Required Reading: Dov Weisglass on the Jordan Valley

Last week, Dov Weisglass - former top advisor to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon - wrote in Yedioth Ahronoth (Hebrew edition) about the Israeli security needs and the Jordan Valley. His article, translated by Israel News Today (INT), is required reading for anyone following this issue and how it is being exploited today in efforts to block progress toward an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.

Bar-Lev Line in the Jordan Valley

Yedioth Ahronoth, December 30 (p. 28) by Dov Weissglas (op-ed) -- The Israeli demand for a military presence in the Jordan Valley, irrespective of its complete rejection by the Palestinians, requires in-depth examination. Is it really necessary as a security need? Is an IDF force deployed along the seam between Jordan and the Palestinian state the proper security response to the risks on the Jordanian-Palestinian border?

Taking note of the growing constraints of the IDF--the enlistment rate, the participation in service by reservists, money, and the large number of other tasks and targets--it can be presumed that the military force assigned to guard the Jordan Valley (similarly to the force currently located there) would be small; the length of the Jordan Valley is about 250 kilometers, and so the force would be deployed in a discontinuous and sparse fashion.

What would it be intended for? Preventing terrorism? Not really. The Jordan Valley is almost unpopulated (with the exception of the Jericho area). Terrorism in the Jordan Valley has always been small in scale in comparison with other areas of Judea and Samaria; and the Israeli force would not be supposed to reach these other areas or serve in them in any case.

Would the force be intended to prevent an invasion into Israel? For many years, until 2003, Israel was greatly troubled by the size of the Iraqi ground forces, and the fear of an invasion was tangible; but not today. Once Iraq ceased to pose a military threat to Israel, there is no state or other military force east of the Jordan River that could invade Israel or pose a land-based military threat to Israel. Certainly not the kingdom of Jordan, which enjoys strong security ties with Israel.

If, heaven forbid, the kingdom of Jordan collapses and hostile forces penetrate its territory and the danger of attack by land is resumed; or if, heaven forbid, missile, rocket or shell fire starts from there, then the IDF, with its full force, will be required to carry out a serious military operation, either defensive or offensive. It will not be the garrison force, limited in its scale and capabilities, which will engage in this. In general, past experience shows that sparse military forces, deployed along a long defensive line, do not contribute to security. Usually they are busy defending themselves, as the IDF did in southern Lebanon and on Philadelphi Road. In case of a large-scale attack or invasion--small forward forces are trapped and suffer the first blow, as happened on the Bar-Lev line at the outbreak of the Yom Kippur War.

There is no doubt that Israel has a great interest in a properly sealed border between Jordan and the future Palestinian state, but a relatively small Israeli force--extended over hundreds of kilometers--is not the optimal means for achieving this. It should be remembered that the Jordanians and the Palestinians also have a great interest in preventing hostile infiltration into their territory; the clear congruence of interests in this context could lead to an Israeli-Jordanian-Palestinian military agreement, which would regulate the management of the border--including the construction of a sophisticated security fence and the manner in which it would be guarded on both sides.

A similar security arrangement was proposed in the peace plan of the former prime minister, Ehud Olmert (with the support of the US administration). It included, among other things, use of Israeli monitoring and warning facilities, an international military presence on the eastern bank of the Jordan River and other such security measures, but without an Israeli military presence in the Jordan Valley.

The above security plan--without an IDF presence in the Jordan Valley--was prepared by the security establishment and presented with its approval; today, reports indicate that the security establishment supports the prime minister's firm demand for a military presence in the Jordan Valley. What has changed? Not the reality. The prime minister has changed.