U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is visiting our region again. Borders are a core issue and the main component of any framework deal between us and the Palestinians, and Kerry knows that Israel has a proven right — historically and internationally — to defensible borders, either through U.N. Resolution 242 or through former U.S. President George W. Bush’s letter of recognition in 2004. Members of Bush’s own party signed the letter, which discussed America’s commitment to “secure, defensible borders, and to preserve and strengthen Israel’s capability to deter and defend itself, by itself, against any threat or possible combination of threats.”
The need for defensible borders is getting stronger. Israel is not weak, but it is small and narrow and therefore vulnerable: 70 percent of the population and 80% of our industrial manufacturing capabilities are concentrated along a narrow coastal plain controlled from the east by the hills of Judea and Samaria. Considering these geostrategic conditions, the history of hostility toward the Jewish state, the chronic lack of stability in the Middle East and the developments in recent years — the Arab winter, the Iranian nuclear threat and the unrelenting terrorism — Israel needs to have some security buffers.
The first security buffer is basic strategic depth, which has become even more important in an era of missiles and rockets threatening our population centers and hindering our ability to call up our reserve forces. Therefore, we need land and aerial depth, both for the deployment of warning and interception infrastructure and systems and to provide operational room for the standing army, which will have to perform alone for longer until the reserve forces can join — not only to stop the enemy in its tracks but also to neutralize his ability to launch rockets and missiles at the Israeli home front. The increasing threat posed by regional nuclearization only highlights the need for the strategic depth to deploy warning and interception systems. Is 40 miles, which is the average distance between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, too much to ask for?
Secondly, we must maintain defensive depth, which allows us to wage a defensive battle against outside threats. For years it was claimed that there is no threat, that there is no “eastern front.” Today we know the bloody civil war in Syria will go on even if Bashar Assad’s chemical weapons stockpiles are destroyed, that in Jordan there are 1.2 million Syrian refugees and a radical Islamist opposition comprising tens of thousands of global jihadist terrorists that have flowed into the region, that the situation in Iraq is an ongoing cause for concern and that Iran is continuing to establish forward operating bases across the globe. Shall we continue to ignore the possibility that an eastern front can emerge?
Finally, we must maintain an anti-terrorism buffer. We see what happened in Gaza and Lebanon after we left “up to the very last centimeter.” Only an Israeli presence along the eastern environs of the West Bank will facilitate the implementation of a demilitarized Palestinian entity, which, it is known, is one of the basic conditions put forth by Israel before agreeing to “two states for two peoples.”
The Jordan Valley is the answer — it provides the minimum vital strategic depth, it is a defensive strip against outside threats and allows the fight against terrorism to be effective. Full Israeli sovereignty in the Jordan Valley will negate the need for pointless discussions over security arrangements — give us sovereignty and we will tend to our security needs. Even those who are prepared for less understand that there is no technological system replacement for a defensive buffer and that we cannot trust foreign forces to protects the lives of our soldiers and be the first to retreat during a crisis. The entire Jordan Valley, under complete Israeli control, is Israel’s eastern border.
Maj. Gen. (res.) Uzi Dayan is a former IDF deputy chief of general staff and former head of the National Security Council.