Israel Can Give Up the Jordan Valley

Strategic benefits that Israel would reap from the signing of a peace agreement with the Palestinians far outweigh the security rationale for continued Israeli control of Jordan Valley.

Reuven Pedatzur
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Reuven Pedatzur

When then-Minister of Labor Yigal Allon formulated the Allon Plan, which he submitted to the cabinet in July 1967 shortly after the Six-Day War, he clearly stated, “Israeli sovereignty in the Jordan Valley is a necessity that must never be relinquished.” Since that time, four decades have passed, as have the dangers that worried Allon. Israel’s “eastern front” has disintegrated and the danger of a war in which regular armies will attack Israel from Jordanian territory no longer exists. Therefore, the Jordan Valley no longer has any strategic importance as a buffer zone preventing a possible invasion by ground forces from the east.

In an era in which the main future threat from the east is high-trajectory rockets and ballistic missiles, the presence of Israeli forces in the Jordan Valley is of no strategic importance, nor does it offer any other benefits. The proponents of Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley claim that in the Middle East, it is impossible to predict developments or political upheavals, and that a future military offensive deploying ground forces from the east is a distinct possibility. Therefore, they argue, a permanent presence of Israeli troops in the Jordan Valley is a military necessity. However, it is clear that a permanent Israeli military presence there would necessarily be limited in scope and, because of the Jordan Valley’s terrain, the Israeli forces deployed there would be in an inferior position topographically, could be easily shot at from both the east and the west, and would face the constant danger of being encircled.

During a recent visit to the Jordan Valley, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said, “I’m an advocate of settlement. I believe in it. In places where Jews don’t live, there’s no security either.” He has apparently forgotten the lesson of the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Instead of providing “security,” the Jewish settlements on the Golan Heights became a burden and had to be quickly evacuated.

If, however, the less likely scenario of a military offensive from the east should take place, the Israel Defense Forces has superior capability and could therefore destroy expeditionary forces deep inside Jordanian territory. If some of the enemy forces making their way westward were not destroyed, the IDF would then enter the West Bank from the north and south and also, of course, be able to parachute in troops who would cut off some of the main routes that enemy soldiers could use to advance from the Jordan Valley westward.

Regarding the threat of guerrilla warfare and terrorist attacks coming from terror organizations, Israel has learned that the most effective way of dealing with that threat is a combination of good military intelligence and a reliable physical obstacle between Israel and the Palestinian Authority – namely the separation barrier. After the establishment of a Palestinian state and in accordance with the security arrangements that would exist between that state and Israel, it would be in the Palestinians’ best interests to prevent the creation of a terrorist network on their territory and to thwart any terrorist incursions from the Kingdom of Jordan. Similarly, Jordanian security forces would prevent any westward movement of terrorists from the eastern bank of the Jordan River.

Regarding the danger that weapons might be smuggled into a future Palestinian state from the east, Jordanian and Palestinian activities to prevent arms smuggling should be buttressed by a reinforcement of the physical obstacle along the Jordan River and by an Israeli presence at border checkpoints. In addition, one must also factor in the early-warning stations on Ba’al Hatzor, the highest mountain in the chain that runs through the spine of the West Bank, and on Mount Eval near Nablus; there should be an Israeli presence at those two early-warning stations. Of course, in any peace settlement with the Palestinians, Israel must continue to maintain its electromagnetic security control systems and the systems safeguarding Israeli airspace; these systems will also contribute to the collection of military intelligence.

In light of the above, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s declaration that he will never sign a peace treaty with the Palestinians that does not include Israel’s continued presence in the Jordan Valley is a political statement, one that is not based on a professional military analysis. Netanyahu can, of course, attempt to obtain Palestinian consent to an Israeli military presence in the Jordan Valley (U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s team is even helping him on this issue); however, the prime minister must understand that Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley has only limited military value, as opposed to the security and strategic benefits that Israel would reap from the signing of a peace agreement with the Palestinians.