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Israel washed its hands clean on Thursday of OC Central Command Maj.-Gen. Yair Naveh's warning a day earlier that King Abdullah risked being toppled by an "Islamist axis" and could be the last king of Jordan.
IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz reprimanded Naveh during a meeting of the General Staff at the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv Thursday and called on all military officers, especially those in senior positions, to demonstrate caution and sensitivity when speaking in public. Halutz was also referring to his deputy Maj.-Gen. Moshe Kaplinsky, who said on Wednesday that Israel had discerned the first signs of instability within Hosni Mubarak's powerful regime in Egypt.
"A careless remark could be misinterpreted and taken out of its context," Halutz warned his senior staff. "It could turn into something that could drag the IDF into an unnecessary public debate and misrepresent policies and positions of Israel and the IDF."
Speaking Wednesday at a closed-door briefing with diplomats and foreign journalists at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, Naveh warned of the Hamas's rise to power and the possibility that an "axis of evil" beginning in Iran could negatively affect the Jordanian regime.
"Hamas is gathering strength and a dangerous axis starting in Iran and continuing through Iraq and Jordan is in the process of formation," Naveh said. "I don't want to be a prophet but I am not sure there will be another king after King Abdullah."
Jordanian diplomats who were present at the meeting reacted strongly and Wednesday night threatened to cut back ties with Israel if Naveh was not disciplined. On Thursday, however, the Jordanian charge d'affairs in Israel, Omar Nazif, backed down from threats he issued a day earlier and told The Jerusalem Post he believed the Hashemite kingdom had accepted the various Israeli clarifications.
King Abdullah, Jordanian security officials said Thursday, was "furious" over Naveh's remarks. "His Majesty is very angry," the officials told the Post. "He believes that Naveh's remarks reflect official government thinking in Israel."
The officials pointed out that Jordan and Israel have had "excellent" security relations over the past years and that the two sides have been cooperating in the war against terror.
"It's not clear to us why Naveh made these remarks, especially when you take into consideration the excellent relations we have in all fields," the officials said. "These remarks could create a lot of problems for Jordan."
Acting Prime Minster Ehud Olmert spoke briefly Thursday with King Abdullah and, according to sources in the Prime Minister's Office, clarified that Naveh's comments did not reflect Israeli policy.
Jordan's news agency Petra had a different spin on the telephone call, saying that Olmert apologized and "expressed condemnation" over Naveh's statements. The Petra report said Olmert "expressed appreciation over the efforts exerted by His Majesty King Abdullah to restore peace and stability to the region."
Sources close to the acting prime minister denied that Olmert apologized. They said Olmert told King Abdullah that Israel assigns great importance to its relations with Jordan, and that the relations were as strong as ever.
The two leaders decided to meet after the March 28 elections.
The sources said the conversation was "pleasant," and that the two men agreed to meet after the Israeli elections. The sources said the conversation was arranged by Israeli and Jordanian defense officials who are in close contact.
Israeli security officials also dismissed on Thursday Naveh's remarks as an "unfortunate mistake." Israel, they said, had an "excellent" relationship with Jordan, especially when it came to security coordination. Both countries, officials explained, were facing similar threats from the growing presence of global Jihad and al-Qaida in Jordan and the radical group's attempts to gain influence among local Palestinian terror organizations in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
"We run joint exercises and work together in combating terror," one senior IDF officer said Thursday about the military's relationship with the Jordanian army.
Another senior Israeli defense official explained that Naveh's remarks hit a raw nerve in Amman, since Israel served as a sort of "backrest" for the Hashemite kingdom in its war on terror and in its dealings with the West and the United States.
"They have a strong army and government there," the official said. "But they rely on us [Israel] for assistance and to hear what Naveh said makes them think we don't have faith in them or in King Abdullah's regime."
According to the Jordanian officials, Jordan has been waging a relentless war on terror in the past few years and has managed to foil a number of mega attacks in Amman. Following last November's suicide bombings in a number of hotels in Amman, Jordan stepped up its campaign against radical Islamic groups in the kingdom, arresting hundreds of suspects for questioning.
"Jordan's contribution to regional stability should not be underestimated," the officials said.
Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz also weighed in on Naveh's remarks on Thursday, telling reporters during a military ceremony in the north that IDF officers would be better off if they watched what they said. Asked if he planned to oust Naveh per Jordan's request, Mofaz said he preferred not to speak about the consequences of the senior officer's remarks.
Herb Keinon and and Khaled Abu Toameh contributed to this report.
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