Iran will take over the Jordan Valley unless Israel maintains a military and civilian presence in the area, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday night at a jubilee event marking the 50th anniversary of the state’s control of the region.
“If we are not here, Iran and ‘Hamastan’ will be here.
We will not let this happen,” said Netanyahu, as he made a rare visit to the Jordan Valley where some of the first settlements were built after the Six Day War.
The area is beyond the West Bank security barrier, and the future of its settlements was considered tenuous when the Obama administration was in power in Washington. It was feared that Obama’s diplomatic plans included Israel withdrawing from the settlements in the valley while leaving an Israeli military presence there.
Eliciting shouts, whistles and applause, Netanyahu pledged that he would not uproot the Jordan Valley settlements.
“The Jordan Valley will always be part of Israel. We will continue to settle it and invest in its industry and its tourism,” the prime minister said.
The region “has supreme security importance for the State of Israel,” he added.
“The Middle East is fickle and violent. The Jordan Valley is a strategic defensive belt for the state. Without it, a flood of fundamentalism could enter the country and reach as far as the Dan region. That’s why our eastern line of defense begins in this place,” Netanyahu said.
Anyone who questions that need should look no further than Israel’s northern borders, Netanyahu said in reference to Lebanon and Syria.
“We have a clear policy,” he said. “We will harm all those who try to hurt us. We will not accept leakage [occasional attacks]. , and we will do so quickly. But our existence here is not just dependent on the sword – it is also based on building, intelligence and creativity.”
Fifty years ago, when Israel entered the area, it was an “arid and yellow land,” the prime minister said.
In the future, Netanyahu said, he hoped the region, which borders Jordan, could help foster regional cooperation.
“This can be a place of peace and prosperity for all the people in the region,” he said.
Last month he spoke at the national 50th jubilee celebration of settlement in Judea and Samaria that was held in Gush Etzion. He likewise addressed the Samaria celebration that was held in August.
To mark the Jewish New Year, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman visited the Jordan Valley in September and similar pledged that it would remain in Israeli hands.
Netanyahu’s speech comes as US President Donald Trump is working to renew the Israeli- Palestinian peace process, which has been frozen since April 2014.