Where is Israel’s Eastern Border?

With the Knesset vote on West Bank annexation coming up on July 1, many are putting forward their arguments for or against annexation. One argument I have often heard in favor of annexing the Jordan Valley is that it will always need to be Israel’s eastern border due to its strategic importance.

I have written about how Israel’s security needs in regards to the Jordan Valley can be met through security arrangements under a two-state agreement with the Palestinians and why annexing it may actually lead to more security consequences in the long-run, such as losing security cooperation with the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. However, recently, I learned that the security consequences of annexation may go even deeper.

For the past few months, I have attended several webinars featuring former Israeli military generals from Commanders for Israel’s Security (CIS) and elsewhere who have discussed why they believe annexation will jeopardize Israel’s security. One unique point many of them brought up was how annexation may result in Israel losing what they believe to be its true eastern border.

Indeed, many retired Israeli military generals I have listened to recently, such as (res.) Avi Mizrahi and (res.) Amos Gilead, have argued that Israel’s effective eastern border is not the Jordan Valley, nor will it be the 1967 borders under a two-state solution. Rather, they emphasized that Israel’s eastern security buffer is, in fact, the Jordanian-Iraqi border.

Again, Israel has greatly benefited from its peace agreement with Jordan where they have robust security collaboration in regards to the Jordan Valley, but their cooperation goes even further than that. Although Israel does not actually have any sovereignty over the border, security cooperation with Amman has granted Israel access to Jordan’s eastern border with Iraq. This allows Jerusalem to both monitor and intercept the movement of Iranian forces and their loyal militias along the Iraqi border. As (res.) Ami Ayalon, (res.) Tamir Pardo, and (res.) Gadi Shamni wrote in a Foreign Policy article in April, “(Jordan’s) vast territory has provided Israel with irreplaceable strategic depth allowing for the deterrence, detection, and interception—on the ground and in the air—of hostile forces, primarily from Iran.”

However, as many Israeli generals and security officials have warned, annexation will risk terminating the Israeli-Jordanian peace agreement and, along with it, Israeli-Jordanian security cooperation. Back in May, King Abdullah of Jordan publicly warned that he may have to suspend Amman’s peace treaty with Jerusalem if it moves forward with annexing large parts of the West Bank. One should not dismiss this warning as a bluff. Jordan has a substantial Palestinian population, making any controversial moves in the West Bank more sensitive for their population. Jordan is also already experiencing significant instability by coping with an influx of Syrian refugees and mass protests over tax reforms, and, therefore, cannot afford to face more domestic backlash by preserving an unpopular peace agreement with Israel after annexation.

Some might argue that Israel could live without a peace treaty with Jordan because it no longer poses a threat to Israel. While it is true that Jordan is unlikely to enter another war with Israel after suspending their peace agreement, they will still have to cut off some of their communication and cooperation with Israel, including granting Jerusalem access to Jordan’s border with Iraq. In other words, the security cost of losing the peace treaty with Amman does not come from a risk of war with Jordan itself, but rather from Israel losing access to the Jordanian-Iraqi border.

As General Mizrahi said in a webinar with the Israel Policy Forum, “I’m not afraid from the Jordanian military or army. They cannot harm us. But…the real border that we have to secure is the eastern border between Jordan and Iraq…the Iranians are looking to have a land passage from Iran via Iraq to Jordan to confront us at the border and we are dealing with this border for the last few years…with the Jordanians…Now having jeopardizing the peace treaty with the Jordanians would not be a smart move from our side.”

Israel’s inability to detect or intercept the movement of Iranian and other Shia forces along the Jordanian-Iraqi border may leave Israel even more vulnerable given how much it would have to invest in the West Bank after annexation. Many Israeli military generals have also warned that annexing large parts of the West Bank would likely lead to the collapse of the Palestinian Authority. In that event, CIS projects that Israel would need to draft an additional 20,000-30,000 IDF reserves to cope with the ensuing power vacuums throughout the West Bank. However, that would significantly impair Israel’s ability to secure its borders with Lebanon and Syria from hostile actors. As a result, annexation would not only limit Israel’s ability to monitor and prevent the movement of Iranian and Shia forces throughout the region, but would also severely limit Israel’s capacity to defend its borders once the Iranians and their allies arrive there.

Israel certainly faces many legitimate security threats throughout the region, but they do not necessarily need to expand their sovereignty in order to expand their security buffers. Security cooperation with the Palestinian Authority and other regional partners like the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan have shown that Israel can expand its ability to defend itself throughout the region without needing to physically extend its borders through annexation.

About the Author
Jonah Naghi is a double major in psychology and Middle East Studies at Clark University.
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