Jordan, Egypt strike balance between Israel ties, angry public

Israel doesn't expect moderate Arab states to cut diplomatic relations.

mubarak 298.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
mubarak 298.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
In a growing chorus of warnings against Israel's Gaza operation emanating from the Arab world, Jordan's prime minister said Sunday that his government retained the right to reconsider its relations with Israel. "All options are available to assess the relationship with every side, especially Israel," Prime Minister Nader al-Dahabi told parliament during a heated debate, noting that the country would "not remain silent" about Israel's actions in Gaza and the "threat which risks the security of the whole area and its stability." The announcement came more than a week after Israel began targeting Hamas terrorists in the Gaza Strip and two days after riot police pushed back hundreds of Jordanian protesters who marched on the Israeli embassy in Amman. And in Egypt, while Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's government has blamed Hamas for the assault, it has also strongly condemned Israel's offensive. Official Israeli sources, however, say similar warning calls have been made in the past. "It's true that there are very strong calls in Jordan [to reduce diplomatic ties]," but at the moment, there isn't any indication of anything happening, a source said. And while Israel "is beginning to lose points" with Egypt and Jordan due to its operation in Gaza, it is natural for these two nations, to sympathize with their Palestinian brothers, the source said. Relations with Jordan and Egypt are not expected to significantly change unless something more "traumatic" - similar to the Kfar Kana incident during the Second Lebanon War, in which 28 civilians were killed - were to happen during the Gaza operation, further igniting the masses, according to the source. The 10-day Israeli assault on Gaza is exposing moderate Arab states, particularly those that have full diplomatic relations with Israel, to a tremendous amount of internal pressure that is forcing governments to address the issue, experts say. "Egypt and Jordan, in particular, need to strike a balance between their diplomatic and political relations with Israel, and with the angry public who demand a strong policy against Israel on the other hand," Gamal Abdel Gawad, head of the international relations unit at the Cairo-based Al-Ahram Center for Strategic Studies, told The Jerusalem Post. "This is not always an easy thing to do." Gawad said he would not exclude the possibility of moderate governments, such as Jordan and Egypt, taking concrete action, such as withdrawing their diplomats from Israel or reducing their economic ties or exports of gas or energy supplies to Israel. Such calls are being made with increasing frequency in the Arab press and in political circles. "Governments are under pressure and might do that to accommodate their public, to release the pressure," he said. "If the pressure gets to a certain point, they have to release it or risk escalation or deterioration between the governments and the people. The issue is particularly sensitive in Jordan, where Palestinians - who make up more than 60 percent of the population - make up "a strong mobilizing force." Satellite TV channels that show minute-to-minute developments of the operation drive people to anger "and make them more easily manipulated by radical ideologies and propaganda," Gawad said. While governments like Egypt and Jordan are not expected to fall apart or be taken over by radical regimes because of the Gaza conflict, the pressure they are experiencing is "destabilizing" and certainly a challenge to deal with, he said. It forces them to cope with the radicalizing effect of the prolonged Arab-Israeli conflict as well as with additional security needs that result and an increased vulnerability to opposition forces, he added. On Monday, a Jordanian academic and a Jordanian newspaper editor both declined to comment for this article, saying they did not want to speak to an Israeli newspaper. A second newspaper editor who initially agreed to talk to the Post later cancelled. But experts in Israel said that they saw the extent of the threat to these regimes as being "very limited." While the worst-case scenario is destabilization problems for the regimes at home, "I don't see it now," said Eyal Zisser, director of Tel Aviv University's Moshe Dayan Center. "What I see now are some demonstrations, as was expected, but nothing more than that. The [Second] Lebanon War was worse." Zisser predicted that Jordan, followed by Egypt, could withdraw its Israeli ambassador, but said he did not think that the two countries would cut off all diplomatic ties. "That would violate the peace process," he said. "I doubt very much that they would do that." AP contributed to this report.