by Uzi Dayan
What is the meaning of the chaos unfolding in Iraq? Two day after Mosul was overrun by the Salafi terror group the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, Tikrit -- the birthplace of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and of the legendary Saladin -- fell as well. Sunnis are now in control of areas stretching from the Iraqi capital of Baghdad to the Syrian city of Aleppo; and as the Iraqi military's response falters, Kurdish forces have taken over Kirkuk.
Washington has pledged its assistance, Turkey has called for an emergency NATO session, and according to media reports, Iran has dispatched a Revolutionary Guards force to aid the struggling Iraqi regime. The Middle East, it seems, has once again plunged into turmoil.
This kind of regional uncertainty usually calls for exercising two rules: the first, be prepared to counter the enemy's capabilities, not his intentions; and the second, vigilantly protect your strategic assets, especially your defensible borders.
Defensible borders must afford Israel basic strategic depth and protection against the threat of conventional warfare, as well as the ability to fight terror.
In the southern sector, largely thanks to the demilitarization of Sinai, and in the northern sector, thanks to Israel's adamant refusal to cede the Golan Heights, Israel has defensible borders. The eastern sector however, only has one border that meets Israel's security needs -- the one stretching across the Jordan Rift Valley.
The distance between the Jordan Rift Valley and the Mediterranean Sea is 64 kilometers (40 miles), making for only minimal strategic depth. The valley, between the Jordan River and the hills overlooking it from the west, constitutes an irreplaceable defense theater against a potential eastern front. Only the valley can serve as a protective buffer against a potential terrorist entity in Judea and Samaria.
An outlook for the immediate future projects several potential scenarios: jihadist terrorism will stretch beyond Syria; Hamas is eyeing a takeover of the Palestinian Authority; Iraq's disintegration will continue and it will be split between Sunni groups; the Kurds may declare independence (which is good for Israel), and the Shiites will join forces with Iran which, for its part, will continue to make a mockery of the West as it bolsters its nuclear arsenal.
Facing these realities, can those who claim that "topography and territorial control are virtually meaningless in a modern, technological world," that "there is no 'eastern front' and there never will be," and that "only peace will bring security," be certain that taking an uncalculated risk and ceding, even if partially, security control over the Jordan Rift Valley, is such a good idea?
The situation in Iraq is difficult and confusing but one thing is certain -- only full Israeli control over the entire Jordan Rift Valley, as a security zone running along the Jordanian border, will afford Israel true security.
Maj. Gen. (res.) Uzi Dayan is a former IDF deputy chief of staff and former head of the National Security Council.
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