1. Wouldn’t American troops, or even a NATO contingent, perform better than UN forces? Americans won’t run like the UN soldiers if they are fired upon.
The Jerusalem Center video on international forces actually addresses a number of scenarios, from UN forces to Western units and even the deployment of a U.S. contingent. Clearly a UN force is the weakest in the minds of Israelis. But Western military units have also posed problems for Israelis who want a force they can rely on.
For example, after the Second Lebanon War in 2006, UNIFIL was reinforced with Western military units and officers, making it closer in composition to a NATO force. The idea was to deploy more reliable forces than those that had been deployed in southern Lebanon previously. However, these European units, which continue to patrol southern Lebanon today, have not prevented Hizbullah from rearming.
The video also refers to the deployment of multinational forces in Beirut in 1983, which included British, French, Italian, and U.S. units. Hizbullah targeted the U.S. and French headquarters of this force on October 23, 1983, with two truck bombs; the Americans and the French withdrew their forces from Lebanon within six months. What this case shows is that terrorist organizations seek to target Western military forces in order to break the will of the state that dispatched them and cause them to withdraw from the Middle East.
In another pertinent example: al-Qaeda struck in Madrid, Spain, in 2004, and in doing so got the Spanish government to withdraw from Iraq. In other words, it is not only UN forces that are unreliable, but NATO forces as well.
As for the issue of U.S. troops in particular, Israel has been extremely reluctant to ask the United States to risk the lives of its troops for Israel’s defense. Israel is proud of the fact that it was never like West Germany and South Korea in the Cold War, where the United States put its forces on the front lines for their defense. If Israel were to alter that dynamic, the U.S.-Israel relationship would fundamentally change. Israel wants to defend itself by itself.
2. Israel has signed peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan. The Iraqi military is no longer a threat. Isn’t the Israeli demand to retain control of the Jordan Valley based on an outdated threat assessment?
True, Jordan is not a threat to Israel, and the two countries have a peace treaty dating back to 1994. But no one can predict what will happen to the Middle East in three or five years from now. In any event, Jordan never posed a primary strategic problem for Israel. In fact, Israel’s real concern was the states to Jordan’s east and north that have sought to use Jordanian territory as a platform for attacking Israel. The Iraqi-Jordanian border is only 210 miles from the Jordan River – about as far apart as New York and Washington, D.C.
In 1948 and 1967, Iraqi ground forces passed through Jordan on their way to attack Israel. In 1973, an Iraqi expeditionary army crossed Syria and engaged Israel on the Golan Heights. Israel must not base its defense concept on a snapshot of its present security problems, but rather it must take into account that the threats of the past could return, once the instability of the Arab Spring passes.
Granted, today the conventional threat to Israel has diminished, for now, but there is a growing terrorist threat that must be addressed. Iran is actively seeking to convert Iraq into a satellite state. Iran has imported Hizbullah units from Lebanon in order to train Iraqi Shia militias. Israel must take into account this Hizbullah challenge to the east in upcoming years. It is difficult to predict what will happen to the militias currently fighting in Syria, but Israel would be short-sighted if it ignored the threat of al-Qaeda elements, such as Jabhat al-Nusra, operating against it from the east.
If Israel withdraws its military from the Jordan Valley, terrorist groups will increase their efforts to smuggle advanced weapons through the area in order to reinforce Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the West Bank. Without the Israeli army presence to stop them, the Jordan Valley could become a new "Philadelphi Route" – the corridor along the Gaza-Sinai border through which missiles and other weaponry have been smuggled. The Jordanian army will try to thwart these operations from its territory, but with a new vacuum emerging in the Jordan Valley after an Israeli withdrawal, Jordan would have a difficult time dealing with the massive increase in smuggling activity.
It’s not only Islamist sympathizers who will participate in weapons smuggling, but anybody who is looking to profit from arms sales. If Israel were to pull out of the Jordan Valley, then many of the weapons that are now present in the Gaza Strip, such as shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles, would make their way into the West Bank.
3. How relevant is controlling territory, given that the main threats facing Israel today are asymmetrical in nature – i.e., terrorist groups and guerrilla warfare, or from missiles that can fly over any strategic terrain?
Conventional armies still play the decisive role in winning wars in modern times. The United States only defeated Saddam Hussein in 1991 and 2003 when its armies moved into Iraq, not by the bombing of Iraqi targets with cruise missiles.
Israeli forces have been deployed in the Jordan Valley with the idea that a small Israeli standing force can use the steep terrain in order to hold off an invading army while Israel’s reserve forces are being mobilized. If Israel is faced with ballistic missile attacks, the IDF reserves will take longer to mobilize, and the small standing force on the front lines would have to fight for an extended period of time without reinforcements. Advantageous terrain would be vital for such a defensive campaign. Therefore, even in the missile era, Israel still requires the Jordan Valley for its defense, should it face a restoration of the conventional military threat to the east.
4. If Israel retains control of the Jordan Valley, how is a two-state solution possible?
Israel has been seeking ways to protect its vital security interests while at the same time still allowing for a political solution. For that reason, Israel has spoken about deploying Israeli forces in the Jordan Valley without necessarily demanding Israeli sovereignty in the area. Many countries accept foreign forces in their midst, such as Germany, where U.S. forces are deployed to this day. With creativity at the negotiating table, Israel and the Palestinians can reach an agreement that addresses their political needs, while leaving Israel secure.
5. I thought that al-Qaeda operates in Pakistan or in Yemen, but does it actually have a presence in Gaza, as the video asserts? How likely is al-Qaeda to become a factor in Israel’s security?
Back on February 26, 2008, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told the Arabic daily al-Hayat that al-Qaeda was present in Gaza. One such al-Qaeda affiliate in Gaza is Jaish al-Islam which, the Egyptians charged, was involved in a January 2011 attack on a Coptic Church in Alexandria. Letters found by the Navy SEAL team that killed Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan, revealed that Jaish al-Islam was in fact in communication with the al-Qaeda leadership since 2006.
The main al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra, has published a book entitled Regional War Strategy for the Land of the Levant. The book clearly states that the organization is not focused on Syria alone: “Syria is the key to a change on the Arab world and afterwards the Islamic world.”