When Israel conducted Operation Defensive Shield (March 29-May 3, 2002) in the West Bank to halt a wave of suicide bombing attacks on its cities, it was able to seal the territory from any external reinforcement, leading to a far more decisive result than in the case of Gaza. Shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles may have entered the Gaza Strip, but no such weaponry reached the West Bank.
The robust capabilities of jihadist forces in combating conventional armies were demonstrated by al-Qaeda’s offshoots in the Middle East. Islamist insurgents in Syria succeeded in defeating entire units of the Syrian army and effectively used anti-tank weapons against Syrian armor.
It was Britain that helped draft UN Security Council Resolution 242 in the aftermath of the Six-Day War. In fact, the British ambassador to the UN in 1967, Lord Caradon, admitted on PBS:“We did not say there should be a withdrawal to the ‘67 line….We all knew – the boundaries of ‘67 were not drawn as permanent frontiers.”
Israel has always based its security in the Jordan Valley on preserving a right of reinforcement in the event that a new scale of threat emerges to the east. This requires that Israel hold on to deployment areas which it may need in the event that those scenarios occur.
Jordan is a special factor in Israeli considerations. Any negotiation over the sensitive Jordan Valley requires close consultation with the Jordanian leadership. In the past, there was a concern in Amman with Palestinian irredentism, which could lead to Palestinian claims to Jordan itself from a West Bank Palestinian state. Moreover, the Sinai precedent must be uppermost in the minds of Jordanian planners. When it became clear that the outer perimeter of the Gaza Strip was completely open through the Philadelphi Route, hosts of jihadi movements relocated to Egyptian Sinai, creating a direct security threat to Egypt itself. Some of the most lethal al-Qaeda affiliates in Sinai relied on Gaza connections.
Ironically, Israeli vulnerability undermined the internal security of Israel’s largest Arab neighbor. That is a process that Israel cannot allow again in the Jordanian case. For that reason, Israel’s continuing control of the Jordan Valley is not only important for its security, but for regional security more broadly.