Generals Dismiss Jordan Valley as Strategic Asset

Shepherds walk with their flock of sheep in the Jordan Valley.(AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)
Shepherds walk with their flock of sheep in the Jordan Valley.(AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

Amid a heated dispute over Israel’s insistence on a continued military presence in the Jordan Valley as part of any peace agreement with the Palestinians, three former IDF generals told The Jerusalem Post this week that the region’s security value was overrated.

The retired generals, all members of the Council for Peace and Security, argued that the Valley is not as important to national defense as it once was.

Maj.-Gen. (res.) Shlomo Brom, former director of the Strategic Planning Division of the General Staff and a senior researcher at the Institute for National Security Studies, called for “leaving the slogans behind” and recognizing that the threat of invasion from the east by conventional Arab forces faded by the early 1980s, and by now “the reality has changed completely.”

“Neither Iraq nor Iran pose a threat on the ground, and the Gulf Arab states and Jordan are not interested in a war. The possiblity of Syria striking at Israel through Jordan is also virtually non-existent.

“Developing threats should be struck well before they reach the Jordan Valley, he added. “It [the Valley] is today an artificial strategic asset,” he said.

“My impression is that even [Prime Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu and [Defense Minister Moshe] Yaalon understand this.”

Regarding the potential danger of terrorist infiltration and weapons smuggling through the Jordan Valley, he asserted that a third party, like NATO, could police the border passages.

“In the first years, Israel must be there to see what is happening. If things works out, it can relinquish control to a third party,” he added.

Maj.-Gen. (res.) Nati Sharoni, former IDF Southern Command chief of staff and ex-chief of the military’s Planning Directorate, added that “the Jordanian side has an interest to prevent weapons smuggling.”

“If we’re wrong, it would take the IDF a maximum of 48 hours to get a division to the Jordan Valley. And this is a reserves division, not a regular division, that would take much less time,” Sharoni said.

Brig.-Gen. (res.) Gadi Zohar, former head of the Terrorism Arena for Military Intelligence and current president of the Council for Peace and Security, stressed that the IDF would have to remain in the valley during the initial stage. “If we see that the agreement works, we can move to the next stage. Israel’s sensitivity to this is understandable.”

The emphasis on the Jordan Valley is political, contends Zohar. “Those who do not want an agreement speak of keeping the Jordan Valley. When you start peeling away the significance of that, you realize that if Israel offered land swaps in exchange for keeping the Jordan Valley, it would give the PA enough land to get to Beit Shean. That’s untenable.”

“We need a clean security discussion, and time, to see if an agreement works,” he added.