A few weeks ago, Benjamin Netanyahu made a pre-election promise about the Jordan Valley, obtained by Israel during the Six-Day War. His statement, misreported as an intention to annex the territory—instead he spoke of applying Israeli sovereignty to parts of it—raised a predictable hue and cry. But, notes Gershon Hacohen, the statement was perfectly in keeping with the thinking of Israeli leaders from Levi Eshkol to Yitzḥak Rabin, and is rooted in the Jewish state’s strategic needs. Hacohen explains the flaws in the thinking that in 2000 led then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak to deviate from this position:
After the peace treaty with Jordan in 1994, and especially after the collapse of Saddam Hussein’s army in the Iraq war (2003), it has been increasingly argued that the threat of an eastern front has passed and controlling the Jordan Valley is no longer crucial to Israel’s security. Even [in 1994], this argument was divorced from a basic understanding of the phenomenon of war.
Since that time, in light of the lessons of the [second intifada], the “Arab Spring,” Hizballah’s enormous missile arsenal, and the strengthening of . . . Hamas, as well as Tehran’s growing expansionism—which [could give Iran the potential to] deploy Shiite militias in a new front along Israel’s main [north-south] artery (Highway 6)—the Jordan Valley’s status as a vital Israeli security interest has only increased.
Most [Israeli] advocates of a Palestinian state say it will be demilitarized and unable to threaten Israel’s security. During the Oslo years, the PLO feigned acceptance of demilitarization and signed a number of agreements to this specific effect, only to violate them flagrantly as the West Bank and Gaza were transformed into hothouses of terror. The failure of the UN forces in Lebanon . . . to prevent Hizballah from arming itself in the south of that country shows why proposals to deploy international forces in a similar role in the Jordan Valley cannot guarantee a true demilitarization. Thus the Jordan Valley, as a buffer zone controlled by the IDF, is an existential necessity when it comes to Israel’s security.
In addition to the security issue, the Jordan Valley in its full geographical scope can house millions of Israelis and provide a location for national infrastructure that cannot be compressed into the coastal plain. . . . In an era of peace, a developed infrastructure of roads [there] could once again turn the Land of Israel into a vital land bridge between Asia and Africa.