Former Mossad chief Meir Dagan said over the weekend that Israeli control over the Jordan Valley is not essential for Israel’s security.
Dagan made the statement in a public forum in Kfar Saba, the Maariv newspaper reported on Sunday.
He also suggested that Israel may have an interest in keeping Hamas alive as a force in the region, and speculated that US Secretary of State John Kerry’s commitment to an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal is motivated by his presidential hopes for 2016, according to the report.
Dagan rejected out of hand the argument of many Israeli leaders and other former security officials that Israel must maintain control over the Jordan Valley in order to defend its eastern frontier. The argument, Dagan said, was a “manipulative use of security issues” for political ends.
“I have no problem with the political demand that the Jordan Valley should be part of the State of Israel,” he said. “That position is permitted. What bothers me is that it is being presented as some sort of security problem.”
Israel’s insistence on a military presence in the Jordan Valley, a condition that the Palestinians flatly reject, is considered one of the major sticking points in current peace negotiations.
“There is no longer an Iraqi army,” Dagan argued. “There is no eastern front. There is peace with Jordan. I don’t like the talk that the Jordan Valley is critical for Israel’s security.”
The hour-and-a-half Friday night meeting at which he spoke was organized by the Majdi Forum, a local Kfar Saba grassroots organization that brings public figures from all over the country to meet with the town’s residents in a relaxed surrounding.
At the forum, Dagan accused Kerry of using the peace talks as political fodder for his own personal ambitions.
“In my opinion, Kerry’s efforts are related to his desire to campaign for the US presidency,” Dagan said. “I didn’t see too much involvement by the previous secretary of state in the peace process. I didn’t see President Obama involved in a very significant way. I don’t get the feeling that this is a significant milestone in the American worldview. I get the impression that it is an effort related to Kerry himself.”
Kerry arrived last Thursday for his tenth visit to Israel in under a year to hold a further round of talks aimed at breathing new life into languishing peace negotiations.
Dagan observed that the peace talks are dogged by a lack of faith on the part of Israel and the Palestinians due to the experience of previous agreements.
“We have an inherent strategic problem with mistrust by the Israeli public [of the Palestinians],” he said. “We are required to give tangible assets to the Palestinians. That is to say, land that you can actually touch. In practice, what we get in return is a piece of paper. The level of trustworthiness and of upholding previous agreements that were signed with them [the Palestinians] is very problematic.”
Dagan argued that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas doesn’t have what it takes to make a significant change in his demands for a final peace agreement. A possible solution, he suggested, is to circumvent the Palestinians and instead work directly with the Arab League.
“In my opinion the right way to solve the problem with the Palestinians is not with the Palestinians themselves,” he said. “Rather, come to some sort of an agreement in which you talk with the Arab League, and raise it as though it is a proposal from the Arabs themselves. The chances that under the current conditions Mahmoud Abbas will be prepared to withdraw from the basic positions that were laid down in Arafat’s legacy are very low.”
Dagan also raised the suggestion, which he admitted was based purely on speculation, that Israeli leaders are deliberately not bringing down Hamas because the terror organization offers a threat that may enable Israeli leaders to avoid signing a peace deal.
“I have no proof for what I am about to say, but I get the impression that the State of Israel has no interest in destroying Hamas,” he said. “The reason is simple. I see at the moment the efforts that the Egyptians are making on a very significant scale to end Hamas’s power. And the State of Israel is not exactly taking part in the effort.”
Dagan speculated that the hard-line refusal of Hamas to be a partner of any peace deal with Israel could be used to torpedo a diplomatic solution.
“If I was suspicious, then I would suspect somebody who, in order to get out of an agreement, would say, ‘Just a moment, who are we signing with? I am signing with Mahmoud Abbas? But he has a certain entity called Hamas that I can’t sign with.’”
He noted this theory was “my own personal opinion. I can’t prove it conclusively.”
Dagan noted one key point of agreement he had with the sitting government, saying he supports Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s criticism of the interim agreement signed between world powers and Iran in November, though he insisted he is still opposed to an Israeli military strike.
Under the interim agreement signed in Geneva on November 24 last year, the world powers must ease sanctions against Iran while Iran is required to scale back its nuclear enrichment over the course of six months. While the deal was heavily criticized by Israeli officials, the US and the additional world powers remain optimistic the interim deal will pave the way for a more satisfactory permanent agreement with Tehran.
Israel had hoped the deal would include the removal of all enriched uranium that, Jerusalem says, is intended for the manufacture of nuclear weapons.
“I think the agreement is problematic,” he said. “On this subject I agree with the prime minister. The real effort needs to be made now, before a final agreement is reached.”
“The deal is problematic,” Dagan said.” And if it is not addressed now we will face a very complicated strategic problem. A final agreement needs to fill in all the cracks, and unfortunately there are many cracks in it.”
However, Israel should not launch an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities, not because it can’t do so, but because such an attack would be very limited, he said.
“When a state, on a strategic level, decides that it wants something, the ability to stop it is very limited, even if you use the most drastic measures,” he said. “Even if we assume that we would use the military option to deal with this, I think that achievements that we would reach would be limited. It would be a delay, not an end” to Iranian nuclear development.
MK Miri Regev (Likud) responded to Dagan’s sentiments on abandoning the Jordan Valley by pointing to the outcome of previous Israeli withdrawals, Maariv reported.
“We saw what happened when we left Gaza,” Regev said. “Then, too, they said that Gaza is not essential for security… no more than a few years have passed and we got a Hamas state in the south with tens of thousands of rockets and a kidnapped soldier. With our unilateral withdrawal from the security zone in Lebanon we got Hezbollah on the border and kidnapped soldiers and prisoner releases. The State of Israel is no longer ready for that kind of adventure. The [Jordan] Valley must remain under full Israeli control.”
Dagan also laid to rest any speculation that he is planning to enter the political arena, saying he is not interested in the pandering that would be involved.
“I have no intention at the moment to get into politics,” he said. “Why? Because I have seen politics up close. Even though I understand that politics is where things are decided, you need to be at a stage where you coddle people, go to bar mitzvahs and weddings. There are those who are built for it. I am not built for it.”
When pressed on the matter, he added, “I have considered it and decided not to.”
Dagan resigned as head of Israel’s spy agency in 2010, and has since been a leading public critic of the “stupid” idea of Israel striking alone at Iran’s nuclear facilities.