Israel looking to reopen Jordan embassy as soon as possible

Israel views its relationship with Jordan as strategic and sees its presence in the country as both symbolically and tactically important.

July 26, 2017 00:51
The Israeli embassy in Amman and its surrounding are on lockdown following an attack in which a secu

The Israeli embassy in Amman and its surrounding are on lockdown following an attack in which a security guard was stabbed. . (photo credit: AFP PHOTO)


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Hours after Israel’s delegation to Amman returned home late Monday night, The Jerusalem Post learned that the country hopes to send Ambassador Einat Schlein and her staff back as soon as possible.

The government does not want the embassy to stand empty for a long period of time, as is currently the case with the embassy in Cairo.

Israel views its relationship with Jordan as strategic and sees its presence in the country as both symbolically and tactically important.

It wants to return the situation to normal as soon as possible.

The Foreign Ministry quietly withdrew its ambassador and staff from Cairo at the beginning of the year due to security concerns. They have not yet returned.

Following the sacking of the embassy in Cairo in 2011, it never returned to full functionality, and Jerusalem does not want this to be the case in Amman as well.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Schlein and Ziv, the Israeli guard stabbed in an apartment near the embassy on Sunday evening, in Jerusalem on Tuesday.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets Israel's Ambassador to Jordan Einat Schlein and wounded security officer Ziv, July 25 2017. (Government Press Office)

The meeting came less than 12 hours after they, along with Israel’s delegation to Amman, crossed over the Allenby Bridge following a hair-raising drama that began with the stabbing of Ziv, and his firing two shots in self-defense, killing the assailant and another man at the scene.

“I am happy to see you, happy that things ended the way they did,” Netanyahu told the two. “You acted calmly and well, and we had the responsibility to get you out, there was no question whatsoever. It was only a matter of time, and I am happy it was a short period of time.” The prime minister said the two represented Israel, and Israel never forgot that.

In response, Ziv said a heavy burden was lifted from him. “I thank you with all my heart, I am happy to be here,” he said, adding that he and Schlein felt that the state stood firmly behind them. “It is good to be here, everything is excellent,” Schlein said.

Some officials questioned the wisdom of the prime minister publicly meeting with the guard, since his return to Israel has been widely criticized in Jordan.

“There is no need to rub salt in their wounds,” one source said, noting that in addition to the assailant, a bystander was also killed in the shooting.

Shortly after the delegation returned home, Netanyahu thanked US President Donald Trump “for directing [senior adviser] Jared Kushner and dispatching [Middle East envoy] Jason Greenblatt to help with our efforts to bring the embassy staff home quickly. I thank King Abdullah as well for our close cooperation.”

A US administration official confirmed that Kushner phoned Jordan’s King Abdullah, who was in the US at the time, in an effort to get him to quickly resolve the issue.

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, who was also involved in the efforts to solve the crisis, said during a meeting in the Knesset of the Caucus of US-Israel Relations, “We had a situation in Jordan that could have gone bad. With the work of officials in the US, together with the prime minister of Israel and King of Jordan, without a lot of noise and with careful deliberation, we were able to defuse a very difficult situation very quickly that under different circumstances wouldn’t have been resolved.”

Israel worked on a number of different tracks in order to gain the release of the guard, after the Jordanians initially refused to let him leave the country Sunday night.

On Monday morning Jordan’s Ambassador Walid Obeidat was called to the Foreign Ministry, where ministry officials argued that under the Vienna Convention that governs diplomatic relations, the guard – who had a diplomatic passport – had immunity.

A senior member of the ministry’s legal department was dispatched to Amman for discussions, and it was agreed that Jordanian investigators could enter the embassy compound and, with the Foreign Ministry legal adviser present, question the guard about the incident.

Prior to this, Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) head Nadav Argaman, who was sent to Amman to deal with both this issue and the crisis on the Temple Mount, met with the guard, who reconstructed for him what had taken place.

Argaman then passed this information onto the Jordanians.

At 7:30 p.m. on Monday, Netanyahu spoke on the phone with Abdullah for 30 minutes.

The phone call was facilitated by the Americans, and some two-and-a-half hours later, the delegation crossed the Allenby Bridge into Israel.

Following this, the security cabinet met, and a few hours later decided – at the recommendation of the IDF and Shin Bet – to remove the metal detectors from the Temple Mount.

Netanyahu also issued a statement saying that the Jordanians did not link the two issues.

State Department spokesman Heather Nauert said that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was actively engaged in efforts over the weekend with Greenblatt and Kushner. But she was unaware of any call from the White House to the Jordanian king.

"Specific to the issue of Amman, I’m not aware if we were involved personally," Nauert told reporters on Tuesday. “I think that would be an issue between Jordan and Israel as it pertains to the situation in Israel itself, that is something that we have been involved with.”

Nauert said the Trump administration has taken no position on whether Israel’s introduction of metal detectors – or cameras – at the Temple Mount amounts to a change of the status quo on the holy site. Generally speaking, the US will support any actions that de-escalate the situation, she explained.

Gil Hoffman and Michael Wilner in Washington contributed to this report.

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