Israel Starts Building Jordan Border Fence One Month Early

Israel has started the construction of a fence along its border with Jordan a month earlier than planned, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected opposition calls for the country to accept refugees fleeing the Syrian civil war on Sunday.

The construction of the fence began on Sunday and Netanyahu and a number cabinet ministers travelled to visit the eastern border where the fence will stand, Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz reported. The Israeli leader confirmed that the $75 million border fence would stretch from Eilat to Timna, a distance of 18 miles.

At the beginning of his cabinet meeting on Sunday, Netanyahu said that Israelis can "see today what happens when countries lose control of their borders." Israel has already built security fences on its borders with Egypt, the Gaza Strip, Syria and Lebanon. Netanyahu also confirmed that the Israeli-Jordanian border fence will eventually be upgraded to join with fences along the Egyptian and Syrian borders.

In the same meeting, Netanyahu said that Israel could also not afford to take any Syrian refugees due to the country's demographics and size. "Israel is not indifferent to the human tragedy of the refugees from Syria and Africa. Israel is a small country, a very small country, that lacks demographic and geographic depth," he said, according to his office. "Therefore, we must control our borders, against both illegal migrants and terrorism," he added.

Israeli defence officials told Haaretz that the construction of an airport in Timna, near the Israeli-Jordanian border, was one of the reasons for the earlier start date for the fence's construction. The border fence project was approved by the Israeli cabinet in June amid fears of a jihadist infiltration from Jordan.

The refugee crisis emanating from Syria is top of the agenda for the European Union, with the economic bloc divided on how to react to the thousands of refugees attempting to enter its borders. The Israeli political elite is similarly divided over the issue of "infiltration", as illegal immigration is widely referred to in the political elite, into its territory.

Isaac Herzog, leader of the center-left opposition Labor Party, had pushed Netanyahu into taking a position on the issue, saying on Saturday that, "Jews cannot remain indifferent when hundreds of thousands of refugees are seeking safe harbor.

"Our people experienced firsthand the silence of the world," he added in reference to the Holocaust, "and cannot be indifferent in the face of the rampant murders and massacres taking place in Syria."

In a Facebook post in response to Netanyahu's comments on Sunday, Herzog continued his condemnation of the Israeli Prime Minister's position. The opposition said Netanyahu had "forgotten what it is to be Jewish. Refugees. Pursued."

Israel's political elite is torn over the offer of assistance to refugees in need while maintaining the country's Jewish identity and ensuring its domestic security. Last month, the Interior Ministry banned 1,200 African asylum seekers, mostly Eritrean and Sudanese, from travelling to the cities of Tel Aviv and Eilat after their release from the Holot detention center in the Negev Desert in southern Israel. The move would see the refugees issued with temporary residence cards and sent to prison if they are caught in either city.

In April, Israel's Interior Ministry announced that it would give Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers the chance to "willingly" leave Israel to travel to an unidentified third country, believed to be either Uganda or Rwanda, or face a hearing and prison if they did not leave within 30 days.

"This move will encourage infiltrators to leave the borders of Israel in a safe and dignified manner, and will serve as an effective tool to fulfill our duty to the citizens of Israel—and south Tel Aviv in particular—to restore the fabric of life they were accustomed to," Interior Minister Gilad Erdan said following the decision in April.