American and European policies in the Middle East are misguided, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said over the weekend, asserting that electronic security measures proposed by Washington for the Jordan Valley, as part of a peace framework, are no substitute for Israeli boots on the ground.
His comments come days after his scathing critique of US Secretary of State John Kerry, and US-led efforts to negotiate an Israeli-Palestinian accord, made international headlines and set off a rare vocal spat with the US.
Although he “strongly supports” the use of “technological developments” in Israel’s defense, “senors and drones are no substitute for the physical presence of soldiers,” Ya’alon said Thursday evening in a speech at the Jewish Statesmanship Center in Jerusalem, the Hebrew daily Maariv reported on Sunday.
“The Jordan Valley is vital to the security of Israel, and we cannot assent to third parties being there in our stead. Security in the valley must remain in our hands for an extended period,” Ya’alon said.
Continued Israeli security presence in the strategic Jordan Valley after a peace agreement has been signed, a condition stipulated by Israel and vehemently opposed by the Palestinians, has been one of several sticking points in the negotiations. The US has proposed a security arrangement consisting of high-tech surveillance combined with the presence of international security forces, an idea Israel has rejected.
Reportedly, Jerusalem has proposed several ideas that would entail an Israeli presence in the Jordan Valley for at least a decade after a peace accord is reached, all of which have been rejected by the Palestinians.
On Thursday, Ya’alon said that “the US and Europe are mistaken and don’t understand the Middle East and the processes taking place there.”
He said that the West was focused on the Palestinian issue, even though it wasn’t the main problem facing the region, and dismissed the US’s recent policies in Egypt vis-a-vis the rapid political change occurring there. Ya’alon stated that the Obama administration “promoted the rule” of the Muslim Brotherhood via elections, but then when the Egyptian military held a “counter-revolution,” the US refrained from helping, even though the military was Washington’s “natural ally.”
Ya’alon was quoted last Tuesday in the daily newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth as making scathing statements about Kerry’s involvement in the peace negotiations, calling him “obsessive” and “messianic,” and describing his West Bank security proposals as worthless. The comments elicited outrage from Washington that led to an apology from the defense minister.
Kerry shrugged off the defense minister’s criticism and insisted that it had no bearing on his or Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s commitment to pursuing peace.
The peace negotiations between Israel and the PA restarted in July and are set to continue through April. Recently, Kerry has been trying to push a framework peace deal outlining the contours of an agreement and touching upon all major aspects of the dispute, with the aim of prolonging the negotiations past the April deadline, but the gaps between the two sides remain wide.
Ilan Ben Zion contributed to this report.