by: Joshua Spurlock, The Mideast Update
The Jordan River and surrounding valley have been a key part of Israel for millennia—from the parting of the Jordan River for Joshua to the baptism of Jesus (Yeshua) by John the Baptist. In recent decades, it has been key to the defense of the Jewish state. Since Israel captured the Jordan Valley from the Kingdom of Jordan in the defensive Six Day War in 1967, the Jewish state has not faced a military invasion from the Jordanians after fighting them repeatedly before. While a peace deal between Israel and Jordan neutralizes that threat today, there are still many reasons why Israel needs to control the Jordan Valley.
The biggest challenge to Israel’s claim over the Jordan Valley is that the Palestinians also claim the territory as part of what they call the “West Bank” (Judea and Samaria). Israel’s two main political parties—the secular centrist Blue and White party and the center-right Likud party—appear united on retaining the Jordan Valley regardless of what the final resolution is with the Palestinians. In September, then-incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for applying Israeli sovereignty to the Jordan Valley. Netanyahu called the valley a “defensive wall” that with related territory will “ensure that the IDF [Israel Defense Forces] will be here forever.” Netanyahu’s rivals in the Blue and White party responded to those comments by noting they had already previously said the valley would “be part of Israel forever,” the Times of Israel reported.
Netanyahu highlighted a key reason why the Jordan Valley is so critical: “Instead of having a state that is only a few kilometers wide, this will be a state with strategic depth and strategic height.”
The Jordan Valley forms a natural border along the east of Israel, and if the Jewish state were to lose control of it, the country would be a lot smaller. However, the threat in the region is greater than geographic distance.
Stopping weapons smuggling into Judea and Samaria is one key reason for Israel to retain the Jordan Valley, explained Col. (ret.) Dr. Ephraim Kam, senior research fellow with the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS). According to Kam, terrorist groups and Iran could sneak weapons and even rockets into Judea and Samaria via the Jordan Valley.
“Iran wants very much to penetrate into the West Bank, so far not very successfully because the current leadership of the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority [PA], doesn’t like the Iranians…If a change takes place and Iran would be able to penetrate into the West Bank, we have another problem [perhaps even worse than Gaza]. It can happen,” Kam warned.
That scenario is a nightmare for Israel. Iran could try to turn Judea and Samaria into another Lebanon, sending in their Shiite militia forces, building factories for rockets and more. Iran’s interest is not hypothetical. The US State Department’s 2017 “Country Reports on Terrorism” said Iran “continued to provide weapons, training, and funding to Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist groups,” including organizations responsible for terrorism in Judea and Samaria. Hamas has long tried to establish a terror presence there as well.
In an article entitled Defensible Borders to Ensure Israel’s Future, Maj. Gen. (res.) Uzi Dayan noted that controlling the border is critical to preventing the smuggling of weapons and terrorists. He compared the Jordan Valley to the Gaza border with Egypt that initially exploded into a smuggling goldmine after Israel withdrew from the strip in 2005. The situation could, however, get even worse.
In his article, Dayan noted that if Jordan becomes a smuggling conduit into Israel, that could ultimately lead to the infiltration of terrorists into Jordan. Kam pointed out that while Jordan is stable today, it sits next to unstable countries like Syria and Iraq. He warned that unrest in Jordan could lead to a regime change. While the longtime peace treaty with Jordan makes that area seem secure for Israel now, a new regime might not be so friendly. And that’s presuming it doesn’t turn into a terrorist playground.
Take Syria for example. Not only has Iran moved in, but terrorists such as the Islamic State (Daesh) and others have torn the country apart. Kam said many Israelis will say that “we are lucky that we have not concluded a peace treaty with Syria 10 or 15 years ago, because then it wouldn’t stop what’s happening inside Syria. And a new Syria, with opposition forces, with Daesh forces, with Al-Qaeda forces in Syria, is creating a major threat to the neighboring countries, including Jordan and basically also to Israel.”
Kam looks to Syria again as proof that an international force couldn’t defend the Jordan Valley in place of the IDF in a peace deal with the Palestinians. In the Syrian Golan region, United Nations peacekeepers until now are “not affecting in any way the war and the terror attacks,” he said, noting the UN force in Lebanon is the same. “When all kinds of local warfare take place in Syria, in Lebanon, or in the future perhaps in the Jordan Valley…[the international force] doesn’t play any important role.”
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