Ehud Olmert to 'Post': There is a heavy price for annexation

Anyone who claims today that the Jordan Valley is essential to Israel for security reasons is either living detached from reality, or is trying to sell us a false story about non-existent dangers.

A RECENT view of the Jordan Valley – no longer an area of strategic significance. (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)
A RECENT view of the Jordan Valley – no longer an area of strategic significance.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)
For many years since the Six Day War, there has been a general understanding the Jordan Valley has held great strategic importance for the security of the State of Israel. It was clear to everyone in Israel that in any future political arrangement, the Jordan Valley must be annexed and become part of Israel’s sovereign territory. Even those who hesitated before stating that it was essential that Israel annex the Jordan Valley, understood, of course, that every scenario would include the deployment of IDF forces in the Jordan Valley.
This way of thinking is based on the Israeli public’s collective experience from the days of waiting leading up the outbreak of the Six Day War. The short distance between the Jordan River and the 1967 borders shocked Israel’s citizens to their core. Many people remember how in the days leading up to the Sinai Campaign in 1956, we suffered more than once from the infiltration of so-called armed infiltrators into Israeli territory, who caused great harm to civilians.
In the days leading up the Six Day War, Jordan’s Arab Legion carried out intense training of its armored and artillery troops near the Jordan River and within the West Bank. This caused Israeli residents great fear. After the Six Day War ended in a decisive victory for Israel, during which we occupied all of the West Bank, there was one issue that united a good portion of political parties, commentators, military leaders and strategists: Israel’s need to maintain control over the Jordan Valley.
This consensus was formed 53 years ago. Anyone who continues to live in an atmosphere of fear as if it were still 1967 is apparently ignoring the fact that we are now in the year 2020 and the current geopolitical, militaristic, technological and political reality we live in today is quite different than it was back in 1967.
In 1967, the Jordan Valley was a strategic asset. However, that is no longer the case today. In 1967, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan had a mighty military. Not strong enough to defeat Israel, but a genuine army with an armored division, fighter jets and ground units that had been trained by the British army during the British Mandate.
East of Jordan was Iraq, which had a much larger military than Jordan. Iraq’s army was well-equipped and with its help, Jordan easily could have posed a tangible threat to Israel on its eastern front.
Under such circumstances, it was logical to define the Jordan Valley as an area of strategic significance for Israel, the control over which would have given Israel the relative advantage in the event of a coordinated attack on its eastern front.
This is no longer the situation, and Israel no longer feels threatened on its eastern border. Jordan is not an enemy state, but an ally that cooperates with Israel on a number of matters of utmost strategic importance. The Iraqi army no longer poses a threat to Israel’s security on Jordan’s eastern border. In addition, Israel’s relationship with Iraq is quite different than it was in the past, when Iraq was ruled by an aggressive, violent and ambitious despot like Saddam Hussein. Today, Iraq’s army is depleted, weak and incapable of posing any threat whatsoever to Israel’s future, even in conjunction with other regional forces.
In other words, anyone who claims today, in 2020, that the Jordan Valley is essential to Israel for security reasons, is either still living detached from reality as if it was still 1967, or is trying to sell us a false story about a non-existent danger and useless security needs that have no basis in reality.
When I was prime minister in 2008, I led negotiations with the Palestinian Authority in the hope of reaching a political peace settlement. During that time, I hoped at some point in the future, a sovereign Palestinian state would be established in an area comprising most of the West Bank. However I was  concerned that a situation could still arise in which a foreign army (Iranian, perhaps, or Syrian) would try to penetrate the West Bank by crossing over the Jordan River. It was clear that such a possibility must be addressed, even if the probability of that happening was exceptionally low.
I held talks on this issue with Jordanian King Abdullah II, who was a true friend of Israel during both Ariel Sharon’s and my term as prime minister. The Jordanian king longed for Israel and the Palestinians to reach an arrangement and for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. It was clear to both of us that such a state would not be established if in the agreement the Israelis insisted on annexing the Jordan Valley or leaving a considerable military presence in the area.
I asked Abdullah if he would consider having international NATO forces stationed inside Jordanian territory, along what was supposed to be the eastern border of a future Palestinian state. The presence of such forces was necessary, I explained, in order to prevent, in any future situation, the free passage of Palestinians from Jordan into the West Bank, or vice versa, in addition to the deterrence that the international forces would pose in the case that another country’s army tried to penetrate into Jordan and from there march toward Israel.
Abdullah replied in the affirmative: He considered such an arrangement to be reasonable and thought that it was certainly doable. I shared this idea with US secretary of state at the time, Condoleezza Rice, along with the king’s sympathetic response, and as a result she decided to look into this proposal herself. She came out of her meeting with the king with a similar impression. It was clear that such an understanding would solve one of the most sensitive subjects connected to a political settlement between Israel and the Palestinians.
In addition to the understanding with the Jordanian king that began to mature, I had already charged defense minister Ehud Barak and the IDF Planning Division head Maj. Gen. Ido Nehoshtan with the task of preparing a security plan that would be part of a political arrangement between Israel and the Palestinians. Barak presented the eight-chapter plan to US president George W. Bush, who agreed to it. The arrangement was also later accepted by US president Barack Obama.
I would like to emphasize one point here that is connected to our present situation. Barak explained at the time to the US president that even in the event that a peace agreement with the Palestinians was completed, and a satisfactory military arrangement along the Jordanian River was put in place, Israel would still need to be able to respond to the unlikely possibility that at some point in the future, if a foreign army moved to cross over the Jordanian border and head toward Israel, we would still have the right to send in troops to the region to protect ourselves.
One of the chapters in the security plan dealt explicitly with this possibility, and it was agreed that should a foreign army cross the Jordan River, Israel would have the right to send its army in the direction of Jordan in order to take on the army before it succeed in reaching the West Bank. Such an Israeli intrusion to Palestinian Authority territory would not be considered as an act of occupation and would also not be considered a breach of international law. In this case, such an act would be considered an act of self-defense. This principle was accepted by the US and by Israel, and again later by Obama’s administration, whose representatives later told me that this idea was entirely acceptable for them.
And then Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu came on the scene. As he does with many other issues, Netanyahu ignores the changing circumstances, the huge gap between Israel’s great strength, its marvelous technological capabilities and our ability to scan every inch of land near Israel’s border or what will be part of Israel in the wake of a political arrangement. Israel knows how to give warnings of any threatening military movement in lands that are far away from Israel and is capable of reaching and destroying targets that are located far from home.
Netanyahu knows quite well that the Jordan Valley does not serve any urgent security need for Israel that would warrant its unilateral annexation at the present time. Whoever was convinced, as Netanyahu has said publicly many times, that Israel has the capability of attacking Iran, a serious regional power that has sophisticated anti-aircraft defense capabilities, with an arsenal of hundreds of missiles that are capable of reaching any strategic point in Israel, cannot seriously claim that Israel’s most urgent security problem would be solved by unilaterally annexing the Jordan Valley.
It’s clear that the possible move of unilateral annexation has nothing to do with security, strategy or any real threat to Israel. It’s part of a fake panic culture that strives to generate a consciousness in Israeli public that we are constantly in existential danger and that, thank goodness, there is someone who recognizes this danger and knows how to offer a courageous, Zionist and appropriate response.
Israel, however, is not playing on its own in this arena. Unilateral annexation of the Jordan Valley and applying Israeli sovereignty over settlements in Judea and Samaria outside of the framework of an agreement and not according to US President Donald Trump’s “Deal of the Century” timeline, precisely at the current time, is unnecessary provocation, first and foremost of the US and also of Trump. Many people are asking, why not take advantage of the fact that there is a sympathetic president in the US who is willing to put up with such moves by Israel? Why would we wait?
Perhaps, some might argue, we should wait because Trump might interpret Israel’s zeal to make such a move right now at a time that he is trailing presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden by almost 15% to indicate that Netanyahu does not believe Trump will be elected for a second term. If we think Trump will be reelected, why not wait, according to Netanyahu’s method, for Trump to be reelected in elections that are less than six months away, and then, in cooperation with the US, annex this area? And what if Trump is not reelected? Does Israel really want to provoke the Democratic candidate, Biden, who has already expressed his opposition to a unilateral annexation? Would the damage this could cause us justify the expected (and in my opinion unexpected) benefits resulting from unilateral annexation in July?
And what if it results in increased Palestinian terrorist activity? And what if the Jordanians decide to reexamine the peace treaties they’ve signed with Israel? And what if European countries take real steps that could be very damaging for Israel? And  what if other countries – moderate Arab nations – plus Russia, China and other countries in South America and Asia join this bitter anti-Israel wave, and we remain without the support of a new US president to protect us?
And all of this just to postpone his trial, to dictate an unnecessary agenda, to silence the growing agitation of the hundreds of thousands of Israelis who are unemployed due to the deep crisis that resulted from the government’s failure to effectively deal with the COVID-19 crisis in a restrained manner, and perhaps also to get more monetary benefits and tax exemptions for himself?
Netanyahu is irresponsibly galloping forward without restraint. He needs to be stopped, and the sooner the better.
The writer was the 12th prime minister of Israel.