Israel and the rest of the Middle East is keeping a close watch on developments in Jordan, where an alleged plot to topple King Abdullah II was foiled over the weekend.
Those under house arrest reportedly include former Crown Prince Hamzah bin Hussein, the elder son of the late King Hussein and his fourth wife, Queen Noor. He was named crown prince of Jordan in 1999 and held the position until 2004, when his half-brother, King Abdullah II, the son of King Hussein and his second wife, Mona, rescinded it in favor of his own son. This was a move widely perceived as marking Abdullah’s consolidation of power five years after ascending the throne.
According to reports, Jordanian officials passed a message to Israel that the situation was under control and there was no threat to the kingdom’s stability, but nonetheless, Israel cannot afford to ignore the events in its eastern neighbor.
Jordan’s situation has become increasingly difficult recently. After a period of seemingly coping well with the corona pandemic, the numbers of ill and fatalities have surged. The incident last month at a government hospital in Salt, close to the capital Amman, in which at least six people died when their oxygen supply was cut fueled unrest and demonstrations. The king obviously took this seriously and visited the area.
The Jordanian economy has been badly hit by the impact of COVID. In addition, 10 years after the start of the civil war in Syria, the estimated one million migrants who have sought refuge in Jordan have created an added burden on the economy.
It is not clear at this stage what exactly took place in Jordan. Even if there was no attempted overthrow of the ruling monarch, there are definitely signs of trouble and instability. It’s not by chance that most of the powers in the region issued statements of support for King Abdullah.
Israel, perhaps more than most, should be interested in making sure that Jordan remains secure and stable. It is essential to Israel’s security. Israel shares its longest border with Jordan, some 300 kilometers, which stretches most of the length of the country. That it is a peaceful one allows Israel to maintain a low-level military presence, and considerably reduces any threats against the Jewish state.
Moreover, it acts as a buffer zone. Without Jordan, there would be no real separation between Israel and the threats emanating from Iraq and even further afield. It also helps keep the Palestinian Authority in check.
Despite the cold peace, there is a solid security relationship based on mutual interests. This is particularly true now, as Israel develops stronger relations with the Gulf states.
The recent incident concerning the current crown prince, Hussein Bin Abdullah, demonstrates this. When Israel did not allow him to visit al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount with his own security detail last month, the prince canceled the visit. Jordan then barred a flight by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over its air space to make what would have been his first official visit to the United Arab Emirates. Without flying over Jordan, the journey would have taken hours longer and Netanyahu canceled the visit.
Netanyahu then reportedly retaliated and tried to ban flights between Jordan and Israel. This was no small matter since free travel was one of the elements included in the 1994 peace treaty between the two countries.
Developing a stronger peace with the Gulf countries under the Abraham Accords in no way negates the need for a good relationship with Jordan. On the contrary, it shows the importance of Jordan in the regional scheme of things.
Similarly, any future peace agreement with the Palestinians (however distant prospects currently seem) will depend on having a good relationship with a strong Jordan, which also borders the Palestinian Authority areas and has a majority Palestinian population. Jordan’s custodial status over Muslim and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem also gives it a special role.
Israel and Jordan are on the same side on many crucial issues. Neither country should be taking this relationship for granted.