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Tension between Israel and Jordan remains under control

June 1, 2020 at 2:00 pm

Jordanians protest against gas deal with Israel in Amman, Jordan on 3 January 2020 [Laıth Al-jnaıdı/Anadolu Agency]

The Palestinians are following the escalation of tension between Israel and Jordan closely, against the backdrop of Israeli intentions to annex the West Bank and the Jordan Valley. There have also been threats exchanged with Tel Aviv upping the ante against the Kingdom. A new chapter in what is a poor relationship could begin.

Amid increasing Israeli fears about the consequences of its planned annexations, concerns are appearing about Jordan’s position. King Abdullah II told German magazine Der Spiegel that the plan could lead to a major clash between Amman and Tel Aviv, although no mention of the cancellation of the Wadi Araba Peace Treaty was made. The Israelis’ reaction ranged between serious and indifferent, with threats from Amman being described as “hollow”, although the Jordanian monarch’s statements made headlines.

The Israelis point out that Jordan does not have any capabilities to threaten Israel, as the Kingdom is facing a severe economic crisis, and has previously requested the help of the international community to curb the spread of Covid-19. At the same time, while listening cautiously to the threats, they conclude that the Kingdom is facing an unprecedented crisis, without having any ability to act on the King’s threats. Israel can thus impose its sovereignty over the annexed territories without worrying about Jordan, not least because it needs the help of the US and Israel to survive.

Moreover, Israelis warn against allowing Jordanian threats to hinder annexation; the Kingdom, they insist, should not be able to veto the plan. This is despite the fact that Likud’s partners in the government, the leaders of the Blue and White bloc, think that moves such as annexation will put a strain on relations with Jordan and are, therefore, irresponsible.

READ: Jordan warns US, UK of dangers of annexation plan 

King Abdullah did not threaten to cancel the peace treaty with Israel, because it is an essential guarantee of Jordan’s survival, with Israel holding the keys to economic support through the water and gas it provides. The US remains in charge of military and financial support, to the tune of $1.8 billion a year.

The King’s statements were preceded by messages from Amman to Israeli security officials, which suggested that domestic pressure might push him to cancel Wadi Araba. This would be a blow to Israeli security, as the Kingdom provides relative quiet on the eastern border and the leadership of the Israeli army knows that.

This does not mean that relations are stable, though; many Jordanians hate Israel and there is no popular support for peace with the occupation state. If the political map in Jordan changes, it could result in a new regime having to cancel the treaty.

Those Israelis who underestimate the inherent dangers of annexing the Jordan Valley claim that having an Israeli barrier in the Jordan Valley instead of the Palestinians is in Jordan’s interest. This ignores the views of the generals regarding annexation and its impact on peace; they point out that Israel already has a shared border with Jordan and reject the “security” argument for annexation. Even Jordan is cautious about damaging relations with the Israelis due to the security situation, which is of vital importance to the Kingdom.

Jordan bans Israelis from entering Al-Baqura‏ area - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Jordan bans Israelis from entering Al-Baqura‏ area – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Nevertheless, statements about Jordan by the far right in Israel are damaging, as are the ongoing settler incursions and plans for Al-Aqsa Mosque in occupied Jerusalem, which is still the nominal responsibility of the Kingdom. Israeli policy in Jerusalem is seen as a threat to the Hashemite guardianship over the Islamic and Christian endowments in the city.

Several security incidents have contributed to the decline of Israel-Jordan relations, such as the shots from the Israeli Embassy in Amman which killed two Jordanians in 2017. The killer was given the red carpet treatment by Benjamin Netanyahu, which angered King Abdullah. This was followed by the arrest of Jordanian citizens Heba Al-Labadi and Abdul Rahman Miri, which led to the recall of the Jordanian ambassador from Israel.

King Abdullah seeks to improve his popularity at home by making Israel pay the price for such incidents. One Israeli who entered Jordan illegally was put on trial, for example. This increased the tension and hostility between the two countries.

A few days before that, the Jordanian army carried out manoeuvres with the air force, tanks, infantry and engineers under the supervision of the King and the Crown Prince to simulate a confrontation with a hostile invasion force. All Jordanians understood that “hostile” meant Israeli.

READ: The annexation in the controversy of the Israeli right 

In 2019 the King inspected Jordanian territory that had been leased to Israel in 1994 after the agreement expired but was not renewed. This was a clear message to the Jordanians that they have regained their sovereignty over the land in question. In an interview with the New York Times, the King said that relations with Israel were at their worst-ever level.

Israeli military and security circles prefer not to discuss cooperation with Jordan, but the joint archive reveals a lot. Such cooperation involves intensive round the clock security and intelligence coordination; Israel warns Jordan immediately of any external threats to its internal stability.

None of this contradicts the prevailing belief that the expected Israeli annexation of the Jordan Valley will have negative effects on the already poor relationship with Jordan. It is certain that the countdown to annexation will provoke popular protests in the Hashemite Kingdom that may prompt King Abdullah to take dramatic measures causing major damage to Israel. That is entirely possible, even when consideration is given to the importance of not breaking the fine thread holding the two countries together. At the moment, then, the tension is under control.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.