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Ephraim Sneh Headshot

Why Israel Will Not Need Massive Forces in the Jordan Valley

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As Secretary of State Kerry prepares a framework agreement for Israelis and Palestinians that will address the question of a military presence on the western bank of the Jordan River, some Israeli leaders have argued vigorously for the Israel Defense Forces to be massively positioned there for decades.

As a former Israeli deputy defense minister and general, I also always believed that the IDF presence along the Jordan River must be a security component in every agreement with the Palestinians. This was predicated on Israel's need to defend itself from the east and guarantee the demilitarization of the West Bank.

But I have updated my thinking on the way this defense can be implemented. Three developments, two technological and the third political, now enable Israel to protect its security requirements in a way that will not deny the Palestinians' need for sovereignty, which would impede any agreement with them.

The first advance is in the IDF's ability, which it did not have in the past, to locate targets at great distances and destroy them with great accuracy. The second is in the area of biometric identification and computer communication abilities of intelligence data bases. Today, as a result, terror suspects can be located in airports and border crossings, their information can be checked and they can be arrested, all within seconds.

The significance of these two technological developments is that any attempt to bring offensive weapons from Jordan into the boundaries of a Palestinian state can be prevented with a fatal and accurate hit and any hostile deployment against Israel on the eastern bank of the Jordan River can be targeted -- all without deploying armored IDF divisions along the Jordan River. That can be done, if necessary, within very few hours. The other important significance stems from the ability today, through quick and certain identification, to prevent the entry of terrorists into the West Bank.

When we take into account Israel's new capability to stop hostile forces by identifying and striking them from distances of tens of kilometers, and the sophisticated control at border crossings, it becomes clear that the Israeli presence along the Jordan Valley border can be reduced to such dimensions that the Palestinians will be able to digest it.

But while technology is important, it is not enough to shape the new security reality required for Israel's defense. The third development, the political one, is the one which will allow a new security protocol on Israel's eastern border. What has been clarified in recent years beyond any doubt is that Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Jordan share the same enemies: global Jihad, the Salafi organizations and the Muslim Brotherhood, which Hamas is part of. All of them together and each one separately pose a concrete, dangerous threat to the Hashemite Kingdom, to the Palestinian state and to the State of Israel.

The acknowledgement of the shared enemy has yielded productive security cooperation between Israel and Jordan and between Israel and the Palestinian Authority's security forces. The political leaderships in Israel and the Palestinian Authority refuse to admit this publicly, each for its own internal reasons. But in closed forums, the heads of the Israeli defense establishment compliment the cooperation with the PA's security forces. However, this relationship is jeopardized each time the prospects for a peace agreement grow dim.

The main opponents in Israel of every permanent agreement with the Palestinians raise the banner of the old school that was right at one time: Deploying IDF divisions along the Jordan River is an imperative condition for the permanent agreement. In so doing, they seek to thwart the agreement by using a security argument around which they can generate wide national agreement. But that rationale is no longer valid.

If the new abilities of the IDF and intelligence systems are integrated into a three-way security coordination system -- Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian -- it will be possible to reach an agreed settlement on the eastern border, which will be safe for Israel and accepted by its neighbors. An agreement based on existential interests shared by the three states is immeasurably more efficient than foreign forces which are not defending their own country here.

This post is adapted from an opinion piece published in the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Aharanot.