Hashemite concerns

Israel, motivated by fears about the stability of Jordan, has blocked the sale of drones to the kingdom and is building a new high-tech border fence.

An IDF guard post is seen near Jericho along the border between Israel and Jordan in the Jordan Valley. (photo credit: REUTERS/BAZ RATNER)
An IDF guard post is seen near Jericho along the border between Israel and Jordan in the Jordan Valley.
(photo credit: REUTERS/BAZ RATNER)
WITH SHARED interests, which have proven themselves over decades, Jordan is Israel’s best ally in the Middle East.
The two countries have intimate security ties and strategic coordination and have on occasion joined forces to fight terrorism. While these ties are a result of their geopolitical conditions, Jordan needs and relies on Israel more than Israel needs the Hashemite Kingdom.
The peace treaty signed between the two states in 1994 only provided a legal and formal framework to the special relations that had existed, though secretly, for nearly six decades.
The Jordanian monarchy perceives Israel as a central pillar of support vital for the survival of the regime and, as past precedents have proved, in times of crisis for Jordan, Israel is its best insurance policy.
For Israel, Jordan serves as a “buffer zone” against encroachment from the east. In the past, it was the Iraqi army, which twice – in 1948 and 1967 – used Jordanian territory to fight Israel. Nowadays the potential eastern danger is from the Islamic State, which already controls vast areas in Iraq and Syria, and is trying to infiltrate Jordan – so far in vain.
However, recently cracks have appeared in the Jerusalem-Amman alliance. Two thorny topics strain relations. One is Israel’s opposition to Jordanian efforts to get hold of advanced drones. The second is the decision, in late June, by the Israeli Cabinet to start constructing a fence along the almost 400 kilometer long Israel-Jordanian border, modeled on similar fences existing along the borders with Syria on the Golan Heights and along the Sinai border with Egypt.
In the past, Israel rushed on several occasions to help the Hashemite regime and save the life of its ruler King Hussein, father of the current monarch King Abdullah.
Already in 1958, Israel allowed British planes carrying paratroopers to fly over its air space to secure the monarchy from threats made by Egyptian leader Gamal Abdul Nasser to topple it and establish a radical, socialist republic in Jordan.
In 1970, Israel concentrated its troops along the triangle border of Syria, Jordan and Israel, and threatened to use its mighty air force if Syrian troops and tanks, which had invaded Jordan, did not retreat. In between, Israeli intelligence tipped its Jordanian counterparts about Egyptian, Syrian and Palestinian plots to assassinate Hussein.
Until the peace treaty between the two countries was signed, the encounters were highly secretive. The king, his loyal advisers, and his military and intelligence chiefs met frequently with their Israeli counterparts, including prime ministers, to exchange ideas and estimates, to share tips and discuss Palestinian terror threats. The “file” to manage the meetings was entrusted on the Israeli side to the Mossad intelligence service.
The most dramatic meeting took place at Mossad headquarters in Glilot junction north of Tel Aviv in late September 1973, three weeks before the Yom Kippur War. The king arrived on his own initiative to warn prime minister Golda Meir and defense minister Moshe Dayan that Syria and Egypt had conspired to invade Israel.
The Israeli leaders didn’t take his warning seriously.
The coordination between the two countries is based on joint strategic interests, though, from time to time, certain disagreements have led to crisis. The worst of these occurred in 1996, when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu allowed Mossad chief Danny Yatom to send his agents into Jordan, in an attempt to assassinate Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal.
The Jordanian king, who saw the botched operation as a “stab in the back,” considered severing diplomatic ties and ending the covert coordination between the two countries. In the end, however, he understood that the ties with Israel were crucial for both him and his kingdom.
AT THE foundation of the Israel-Jordan relationship is the idea that the two countries share common enemies. In the past, these enemies were Nasser’s Egypt and Hafez Assad’s Syria.
Since the 1979 peace treaty, Egypt has ceased to be a threat to both Israel and Jordan.
Syria, embroiled over the last four years in civil war, has in effect ceased to exist as a state and also presents no threat. It has been divided into multiple areas of control, split between ISIS, al-Qaida, the Free Syrian Army, and the Kurdish and Druze militias. President Bashar Assad controls only some 20 percent of Syrian territory, including Damascus and the coastal strip, the strongholds of the Alawite (Shi’ite) minority to which his family belongs.
The leaderships in Jerusalem and Amman both see the Palestinians as an enemy that threatens their national and security interests.
By means of diplomatic and military action, the two countries have managed since 1947 to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state. Today, as well, Netanyahu (despite his public pronouncements in favor of the twostate solution) and King Abdullah (despite his public claims supporting the creation of a Palestinian state) are not interested in seeing a Palestinian state sandwiched between them.
The security cooperation, in strategic terms, from time to time, expresses itself on a tactical level, particularly in the war on terror. Hamas, Hezbollah, al-Qaida and ISIS are the primary targets of concern for the two countries that are taking part in the global war on terrorism.
Jordan and Israel maintain what is known as a “cold peace.” The two countries have full diplomatic ties, small-scale trade and a bilateral free-trade agreement. Israeli businessmen succeed from time to time, with the help of their partners in Jordan, in selling agricultural merchandise and industrial products to Iraq, Kurdistan, the Gulf states and even to Saudi Arabia.
Israel also supplies Jordan, as part of the peace agreement, with some 50 million cubic meters of water annually. The two countries also coordinate on other matters, including the environment, development of the Dead Sea region, and pest management. But none of this is enough.
The Jordanian leadership had high expectations that the peace agreement would grant them economic dividends that would boost the country’s economy. That didn’t happen. Even if an agreement signed between the countries comes into fruition (despite the fierce objections of officials in the opposition, primarily the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood) in which Israel provides Jordan with gas from its fields in the Mediterranean, it will be too little, too late.
IT SHOULD be noted that the Jordanian “card” was one of the more significant excuses used by Netanyahu, with the support of US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro, to try to convince the government, Members of Knesset and the public to approve the controversial gas deal (between the government and the developers) – which has now been postponed due to a lack of majority support in the Knesset Over the past two decades, the Hashemite kingdom has found itself in an increasingly dire situation, primarily due to the waves of refugees finding their way into the country, which has boosted the population to some eight million residents. These waves began following the two US military invasions in Iraq – first in 1991, and then in 2003 – and have continued over the last four years with the bloody civil war in Syria. There are currently more than a million refugees on Jordanian soil. The Jordanian economy is suffering and is in constant need of international assistance to deal with the refugee crisis.
Jordan is also paying a heavy price for its role in the international coalition fighting the Islamic State in Syria. One of its pilots fell hostage to ISIS and was burned to death, a grisly murder widely shown on digital media.
The aid it receives from the US, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, in exchange for its willingness to allow anti-ISIS and anti-Assad forces to receive training on its territory, is not sufficient. Along two of its long borders – 180 km with Iraq and 350 km with Syria – it is under constant threat from ISIS and al-Qaida.
Amid this crisis, Jordan feels as though Israel, too, has turned its back on the Hashemite Kingdom.
Within the Jordanian political and military establishment, there is anger at Israel’s decision to exert heavy pressure on the American administration not to provide the Jordanian army with drones. Jordan had requested these drones to boost defense on its two fronts with Syria and Iraq.
But the Israeli defense establishment is opposed to the idea that its neighbor to the east will be armed with attack drones. A defense source confirmed to The Jerusalem Report that Israel’s opposition was limited only to attack drones, clarifying, “We have no objections to Jordan equipping itself with drones for reconnaissance and intelligence missions.”
Another Israeli decision that disappointed Amman was the political-security Cabinet’s approval of a plan to build a security fence on the shared border, complete with observation posts, cameras and sensors and land obstacle censors along its length. Israel’s border with Jordan stretches almost 400 km.
The Cabinet has so far approved only the first stage of the fence, 30 km from Eilat to the new Timna airport (which will be built some 200 meters from Jordanian territory). The fence is expected to cost up to 3 billion shekels; the first stage will cost some 200 million shekels.
There were a number of reasons and concerns behind Israel’s decision to build a fence along the border. Netanyahu and his ministers, who have put the fight against migrant workers and refugees from Africa entering the country from Sinai high on their political agenda, are now drawing up a new frightening scenario.
They now warn that the migrants from Africa, who are stopped by the fence with Egypt, will find a way around the obstacle, and will infiltrate Israel through Jordanian territory. For Netanyahu and his ministers, the building of such an obstacle will eliminate the threat of future infiltration.
A FEW months ago, a senior officer in the Eilat regional division told military reporters that the construction of the new airport in Timna meant that changes would need to be made to Israel’s measures of defense along the border – because today there is no fence. Nevertheless, the defense establishment sees the construction of the fence as something bigger than just security for the new airport. According to senior IDF officers, the fence will also provide an important line of defense along the border in the future, primarily to reduce the danger of radical Islamist organizations operating against Israel on Jordanian territory.
Netanyahu and the heads of the intelligence and defense establishments are well aware of the sensitive nature of having reached the decision to construct the fence, and knew what kind of response to expect from Jordan. As such, in an unusual statement released following the decision, the Cabinet emphasized that the fence would be built on the Israeli side of the border and that it “would not impinge on the sovereignty of the Jordanian Hashemite Kingdom” and that its national interests would be honored.
It is doubtful, however, whether the Cabinet statement calmed or softened the anger inside the Jordanian royal house. More than fearing the possibility that Israel would “bite into” its territory along the border, the Jordanians understand very well the significance of the fence: Israel is concerned about the stability of the Hashemite regime.
In other words, in making the two decisions to build a fence along the border and to block Jordan from equipping itself with attack drones, despite the tight coordination between the two countries, Israel has sent a clear message: It doesn’t trust Jordan and is concerned about the future dangers that may undercut the Hashemite regime.
Yossi Melman is an Israeli security commentator and co-author of ‘Spies Against Armageddon.’ He blogs at www.israelspy.com and tweets at yossi_melman.