah figures Muhammad Dahlan and Jibril Rajoub of 500 hectares of land near Jericho for lucrative date tree plantations, nurtured with water stolen both from Mekorot national water company pipes and from Jericho’s residential drinking water lines.
All this tells me, worryingly, that Netanyahu is not committed to keeping the Jordan Valley under Israeli control. This is deeply regrettable, since the Israeli residents of that area are true pioneers, and only full control of the entire Jordan Valley region can provide Israel with security for the long-term.
On recent tours of the Jordan Valley Regional Council and Megilot Dead Sea Regional Council areas, organized by the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, I learned of the sacrifice and incredible agricultural productivity of the 6,000 residents and 27 settlements in these areas – most of which were established by the Labor Party. Regional council heads David Elhayani and Motzi Dehaman are heroic figures who have steered their communities through decades of disadvantage, political neglect and security adversity.
I learned that the Jordan Valley is indispensable to Israel’s national security, despite recent punditry that argues Israel no longer needs the valley as a shield against aggression from the east.
It’s true that the conventional military threat to Israel from the east has diminished for now – with the end of Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq, the weakening of war-torn Syria, and the impressive stability of Jordan despite the turmoil in the Arab world. Yet this is a very short-term perspective, motivated by the desire to convince the Israeli public that the Jordan Valley is militarily dispensable. This perspective ignores the immense potential for escalated political upheaval in the region, including possible jihadist destabilization of Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Jordan.
Maj.-Gen. (res.) Uzi Dayan, who was head of the IDF Central Command, IDF deputy chief of staff and national security adviser to the prime minister, has cogently and clearly laid out the argument for defensible borders that necessarily include the Jordan Valley.
Dayan says that Israeli security requires three things: fundamental strategic depth; room to wage war against conventional attack from the outside; and room that allows for combating terrorism.
The minimal strategic depth and indivisible air space required is the 65 kilometers average width of Israel from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River.
As for room to wage war, that is the Jordan Rift Valley, which ranges between 6- and 14-km. wide. The mountains on the valley’s western edge (which range from 900- to 1,400-meters high) create a physical defensive barrier that is only traversable through five passes. Thus, even a small IDF unit deployed in a valley should be able defend Israel against an attack from the east.
Furthermore, the Jordan Valley is the eastern buffer zone that prevents the West Bank mountain region from becoming a full-blown terrorist entity.
Prof. Efraim Inbar, director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, has argued for years that if Israel wants to maintain a defensible border along the Jordan Valley, it needs to secure the main road from the coast to the valley, via an undivided Jerusalem and via the West Bank city of Ma’aleh Adumim. This is the only west-east axis with a Jewish majority, and the only safe route via which Israel can mobilize troops from the coast to the Jordan Valley in a case of military emergency.
Thus Ma’aleh Adumim is the linchpin in establishing an effective line of defense along the valley against aggression from the east. Bolstering the populated Jewish corridor from Jerusalem to Ma’aleh Adumim (including the 5-km. connecting strip of land known as E-1) is necessary to secure the road to the Jordan Valley and prevent the division of Jerusalem.
Some American and Israeli officials argue that Israel can achieve security on its eastern border by the placement of early detection systems in the Jordan Valley and by the deployment in the valley of foreign forces. That was the essence of the plan proposed by US Gen. John R. Allen on behalf of Secretary of State John Kerry.
Defense Minister Lt.-Gen. (res.) Moshe Ya’alon reportedly dismissed the plan out of hand, and Uzi Dayan concurs.
Dayan says experience proves that no warning system can replace the defensive space of the Jordan Valley, and that Israel must never rely on foreign forces. Foreign troops will not risk their lives in the war on terror, and they will be the first to flee the region should a crisis develop.
Dayan says that Israeli negotiators of the past 20 years have approached security and diplomacy with their heads screwed on backwards. We must move, he says, from a policy of “security based on international agreements and diplomatic guarantees,” to a policy of “agreements based on security provided by Israeli forces deployed in defensible spaces.” We have to think of defensible borders, he explains, not only as markers that ensure Israel’s security needs, but as key building blocks that guarantee peace treaties will be sustainable.
Regional council head David Elhayani has a 10-year plan to triple the population in the Jordan Valley. He should receive full government backing. With the Kerry process dead-ended, Israel should move to reinforce its presence in areas well within national consensus – such as the Jordan Valley and the E-1 corridor.