A few months ago, Naftali Bennett published a video on the Internet that depicted his “stability plan” policy for the future of the State of Israel. Of all the factual imprecisions that characterized his political program, one in particular caught my eye as outlandish. At some point in the video, the narrator solemnly states that the Jordan Valley is used to buffer Israel against a possible tank attack from Iran. As someone who dedicated thirty years of his life in service of IDF command positions and the protection and security of the citizens of Israel, I couldn’t help but chuckle when I heard that.
I have no doubt that the propaganda efforts of the Jewish Home Party chairman have been successful, and that not a few Israelis walk around today with their argument for the eminent necessity of the Jordan Valley at the ready. In the last few weeks, with the renewed negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians in the background, the question of Israel's ability to secure defensible borders in the context of a permanent status agreement found its way back onto the agenda. And then, just as soon as the negotiations began, the usual suspects began singing their old tune, a song known to be aimed at only one thing: provoking panic amongst Israel’s citizenry.
The time has come to bring the public conversation back to the rational, professional track. It is important to understand that the long and narrow state of Israel has never had and never will have "strategic depth". Any attempt to claim that the Jordan Valley provides such depth is patently absurd.
It would seem Bennett has decided to defrost a security perspective that went into deep-freeze in the 1970s. The picture of Israel’s threats in 2013 is significantly different than the one he describes; 2013 does not require a physical presence in the Jordan Valley. The main threat Israel faced in the past was an overland offensive by a coalition of Arab countries. But in light of the strategic balance in the Middle East today, this threat is no longer relevant: the Soviet Union has crumbled; Iraq is no longer a military power, and Syria is falling apart. Iran, which, by the Jewish Home Party’s script, is supposed to send columns of tanks through more than a thousand miles of desert, is, in fact, investing all of its resources in building naval, artillery, and nuclear forces.
The main threats Israel faces today are terrorism and missile launches. When it comes to these threats, the territory of the West Bank more generally, and of the Jordan Valley in particular, is not relevant. Those elements hostile to Israel already possess the capability to launch rockets into any part of Israel and certainly have no reason to move their rocket launchers to the Jordan Valley. When it comes to the threat of terror, as the separation barrier has proved over the last decade, the central component for a solid defense should be to create a reliable blockade between Israel and a Palestinian state.
The strategic depth Israel has acquired over the years has not been the result of territorial control — it has come through peace agreements. The demilitarized zone in the Sinai has strategic depth. The entire territory of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan has strategic depth. If, one unlikely day, it should happen that suddenly we find ourselves in classic ground war with tanks, we won’t fight the Arab armies on the Jordanian riverbanks, but more likely in the regions of Saudi Arabia and Iraq.
A permanent status agreement with the Palestinians, measured in terms of security, will provide more than an adequate substitute for controlling the Jordan Valley. Given how, in recent years, the IDF has developed extraordinary abilities to destroy masses of mobile and stationary targets from long range and with great precision, control of the Jordan Valley is simply no longer necessary in 2013. It contains no security threat to Israel.
Because I assume that those pronouncing these dramatic warnings of tanks trampling Israel are not stupid, I can only conclude that this is deliberate deception. The purpose of Naftali Bennett and his party stems from a desire to prevent a political agreement with the Palestinians and the evacuation of the settlements at any cost. I assume this false argument over the Jordan Valley is no exception.
This article was originally published in the Israeli newspaper Ma’ariv. The original Hebrew text can be found here.