TEL AVIV, Israel — Insisting Israel has "neither geographic or demographic depth" to deal with refugees, migrants and potential terrorists breaching its borders, Prime Minister Netanyahu inaugurated work on Monday to barricade its last barrier-free frontier, a vast desert stretch between the Jewish state and Jordan.
Starting at Eilat on the Red Sea, the first section of the barrier — budgeted at 280 million shekels (US $71.3 million) — will extend 30 kilometers north past a new international airport being built in the Arava desert.
Ultimately, Netanyahu plans to extend the 16-foot barrier "hundreds of kilometers" all along the eastern frontier up to the sensor-supported security fence in place on the Golan Heights.
An MoD official estimated the project would cost up to 6 billion shekels ($1.53 billion) to build and many millions annually to maintain.
In a recent interview, the official said the Defense Ministry has already spent about $2.5 billion on the barrier around the West Bank and parts of Jerusalem; nearly $1 billion along Israel's desert border with Sinai and a similar amount along Israel's northern border with Syria.
Additionally, Israel is constantly fortifying its sensor-fused no-go zones and security barriers along its northern border with Lebanon and its southern border with Gaza.
"Every year, we need a few hundred million shekels just to maintain these essential barriers," the MoD official said.
In Sept. 6 ceremonies, Netanyahu said the border barrier with Jordan will be akin to the 240-kilometer (150-mile) fence built in recent years at the border with Egypt to keep out African migrants and asylum seekers.
"Today we are starting to build the security fence along our eastern border, in continuation of the security fences that we built along the Egyptian border. … We are doing so without infringing in any way on the sovereignty of Jordan, which we respect and view as a partner in maintaining a border of peace," Netanyahu said.
Accompanied at the project site by Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon and senior military commanders, Netanyahu directed that the first section be built within "one year and several months."
Israel Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon.
Photo Credit: Israel Ministry of Defense
In an apparent reference to Syrian refugees and asylum seekers in Jordan — which the UN estimates will exceed one million by December — Netanyahu warned: "We do not know what the day will bring. We know that the more we move forward, the more we will be able to duplicate our great success along the Egyptian border, where we blocked entry and illegal migration into the State of Israel."
The Israeli premier insisted that Israel would continue to extend humanitarian assistance to victims of the Syrian civil war while, in parallel, imposing zero tolerance for illegal infiltration.
"This is not to say that we do not empathize with the human tragedy around us. … But Israel is a very small country with neither geographic nor demographic depth and we must control our borders."
He added: "This is a success that almost no wWestern country — and very few countries at all — has been able to achieve. But Israel has achieved it and I am determined to continue this on Israel's other borders and ensure that Israel controls its borders."
Ya'alon noted that Israel has already treated some 1,000 victims of the Syrian civil war and will continue to do so. He said the desert stretch between Israel and the Hashemite Kingdom is the last remaining "weak link" in Israel's near seamless fortifications of all its borders.
"We're at the beginning of the road, under the assumption that high fences make good neighbors and I hope that it will remain as such, because truly, our neighborly relations are very good." Ya'alon said.
In a reference to close, ongoing cooperation between Israeli and Jordanian security personnel, Ya'alon said the barrier will work to plug gaps that can happen in even the most tightly controlled theaters of operation.
"There's the possibility that migrant workers or terror elements will try to reach us despite efforts on both sides. Therefore, it's good that we'll have a physical barrier, supported by [technological and personnel] means, that will help us perform our activities in a more efficient and productive manner."