Oct. 17, 2019
American Withdrawal and the Future of Israeli Security – Dore Gold (American Interest)
America’s withdrawal from the Middle East validates the long-standing Israeli view that it must not rely on external guarantees, but rather do what’s necessary to defend itself, by itself. This applies especially to the discussion over Israel’s retention of the Jordan Valley.
Israel captured the valley and the rest of the West Bank from Jordan in the 1967 Six-Day War. UN Security Council Resolution 242 did not insist upon a full Israeli withdrawal to the old armistice lines. Britain’s Ambassador to the UN at the time, Lord Caradon, who helped draft 242, commented on PBS: “We all knew – the boundaries of ’67 were not drawn as permanent frontiers.”
Immediately after the Six-Day War, Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Yigal Allon, who in 1948 had served as the commander of the pre-state Palmach strike force, became the architect of a string of mostly agricultural settlements in the Jordan Valley and along the hills that dominate it. Today, nearly 30 Israeli communities are situated in this area. Allon’s map became known as the Allon Plan.
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) are structured around mostly reserve units. To match the quantitative superiority of its neighbors, Israel has to mobilize its reserve forces, which requires up to 48 hours. The terrain Israel captured in the West Bank, particularly in the Jordan Valley, provided Israel with a formidable barrier for the first time that would allow the IDF to buy the precious time it needed to complete its reserve call-up. The lowest parts of the Jordan Valley and its mountain ridge form a virtual strategic wall 4,500 feet high.
Even after the Oslo Agreements were signed in 1993, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin reiterated a vision for a final peace settlement that kept the Jordan Valley under Israel: “The security border of the State of Israel will be located in the Jordan Valley, in the widest meaning of that term.” What he had in mind was Israel continuing to control the high ground along the eastern slopes of the mountain ridge that descended down to the Jordan River.
The Jordan Valley is to the West Bank what the Philadelphi Route was to Gaza. This refers to the border zone between Gaza and Egyptian Sinai. After Israel’s Gaza Disengagement in 2005, Palestinian rocket attacks on Israel shot up as Palestinian terror organizations smuggled enormous quantities of rockets through tunnels under the border into Gaza. Three wars resulted from this escalation in Palestinian rocket fire.
Israeli public opinion has clearly internalized the importance of the Jordan Valley for Israeli security. In the last decade, as many as 81% of Israeli voters agreed that in any peace arrangement Israel must preserve its sovereignty over the Jordan Valley.
Dore Gold is President of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. Previously, he served as Director-General of the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs as well as Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations.