Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said repeatedly that Israel must maintain a military presence in the Jordan valley as a buffer to stop attacks on Israel. But a senior Palestinian security expert disagrees.
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“No Israeli military presence means no problems,” retired Major General Wasef Eriqat told The Media Line. “Only a peace deal with Palestinians will stop terrorist attacks (on Israel).”
Eriqat, a former senior Palestinian military commander, says that Israel’s claims that a strong Israeli army presence would prevent attacks is simply “not true.”
The former Palestinian Deputy Minister of Interior says in today’s world, borders are less important than in the past.
As an example, he cities Saddam Hussein launching of Scud missiles in the 1991 Gulf War that flew over Syria, Jordan and the West Bank to hit Tel Aviv. He also mentions the 2006 second Lebanon war in which Hizbullah fired dozens of missiles into Israel.
Some Israeli experts agree with Eriqat.
“The threat is no longer a terrorist coming to kill someone from the Jordan Valley but missiles from Iran and Iraq,” Ronnie Shaked, a Palestinian expert at Hebrew University told The Media Line. “There is no strategic importance to the Jordan Valley.”
But others say that continued Israeli control of the area is more important now than ever before.
“The Jordan valley is critically important for Israel from a security viewpoint because it sits astride the border with Jordan,” Jeff Daube, director of the Israel office of Zionist organization of America, told The Media Line. We have to retain the Jordan valley -- it is a natural tank trap. Even former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin said that Israel must keep the Jordan valley.”
Rabin signed the 1993 Oslo peace accords with the Palestinians, which called for Israeli withdrawal from much of the West Bank.
Eriqat said that if Israel left the Jordan valley, Palestinian security forces would take responsibility. Currently, the 50,000 – 60,000 Palestinian policemen have only small arms – mostly Kalashnikovs. But he said, with the right materials and equipment that could come with statehood, it will be allowed to do more than just police the streets.
“The same job Israel is doing along its’ borders, with tanks and aircraft, a Palestinian army can do,” he said.
Palestinians say they will need security as much as Israel because terrorist groups in the West Bank threaten the stability of the Palestinian security forces and could undermine a Palestinian state’s ability to govern.
Since the very beginning, Israel has demanded that any Palestinian state be a demilitarized –a demand the retired Major General calls unrealistic. Eriqat says that should the Palestinian leadership give in to this demand, it would not be in the interests of Israel.
“The Palestinians will not be able to protect the borders and thus will not fulfill its responsibilities,” he said. “Security for both peoples and land will not be achieved.”
Several Israeli generals and military analysts have said recently that an Israeli presence in the Jordan valley is not a guarantee for future stability.
He adds that Palestinians are confident their security would keep the peace following any signed agreement. Jordan as well is interested in the area staying quiet.
“It’s been quiet for 40 years,” says Eriqat. “Jordan has played a large role role in preventing attacks and weapons smuggling into the West Bank.”
Article written by Abdullah H. Erakat
Reprinted with permission from The Media Line