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The cost of Israeli sovereignty

The application of Israeli law to the Jordan Valley and parts of Judea and Samaria will bolster Israeli deterrence and advance the national security of the pro-U.S. Arab states.

An Israeli flag with a view of the Jordan Valley on June 14, 2020. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
An Israeli flag with a view of the Jordan Valley on June 14, 2020. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Yoram Ettinger
Yoram Ettinger

The suggestion that the application of the Israeli law to the Jordan Valley and parts of Judea and Samaria would severely undermine Israeli interests, jeopardize Israel’s peace treaties with Jordan and Egypt and Israel’s overall ties with Arab countries is divorced from the Israeli track record and Middle East reality.

Israel’s track record

The resurgence of the Jewish state from the ashes of World War II to global prominence, technologically, scientifically, medically, agriculturally, economically, diplomatically and militarily—despite systematic adverse global pressure and Arab wars and terrorism—has demonstrated that there are no free lunches for independent nations, especially in the Middle East.

For example, in 1948, Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s founding father, did not wait for a green light from the White House to declare independence. He was aware that a declaration of independence would trigger a costly Arab military invasion. The CIA estimated that it could amount to “a second Holocaust.” However, Ben-Gurion concluded that achieving a supreme goal was preconditioned upon the willingness to pay a supreme cost.

Indeed, the war against the Arab invasion consumed one percent (6,000) of the Jewish population (600,000). Fending off the Arab invasion, Israel expanded its borders by 30 percent, and would not retreat to the suicidal 1947 lines, despite brutal global (including U.S.) pressure. The pressure on Israel dissipated, but Israel’s buttressed borders were preserved.

In June 1967, Prime Minister Levi Eshkol preempted a planned Egypt-Syria-Jordan joint offensive, in defiance of a strong red light from the White House (“Israel will not be alone unless it decides to go alone”) and despite prominent Israelis who preferred the venue of negotiation and mediation and predicted a resounding Israeli defeat on the battlefield. Eshkol was aware that Israel’s existence, in the violently intolerant and unpredictable Middle East, required a firm posture of deterrence, which could entail heavy cost.

In the aftermath of the war, Eshkol reunited Jerusalem and renewed Jewish presence beyond the 1949/1967 indefensible Green Line, in spite of very heavy U.S. and global pressure. While the pressure on Israel has subsided, the Jewish presence in Judea, Samaria and eastern Jerusalem has surged to 700,000.

In June 1981, Prime Minister Menachem Begin ordered the destruction of Iraq’s nuclear reactor, notwithstanding the menacing red light from the White House and the opposition by the Mossad, IDF intelligence and additional Israeli defense authorities. The naysayers were certain that an Israeli attack had a very slim chance of success. They feared that this would trigger a global Islamic assault on Israel; it would produce a European boycott of Israel, create an irreparable rift with the United States and doom Israel, economically and diplomatically. Begin decided that sparing Israel a nuclear assault justified even such a cost. While the pessimistic assessments crashed on the rocks of reality, the Iraqi nuclear threat was terminated.

In December 1981, Begin applied Israeli law to the Golan Heights, disregarding the brutal U.S. opposition, which included the suspension of a U.S.-Israel strategic accord and the supply of advanced military systems. While the heavy U.S. sanctions were replaced by an unprecedented U.S.-Israel strategic cooperation, the Golan Heights have become an integral part of the Jewish state.

The aforementioned Israeli premiers defied international pressure, and therefore were burdened with a short-term loss of global popularity. However, they earned long-term respect for their willingness to defy the odds at severe cost. Thus, they bolstered Israel’s posture of deterrence, which has played a key role in enhancing Israel’s national security and Israel’s regional/global standing, including its unprecedented military and commercial cooperation with all pro-U.S. Arab countries.

Middle East reality (Israel-Arab relations)

Conventional wisdom is that an Israeli application of its law to the Jordan Valley and parts of Judea and Samaria would threaten the Israel-Jordan and Israel-Egypt peace treaties, and could abort the burgeoning relations between Israel and all Arab Gulf States. This school of thought underestimates key Arab national security priorities, which have always transcended the Palestinian issue. It ignores the significant role played by Israel’s posture of deterrence in the national security strategy of Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, Oman and Kuwait.

For example, the 1994 Israel-Jordan peace treaty reflects Jordanian national security priorities, rather than a Jordanian reconciliation with the existence of an “infidel” Jewish state in the “abode of Islam.”

Just like all Arab regimes—and especially since the eruption of the still raging “Arab Tsunami” in 2010—the pro-U.S. regime in Amman is highly vulnerable, domestically and regionally.

Irrespective of its pro-Palestinian rhetoric, Jordan’s actions—since 1949 when it occupied Judea and Samaria, while prohibiting Palestinian political activity—have represented the overall Arab view of the Palestinians as a role model of intra-Arab subversion and terrorism.

Jordan’s Hashemite regime considers the proposed Palestinian state a clear and present lethal threat. At the same time, it considers Israel’s posture of deterrence as its most effective line of defense against lethal threats, domestically (subversion by Palestinians, Muslim Brotherhood, Islamic State and hostile southern Bedouin) and externally (Iran’s ayatollahs, Iraq and Syria).

King Abdullah II is aware of the key role played by Israel’s posture of deterrence in forcing a retreat of the 1970 Syrian invasion of Jordan, when the United States was unable to extend military help.

Jordan considers Israel a unique source of intelligence and counter-terrorism assistance. Israel supplies water to the 1.5 million refugees from Syria, provides Jordan with commercial access to the port of Haifa and price-discounted offshore natural gas. Moreover, Israel is the most effective lobby for Jordan in Washington, D.C. In addition, Israel has accorded Jordan a prominent inter-Islamic plum: the custodian of Jerusalem’s Muslim and Christian holy sites.

Is King Abdullah II expected to cut off his nose to spite his face?

Saudi Arabia and the other Arab Gulf states, as well as Egypt, regard Israel as a most reliable and effective ally in the face of mutual threats, such as Iran’s ayatollahs, the Muslim Brotherhood, ISIS, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and potential tectonic spillovers from Iraq and Syria.

This Saudi-Israel congruence of national security interests eclipses the role played by the Palestinian issue in Riyadh’s order of national priorities. Furthermore, Saudi Arabia appreciates the Israeli technological and potential scientific contribution to its effort to diversify its oil-dependent economy.

In fact, Riyadh considers the proposed Palestinian state a potential rogue regime, siding with its arch enemies. Hence, the effective Saudi opposition (contrary to its rhetoric) to the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Thus, the national security concerns of the pro-U.S. Arab countries is advanced by a reinforced Israeli posture of deterrence. On the other hand, a hesitant, appeasing and retreating Israel, which sacrifices its independence of national security action on the altar of overseas green lights, whets the appetite of terrorists and rogue regimes, which threatens the national security of Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and all other pro-U.S. Arab countries, thus undermining vital U.S. interests.

Yoram Ettinger is a former ambassador and head of Second Thought: A U.S.-Israel Initiative.

This article was first published by The Ettinger Report.

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