When Jordanian King Abdullah’s great-grandfather, after whom he was named, was murdered in July 1951 in exactly the same place where two Israeli policemen were murdered last Friday, then-Jordanian Prime Minister Tawfik Abu al-Huda declared a state of emergency in east Jerusalem, including its places of worship, and treated the city’s residents with an iron fist.
Those who expected the current king to be remotely mindful — even just from a humanitarian standpoint — of the fact that the stone pavement was still wet with the blood of murdered Staff Sgts. Maj. Haiel Sitawe and Kamil Shnaan when he demanded the Temple Mount compound be “reopened quickly,” were surely left disappointed. Instead, he prodded Israel to reopen the holy site without delay and, as usual, we acquiesced to his demands. Why? Because Jordan is a strategic asset.
Any Foreign Ministry cadet can regurgitate the mantra that Israel’s peace accords with Egypt and Jordan are strategic assets. But is this really the case? How can we measure their effectiveness? If the peace agreement with Jordan is truly predicated on interests, how does it benefit Israel? In the midst of a crisis, is it not possible that this “asset” will fail us, squandering all the years we invested in it?
The Jordanian kingdom has been at peace with Israel since 1994, but even long before that, in the time of the murdered Abdullah, political ties were forged with the “Zionist entity.” Before and after Israel became an independent state in 1948, it agreed to view Abdullah as an ally. However, the first chance he had to prove his dependability, he met with Golda Meir and told her, “Sorry, I am going to violate the agreement and join the Arab countries in their war against you.”
Even his grandson, King Hussein, who during the 1960s maintained intensive covert ties with Israel — which became known as the “officers’ back channel” — claimed he supported active coexistence. In 1967, however, Hussein unexpectedly turned his back on Israel, and under directives from Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser began shelling Jerusalem. As if this was not enough, the battle orders he issued as chief of the kingdom’s armed forces were even more barbarous than those of the Syrians, commanding his officers not to take Jewish prisoners.
Israel did not bear him a grudge for that. Quite the opposite: During the “Black September” crisis in 1970, when Syria and Iraq wanted to teach the wayward king in Amman a lesson in Arab solidarity — for eradicating nearly half the PLO members in Jordan — the U.S. turned to Israel and asked it to “fight for the king.” Israel declined the American initiative but eventually agreed to deploy an armored force to the border. Under American mediation, an unwritten strategic alliance was forged between Israel and Jordan, which essentially persists to this day. The 1994 peace accord signed by Hussein with Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was merely the affirmation of this alliance. Incidentally, Israel also promised to give the Jordanians 50 million cubic meters of drinkable water from its sources.
Many wonder, and justifiably so, what is Jordan’s role in this alliance? What is Jordan expected to bring to the table within the framework of this complex relationship? To be sure, this peace accord provides Israel almost no benefits. Beyond the diplomatic ties, which are anyway confined to Israel’s fortified bunker of an embassy in Amman, there is virtually zero Israeli tourism, aside from sporadic forays to Petra and Aqaba, and only sparse academic and commercial ties.
“Jordan, in essence, is supposed to just be Jordan,” Israeli diplomats who have served in Amman say. The kingdom has zero obligations toward Israel.
“You have to understand the king,” they say. “He has to deal with tough Islamic opposition that regularly threatens his regime and prevents any type of normalization with Israel.”
In order to preserve the internal status quo with leaders of the kingdom’s Islamic movement, Abdullah occasionally has to “throw Israel’s head” to the angry masses. Such was the case during the Khaled Mashaal affair in 1996 and during other crises in our region.
The time may have come to reassess the usefulness of this strategic asset known as the Kingdom of Jordan.
Dr. Col. (res.) Moshe Elad is a lecturer on national security issues at Western Galilee College.