The possible collapse of the Israel-Jordan Peace Treaty and potential destruction of a stable regional ally, the Hashemite Kingdom, is one of the stronger arguments against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plan to annex West Bank settlements this year.
The 1994 peace treaty with Jordan, as well as the 1979 treaty signed with Egypt, have been a foundation cornerstone of Israeli regional security and gateway to the Arab world.
The value of the two treaties, in an otherwise hostile region, has only increased in relation to the growing threats from Iran and ISIS and other Islamic fundamentalist terrorist groups.
So the idea of an Israeli plan, either unilateral or in conjunction with the US, that would risk those treaties and the stability of Israel, after a decade of regional turmoil, has to give one pause.
“Unilateral annexation will damage stability in the Middle East” and harm Israel, said former Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) director Ami Ayalon.
“The peace treaty with Egypt and the peace treaty with Jordan are in a way the two cornerstones of our [regional] policy and our security for the last 30 to 40 years,” he said.
A retired admiral, Ayalon is among a group of more than 220 former security officers who have embarked on a campaign against the move through the group Commanders for Israel’s Security.
Last week, he and two other high-level former security officials, Maj.-Gen. (ret.) Gadi Shamni and former Mossad director Tamir Pardo, published an article in US-based Foreign Policy magazine, warning about the implications to Jordan and Egypt.
There are many rational reasons for the two countries to maintain ties with Israel, Ayalon told The Jerusalem Post.
Egypt relies on Israel for intelligence and security cooperation when it comes to fighting al-Qaeda and ISIS in Sinai. Jordan has water and gas deals with Israel. Both countries also rely heavily on financial assistance from the United States, which is tied to the peace deals.
Still, those factors would not be enough to offset the danger to the Kingdom from the street, Ayalon said.
In the aftermath of the Arab Spring, however, regional leaders cannot afford to ignore public opinion, particularly on a topic where emotions run high, such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he said.
Rulers in both Egypt and Jordan “have to listen to the voices of the street because they understand that power,” he said.
Egyptian President Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has more flexibility than Jordan’s King Abdullah, Ayalon said.
Jordan is home to a large number of Palestinians, and there are also many young people who are radicalized, Shamni said.
“They will never accept Jordanian silence with regards to annexation,” he said. “To survive, the king will have to take extreme steps that might even severely damage the Israeli-Jordanian peace agreement.”
Throughout the years, Israeli actions in the West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza have had a destabilizing influence, Ayalon said.
“But there is a huge difference between incremental change” and a large unilateral act, such as annexation, particularly one that is against the declared will of all Arab leaders, he said.
Shamni, who was also Israel’s former military secretary to the US and a military adviser to former prime minister Ariel Sharon, said the plan creates unnecessary turmoil and security problems.
At issue is Israel’s eastern border, which is its calmest out of the five borders, he said. There are hostilities along the Lebanese, Syrian and Gaza borders, and even the Egyptian border can be problematic because of terrorist groups in the Sinai Desert, he said.
But the combined efforts of Israeli and Jordanian security forces have kept violence at bay, Shamni said.
Jordan acts as an additional security buffer for Israel and provides a strategic safeguard against terrorism and other security threats, he said. Jordan’s location, bordering Iraq on the other side, makes peaceful relations with Israel particularly significant, he added.
Coordination with Jordan is crucial for Israel’s safety along this critical stretch, Shamni said.
“The majority of the Jordanian security apparatus wants Israel [the IDF] to be in the Jordan Valley,” he said, adding that the situation at present is effective and stable.
Annexation is about politics, not security, Shamni said. He minced no words, saying it was stupid to risk a strategic asset such as Jordan just to ensure the “political survival of a certain government or prime minister.”
But the situation is not clear-cut, and to those arguments, there are also counterarguments.
Col. (ret.) Eran Lerman, a former deputy director of the National Security Council, said he believed annexation would not destroy the Jordanian and Egyptian governments, nor would it harm the peace treaties with Israel.
Lerman, who is vice president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security, said the turmoil in the Middle East was precisely one of the reasons Israel’s ties with those two countries would survive.
“The Jordanian government is very vocal in its overt opposition, and they may need to take certain visible measures in response” to indicate its “deep dismay,” he said.
Ties already were strained, as evidenced by Jordan’s decision last year to end the 25-year lease to Israel for the Island of Peace at Naharayim, Lerman said. He expected other “slap in the face” gestures, even serious ones, but that otherwise ties would hold up.
There were more reasons for Jordan and the Hashemite Kingdom to find a way to preserve Israeli ties in light of annexation than to cut them off, Lerman said.
Jordan has come to depend on its “intimate relationship” with the Israeli defense establishment, he said. “It is also the most consistently pro-American player in the region,” he added.
Given the threats from Iran and the instability in Iraq, it is important for Jordan to remain within that Israeli and US security envelope, Lerman said.
Moving forward, Jordan would need certain assurance that Israel does not plan to annex the entire West Bank and that there is no plan to turn Jordan into Palestine, he said.
It would be particularly important for Jordan to hear from the Trump administration that the Israeli application of sovereignty is not an independent action but part of the US peace plan, Lerman said.
The turmoil of the Arab Spring might be a warning to the Jordanian public and help ensure a more limited response, he said.
“Everyone in the region has experienced how catastrophic life can be if you throw yourself off the cliff Syrian style,” Lerman said.At the end of the day, he predicted, neither the Jordanian public nor the Hashemite Kingdom would want to risk “their very future.”very future.”