Israel to build smart fence on Jordan border

NIS 3 billion project seeks to stave off jihadist infiltration through porous Arava desert

Illustrative image of a watchtower on the Jordanian-Israeli border, February 22, 2011. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)
Illustrative image of a watchtower on the Jordanian-Israeli border, February 22, 2011. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon are set to announce Sunday the start of a multi-billion-shekel effort to construct a sensor-laden fence on the southern border with Jordan, the news site Ynet reported.

A fence, complete with sophisticated sensors and regular IDF patrols, already exists on the northern half of the Israeli-Jordanian border, from the northern edge of the Dead Sea up to the three-way meeting point of Israel, Jordan and Syria near the Sea of Galilee. But some 235 kilometers of border south of the Dead Sea — from the Roman-era fortress of Masada to the southernmost city of Eilat — remains mostly unfenced.

The security cabinet approved in late June the first 30-kilometer stretch of the new fence, set to run from Eilat to the outskirts of the new airport, Ynet reported. It will build on an already-constructed 15-kilometer stretch that guards Eilat’s northeastern frontier with Jordan.

The project’s overall cost is estimated at some NIS 3 billion ($765 million). The initial funding for the first 30 kilometers, amounting to some NIS 250 million ($64 million), was approved by Netanyahu this week.

Israeli defense officials have paid increasing attention to the country’s southeastern border for several reasons.

The growing Syrian refugee presence in Jordan raises the possibility that Syrian jihadist groups may take advantage of the population flow to deploy terror cells closer to a stretch of Israel’s border less well defended than the fortified, minefield-strewn Golan Heights. Similarly, the growing jihadist and particularly Islamic State presence in nearby Sinai might seek to outflank the better-defended Israel-Egypt border by reaching the Jordanian city of Aqaba by sea and crossing the open border to attack any of a string of small Israeli villages that lie close to the Jordanian border in the Arava desert.

Finally, Israel expects to open next year a major regional airport just 200 meters from the Jordanian border at Timna.

The army is also launching a new infantry battalion, named “Tamar,” that will be permanently deployed in the area, a parallel to the “Karakal” battalion permanently stationed on the border with restive Sinai.

When finished, the latest fence will mark the completion of a years-long effort to seal off Israel’s land borders with sophisticated obstacles, a response to growing unrest and weakening state authorities on the other side of the border.

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