Posted tagged ‘Jordan vs Israel’

Abbas lacks important Arab support against Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem

December 7, 2017

Abbas lacks important Arab support against Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem, DEBKAfile, December 7, 2017

Israeli soldiers clash with Palestinians during a protest in the West Bank city of Hebron, following US President Donald Trump’s announcement that he recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, on December 7, 2017. Photo by Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90

It is no secret in Ramallah or Nablus that King Abdullah of Jordan has fallen out of favor with the majority of Arab rulers, especially the Saudi crown prince and strongman, the UAE emir and the Egyptian president.  DEBKAfile’s Middle East sources reveal that Riyadh has gone so far as to cut off financial assistance to Amman.

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The Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas only found Jordan’s King Abdullah and Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan to back him up Thursday, Dec. 7, in the first 24 hours after US President Donald Trump’s announced recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The Arab street’s first response was also minor in scale and pitch – less than 100 protesters at most of the rallies. Prepared for an outbreak of “the third Palestinian intifada (uprising)”, foreign correspondents arrived on the scene kitted up in helmets and vests, only to find a fairly low-key event to cover rather than a violent backlash. The Palestinian sources reported 140 injured so far, most of them from inhaling gas and three from rubber bullets.

The Palestinians were called out by their leaders to stage massive protest marches in East Jerusalem, Hebron, Ramallah, Nablus, Jenin and Tulkarm, as well as at the Gaza border fence.  Stones were hurled at Israeli troops and tires set on fire for the cameras, but nothing more lethal at Damascus Gate in Jerusalem, for instance, than bottles of water. Only in Hebron did real clashes occur between security forces and protesters. They were broken up with tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets.

Extra Israeli security and military forces have been mobilized for the weekly Muslim Friday prayers at the mosques and Saturday. Will Palestinian protesters then turn out in force, as they have so many times before?

It must be said that, while most Arab and Muslim rulers have gone through the motions of condemning Trump’s pro-Israeli act, few are actively opposing it, which the Palestinian street has not been slow to notice. Their zeal for a violent confrontation with Israeli security forces is therefore less than expected – especially after their leader Abu Mazen had to fall back on the Jordanian king and Turkish president for support, instead of finding a rousing condemnation from the entire Arab leadership.

It is no secret in Ramallah or Nablus that King Abdullah of Jordan has fallen out of favor with the majority of Arab rulers, especially the Saudi crown prince and strongman, the UAE emir and the Egyptian president.  DEBKAfile’s Middle East sources reveal that Riyadh has gone so far as to cut off financial assistance to Amman.

Jordan has always been good friends with Turkey and so Abdullah flew to Ankara Wednesday to find a backer ahead of the Trump announcement. However, the ordinary Palestinian has a low opinion of President Erdogan and his efforts to set up an anti-American, Anti-Israel Islamic Front never found much response in Palestinian towns.

And so Abu Mazen’s panicky visit to Amman to talk with Abdullah is not expected to change the mood on the Palestinian street. At the same time, the situation is inflammable enough to catch fire in a trice. A large-scale Palestinian terrorist attack against Israel is always on the cards, and the potential for Israeli security forces facing a raging mob  to inflict a large number of casualties cannot be ruled out for triggering a major outbreak.

An alliance tested

July 25, 2017

An alliance tested, Israel Hayom, Prof. Eyal Zisser, July 25, 2017

In light of all these factors, Israel is a strategic partner of utmost importance. The Jordanians are impeding Islamic State and warding off Iran, while Israel provides Amman with water and gas and lends a significant hand to help with security. This is a real interest for both sides, and it appears, therefore, that despite the current tensions and upheaval, the two countries will maintain their strategic partnership, even if it is hidden from view.

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The surprising thing about the diplomatic crisis that erupted with Jordan Sunday night is, without a doubt, the concerted effort from both sides — specifically, from our perspective, the Jordanian regime — to demonstrate restraint, lower the flames and allay the furor gripping the Jordanian capital. A solution was indeed found on Monday that allowed the embassy staff to return safely to Israel, and we can assume efforts will keep being made to resolve the Temple Mount crisis, which came to a head last week.

On second thought, however, this is not much of a surprise. This is precisely what one should have expected from the Jordanian regime, which recognizes Israel’s importance to the stability of the Hashemite kingdom and has always preferred the path of dialogue and moderation.

The Jordanian regime’s cool-headed restraint comes after weeks of it repeatedly exposing its darker side, particularly in the form of vicious incitement against Israel, which is rooted in the Palestinians’ considerable demographic weight in the kingdom, as well as the religious radicalization washing over portions of the Jordanian public. It was sobering to see Jordanian intellectuals and public officials opting to pour oil on the flames, such as Jordanian Parliament Speaker Atef Tarawneh, who praised the murderers of two Israeli policemen on the Temple Mount, in the same spot where King Abdullah’s great-grandfather was murdered 66 years ago.

This tension appears to be structured, however, and Israeli-Jordanian relations have always been able to exist in its shadow. On one hand, the countries share deep strategic understandings and cooperate with one another intimately, mostly out of sight. But this all takes place amid extremely anti-Israeli public opinion and an exceedingly hostile and poisonous Jordanian media. It’s possible that letting off steam against Israel is the regime’s way to regulate pressure and temper emotions, thus allowing it to pursue its own interests.

Ultimately, relations with Jordan date back to the state’s inception and even further, to the Hashemite kingdom’s ties to the Zionist movement during the British Mandate. And yet this strategic concord did not prevent Jordan from joining the Arab invasion of Israel in May 1948, or jumping on Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser’s war wagon in June 1967.

In recent years, Jordan and Israel have united against two enemies. The closer one is the Islamic State group, whose extremist religious screed has influenced swaths of the Jordanian public. Islamic State has also carried out a series of terrorist attacks inside the kingdom, and we cannot forget the downed Jordanian pilot burned alive in Islamic State captivity.

The second enemy, farther afield but of greater importance, is Iran, whose steadily growing foothold in Syria is casting a dark shadow over Jordan and Israel alike.

Jordan is dealing with millions of refugees from Iraq and Syria. It lacks water and energy resources; its economy is faltering. The Palestinian question is also a constant headache for Jordanian rulers. These challenges jeopardize stability and calm inside the kingdom.

In light of all these factors, Israel is a strategic partner of utmost importance. The Jordanians are impeding Islamic State and warding off Iran, while Israel provides Amman with water and gas and lends a significant hand to help with security. This is a real interest for both sides, and it appears, therefore, that despite the current tensions and upheaval, the two countries will maintain their strategic partnership, even if it is hidden from view.

Embassy incident: 2 Jordanians dead, Israeli hurt

July 24, 2017

Embassy incident: 2 Jordanians dead, Israeli hurt, DEBKAfile, July 24, 2017

(Please see also, Jordan threatens Israel with diplomatic actions. — DM)

An incident at the Israeli embassy in Amman Sunday, July 23, left two Jordanians shot dead and an Israeli stabbed and in serious condition. Monday morning, amid reports of an impending evacuation of embassy staff, the building was surrounded by Jordanian forces which prevented departures and entries. This followed a long confrontation overnight between the Jordanian and Israeli governments, most likely at the highest level. Amman demands the Israeli guard surrendered for the investigation into the incident. Israel refuses on the grounds that he has diplomatic immunity.

After the story was held back for several hours by the Israeli and Jordanian authorities, the versions which sparked this development released early Monday, combined with earlier international media reports, left more questions than answers.

According to the Israeli official version, an incident occurred in the “space of the Israeli embassy” which is located in the high-end Rabiyeh district of Amman, when a Jordanian workman who came to repair a piece of furniture at the home of the Israeli security guard, attacked him with a screwdriver. The guard pulled a gun and shot him and another Jordanian man described as “the landlord.”

Jordanian General Intelligence stated that when word was received of a shooting at a residential building used by the Israeli embassy and “within its space,” a security force was sent over and locked it down prior to investigating the incident and its circumstances. This account describes three injured individuals, including an Israeli national.

It is not clear in either account whether the Jordanian assailant came from outside and entered one of the most heavily guarded embassy compounds in Amman, or was a member of the embassy staff – in which case his security clearance by Jordan and Israel would have been high.

Other Jordanian sources describe the Jordanian assailant as a member of the embassy’s maintenance staff with whom the Israelis serving in Jordan were well acquainted.

International media carried various accounts hours before the story was officially released for publication. According to one, the Israeli guard was stabbed in a quarrel with a Jordanian and then shot him several times in the chest. The Israeli was then taken in “unstable condition” to hospital. Israel was said to have begun evacuating the Amman embassy.

The two governments appeared to have been engaged in an all-night discussion, most likely at the highest personal level of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and King Abdullah.

On Friday, thousands of Jordanians protested in Amman against Israel over the installation of metal detectors on Temple Mount, a site in the heart of Jerusalem that is sacred to both Muslims and Jews in Jerusalem. They were installed as a protective measure, after a terrorist on July 14 shot dead two Israeli police officers who were guarding the Lion’s Gate entry to the compound.

Since then, the Waqf and Palestinian leaders have instructed Muslims to refrain from entering Temple Mount for worship at Al Aqsa, but to hold prayers in the street outside the compound.  Major disturbances ensued in Jerusalem and other parts of the country and spilled across the border to Arab capitals, including Amman.

Israel later installed new security cameras on Temple Mount, while considering an alternative to the hotly contested metal detectors. But Waqf and Palestinian officials declared emphatically that no security measures installed by Israel for protecting worshippers and visitors to the shrine will be accepted. The Waqf takes its orders from Amman. The Temple Mount crisis has blown up into a major diplomatic incident between Israel and Jordan.

Jordan Intensifies Anti-Israel Rhetoric Despite Security Challenges

June 1, 2017

Jordan Intensifies Anti-Israel Rhetoric Despite Security Challenges, Investigative Project on Terrorism, Noah Beck, June 1, 2017

Jordan, a country that has had a formal peace treaty with Israel since 1994, has seen an uptick in anti-Israel hostility.

Last month, Jordan condemned the killing of a Jordanian-Palestinian attacker who was filmed stabbing an Israeli policeman multiple times before he was shot, calling it “a heinous crime.” In September, Israeli police killed a Jordanian tourist who attacked with a knife. Jordan described this act of self-defense as a premeditated and “barbaric act of the army of the Israeli occupation.”

Israeli analysts disagree whether Jordan’s rhetoric is a cause for concern.

Since the second Palestinian Intifada broke out in 2000, Jordan’s public statements often contradict private behavior, said Elad Ben-Dror, a Bar-Ilan University Middle Eastern Studies senior lecturer. Publicly, “the Jordanian parliament and press are fierce in their denunciation of Israel… Beneath the surface, however, there is a strong link and security cooperation between the two countries, especially with regard to the war on terrorism.”

Jordanian demographics drive the public vitriol, said Tel Aviv University Contemporary Middle Eastern History Chair Eyal Zisser. Palestinians comprise half the Jordanian population, “and because the population is conservative and very much Islamic, the regime lets the public…express anti-Israeli sentiments as a way to vent and reduce…pressure on the regime.”

So “cheap shots” like condemning the shooting of a terrorist in the act of trying to kill are “aimed at showing the Palestinians in Jordan [that] the Hashemites have not abandoned them,” said Oded Eran, a senior research fellow at Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies. “The King expects the Israeli government” to ignore such statements. And for the most part, Jerusalem does.

But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently took exception. “It is outrageous to hear the Jordanian government’s speaker support the terror attack which occurred today in Jerusalem’s Old City,” a statement released by Netanyahu’s office said. “It’s time Jordan stopped playing both sides of the game. Just like Israel condemns terror attacks in Jordan, Jordan must condemn terror attacks in Israel. Terror is terror.”

Moreover, some anti-Israel hostility by Jordan goes beyond mere statements.

In March, Jordan released Ahmed Daqamseh, a former soldier who murdered seven Israeli schoolgirls as they visited his country. His tribe gave him a hero’s welcome and he called for Israel’s destruction on Al-Jazeera TV. Many lawmakers and politicians had reportedly lobbied to set him free, and doing so may have been a populist move.

Jordan also hosts “Al-Quds,” the official TV station of Hamas, the Gaza-based terror group committed to Israel’s destruction.

Some experts think Israel should stop turning the other cheek. “Israel is assisting Jordan economically, providing it with fresh water and [helping] in many other areas. It is entitled and even obligated to insist that Jordan moderate its criticism and certainly that it not support anti-Israeli terrorism,” Ben-Dror said.

Israel should “slowly alter the rules of the game” by insisting that Jordan’s monarch condemn Palestinian violence, said Bar-Ilan political scientist Hillel Frisch. “Israel has to make him sweat a little but not, of course, at the expense of his throne.”

“I’m glad that Netanyahu rebuked him over the attempted murder of the policeman,” Frisch said. “I’d like to see more rebukes in the future, especially regarding the Waqf guards’ role in incitement on Har Habayit.” Under the terms of Israel’s peace treaty with Jordan, the Jordanian-run Waqf Islamic religious trust administers the Temple Mount, but has been leading efforts to deny and erase any Jewish connection to the site.

Last July, three members of the Islamic Waqf attacked a group of archeologists at the site. The harassment continued in January, when Islamic guards tried to remove an Israeli tour guide for calling the area the “Temple Mount,” insisting that he use the Islamic term “Haram al-Sharif.”

While King Abdullah might have an unspoken understanding with his “Arab Street” that requires regular condemnations of Israel, the sustainability of such an arrangement remains a concern. The same Islamist forces to which he panders could eventually hobble his policy objectives, or worse.

Last October, a grassroots campaign was launched by Jordanian activists to turn off the lights to protest Jordan’s gas deal with Israel. The “lights-out action came on the heels of a protest march [recently] in downtown Amman that attracted an estimated 2,500 demonstrators, making it one of the largest protests in Jordan in recent years,” the Jerusalem Post reported. The protests reportedly included chants against both the gas deal and Jordan’s peace with Israel.

Reflecting popular opposition, the lower house of Jordan’s Parliament overwhelmingly opposed the 2014 gas deal. The opposition includes leading Jordanian trade unions, Islamists, and secularists.

By indulging public opinion with anti-Israel rhetoric, Abdullah risks encouraging and popularizing the type of movement that could eventually topple him. Jordanian Islamists recently murdered a prominent Christian writer who faced legal charges for sharing a “blasphemous” anti-ISIS cartoon that outraged Muslim groups. Honor killings are increasing in Jordan.

Last November, Jordan’s highest religious authority slammed as “false and insignificant” an Israeli bill to ban the Muslim call to prayer via loudspeakers during sleeping hours throughout Israel. The Israeli bill would apply to the sound systems of all houses of worship, not only mosques, and countries like India and Egypt have enacted similar limitations.

Anti-Israel hostility might be aggravated by Jordan’s overall situation. Economic woes and an influx of Syrian refugees are bringing increasing instability, Israeli Ambassador to Jordan Einat Shlein warned in March.

Frisch is less concerned: “I remember from [over 50 years ago] how the pundits predicted the Jordanian monarchy’s imminent fall. My take is that… [King Abdullah] has money (Saudi and Gulf) and lots of intelligence and logistical support (Israel, US, British) and the more heterogeneous his population, the more room for maneuver [he has] to play the role of arbiter.”

Although Jordan has economic challenges, the regime is stable, Ben-Dror said. “Jordanians see what is happening in Syria and Iraq and appreciate the stability the regime provides. I think that most Jordanians want to preserve the status quo – the Hashemite regime. The combination of outside support for the country and the domestic support of its citizens guarantee its survival.”

Mutual interests provide some insurance for Israel-Jordan relations, Eran said. Jordan needs Israeli cooperation and expertise when it comes to “security, water and…energy… [Jordan] also needs at least a semblance of a peace process between Israel and the Palestinians to prevent unrest” among Jordanian Palestinians.

Indeed, that synergy may explain why Israel’s Foreign Ministry declined to comment on Jordanian hostility towards Israel.

“Jordan protects Israel from the east,” Zisser said. “It’s better to have the Jordanians as our neighbors than to have ISIS, the Iranians, the Syrians, or the Iraqis. So security is above all, and as long as the Jordanians keep the border quiet and cooperate with Israel,” the rest can be tolerated.

Still, if King Abdullah views Israel as key to his regime’s success, and he also needs support from the Jordanian “street” for his regime’s survival, then why – despite being the most powerful figure in Jordan – has he done so little to align public opinion with his strategic objectives? If King Abdullah can order bloody crackdowns on terrorists, can’t he promote more moderate thinking among the general population, by – for example – pushing the press to include fair and balanced coverage of Israel?

“The King is not as powerful as one thinks,” Zisser said. “There were many protests against corruption, unemployment etc., so… [he] needs to maneuver carefully.”

But Frisch disagreed: “Abdullah has been in the throne long enough to influence and shape public opinion rather [than] pander to it. He might be doing this deliberately to derail any peace process that might lead to a Palestinian state, which he certainly does not want. He wants Israel, as the strongest state on the block to contain Palestinian nationalism and radicalism.”

Noah Beck is the author of The Last Israelis, an apocalyptic novel about Iranian nukes and other geopolitical issues in the Middle East.