Why Israel Worries About Jordan

By Asaf Romirowsky, The National Interest

Along with much of the rest of the Middle East, Amman is facing a rising tide of anti-government fervor. The Jordanian monarchy is under increasing pressure. After the fall of the Mubarak regime, the Israelis are worried that yet another peace partner could collapse.

In Amman, leaders of the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood, known as the Islamic Action Front, promise to continue demonstrations until their demands are met. Among other things, they are calling for constitutional changes that include making the prime minister the parliamentary majority leader, rather than a royal appointee.

The IAF, cut from the same radical ideological cloth of the global Muslim Brotherhood, commands between 20 and 30 percent support in Jordan. The group has used the country’s high unemployment and economic malaise—currently Jordan has a record deficit of $2 billion and unemployment of over 12 percent—to galvanize the public.

The rise of the Brotherhood would mean instability for Jordan. But it would also mean instability for Israel. The Brothers flatly rejected the 1994 peace treaty with Israel and have questioned it ever since. However, the gravest danger could be the Brotherhood’s exploitation of Jordan’s Palestinians, estimated at 70% of the population.

The monarchy has traditionally had a cultural and political commitment to maintaining the Palestinians’ sense of victimhood and dependence, to direct their ire at Israel rather than at the King. Many of the 1.9 million Palestinians in Jordan still live in refugee camps—in a nation where they are supposedly full citizens. In May 2010 they participated in a demonstration commemorating the Nakba —the “disaster” of Israel’s creation—expressing their hatred of Israel, but also, by implication, the undemocratic government under which they live.

The Brotherhood in Jordan, much like the other regional branches, regards the Palestinian problem as an Islamic problem. As such, they have concentrated many of their resources on “liberating Palestine from the global Jewish community and international Crusaders.”

One feared scenario for Israel, and a clear indicator that the monarchy would be losing its grip, is one in which King Abdullah allows the Brotherhood, together with its Palestinian supporters, to have a controlling stake in Jordan’s governance. This would create a joint Palestinian-Brotherhood stronghold in Jordan.

The Brotherhood could also simply link their struggle with the King to the Palestinian cause, and bring tens of thousands of protestors into the streets.

In the interest of preserving his own power, King Abduallah will not let that happen. The worry, of course, is that he won’t have the final say. Hosni Mubarak certainly didn’t.

Under pressure,King Abdullah II has complied with one of the opposition’s demands by firing prime minister Samir Rifai. In his place, Abdullah appointed Marouf Bakhit, a palace loyalist who played a role in the 1994 Israeli-Jordanian peace deal, and even served as Jordan’s ambassador to Turkey. The move may mollify Israel, and will certainly shore up support among the traditional Bedouin and Hashemite tribes, but certainly it has not placated the IAF, the Palestinians, or others within Jordan’s opposition.

As protests continue, the military, which remains loyal to the King, will be key to ensuring the survival of the monarchy. Jordan’s military leaders remember well what happened in 1970, when the Palestinian Liberation Organization tried to seize control of Jordan — and they do not wish to see a repeat performance. This why Abdullah is bolstering the army in its ability to maintain law and order in the country, and to crack down on any radical uprising.

The Israelis are watching worriedly. If the Hashemite regime cannot survive, the Israeli-Jordanian border could descend into anarchy, and regional stability could take a dramatic turn for the worse.

Asaf Romirowsky is an adjunct fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a former IDF liaison officer to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.

February 23, 2011 | 3 Comments »

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  1. I gather from reading a Mid-Eastern report on Jordan that one of the King’s problems is the perception of favoritism in his treatment of his people. The Queen is accused of helping Palestinians become citizens and living lavishly while the people suffer (She takes vacations and gives birthday parties). The King and Queen might be wise to change their behaviors, but I am still a fervid backer of them. Over time the King has accomplished many things to elevate the standing of the Jordanians, and many of his problems are no different from other countries. Attention must be paid, however, and I hope the King pays heed to his people’s complaints. In my opinion Jordan is a stablizer in the region.

    I am all for governments giving subsidies to their people. If there is enough money to do that, a myriad of other problems can be avoided. I think of the Russian people of an older age who have known nothing but terror and war and was disappointed when the Russian government took some of their subsidies away some time back. Full stomachs and transportation tokens are the least the government can do for them, especially now that the Russian economy is rolling along. Bloody Communists!

  2. Vinnie says: I see no downside to the overthrow of the Hashemites. Some might say, “What are you talking about?? You don’t call the strong possibility of another war a ‘downside’??” To which I reply, a war is coming in any event. Better it be fought on terms favorable to Israel, than not.

    The Hashemites must go. Good riddance, I say.

    G-d’s Master plan

    The Bible promises the nation of Israel a huge country from the Nile to the Euphrates. The Jordanian monarchy won’t last long. The Palestinian majority will take over that desert state, and unable to create a viable economy there, they will turn to nationalism and militancy. Jordan will become a huge Gaza, rife with terrorist training camps. Jordanians will extend their influence to those Arabs whom Israel failed to expel in violation of the commandment, and they will become “a trap for you,” “a sore in your eye,” and “masters over you.” In order to establish security, Israel would have no choice but to extend toward the Euphrates, relocating the hostile Arabs to Iraq. As if prompting Israel to fulfill the commandment, the strong and militant state of Iraq was invaded for no reason and destroyed; now the way for relocating Palestinians and Jordanians is cleared.

    Amid hordes of Muslims, Israel will never live in peace. It is a heartbreaking assertion, but true nonetheless.

  3. It is not in Israel’s long-term interests to allow the Hashemite monarchy to place the entire onus for solving the issue of Palsetinian self-determination on Israel’s shoulders, as they have been vigorously doing for decades.

    Some here may scoff at the concept of a distinct Palestinian national identity that rises to the level of warranting self-determination in the form of a nation state. However, no matter how strong a scholarly case one may make in that direction, the fact is that we cannot “unring” that bell. The Palestinians are firmly embedded in the court of world opinion as “deserving” some kind of state. The political capital behind the “solution” of this “problem” is enormous. I do not believe this can be reversed.

    In this writer’s humble opinion, about the only thing more laughable than the idea of a distinct Palestinian national identity is the idea of a distinct Jordanian national identity. That is like assigning a distinct national identity to the inhabitants of the state of Mississippi, so named – like Jordan – simply because it is adjacent to a particular river of the same name.

    The plain truth is that the overwhelming majority of Jordan’s inhabitants are Palestinian Arabs. By one measure – provided to me by a Palestinian Jordanian democracy activist – this figure is 92%.

    The Palestinians base their claims on J&S on the principle of “majority rule”. It is strange that this principle must be stringently applied, according to them, in J&S, and completely ignored right next door in Jordan.

    The Hashemites are no friends to Israel. Not only have they vigorously promoted the idea that the Palestinian “problem” is Israel’s alone to solve, but their propaganda and political agitation against Israel and Jews has reached fever pitch in recent times. King Abdullah has recently declared that he considers Israel a “rogue state” on a par with North Korea.

    This is a “friend” Israel needs??

    Not only is the Hashemite monarchy not a friend of Israel, it is also not a friend of the U.S. and West generally. They declared neutrality in Gulf War 1, but allowed their territory to be used for transit of supplies to Saddam. In Gulf War 2, they allied themselves with the U.S.-led coalition, but not in the light of day. They allowed the U.S. to base a squadron of F-16s there, but only in secret at the time. The crews and maintenance personnel associated with these were warned by their hosts to stay in their barracks as much as possible, as their safety from local snipers could not be guaranteed.

    Imagine any other ally being so unable to provide for the basic physical safety of a locally based allied military contingent. And this country is touted by her apologists as America’s “best friend” in the Arab world. That may actually be true….such are the “friends” that America has in that neighborhood besides Israel.

    A large portion of the so-called “foreign fighters” we have encountered in places like Afghanistan and Iraq have come from Jordan. The Jordanian regime is happy to let their local “hotheads” vent their jihadist anger at us, killing our troops. Again, some “ally”.

    Israel is now under unprecedented pressure to allow for the creation of yet another Palestinian state configured so that it is within mortar range of Israel’s most important population and industrial centers. Is this scenario preferable to even a radicalized Jordan?

    A Palestinian nationalist/Islamist revolution in Jordan would lead to danger and uncertainty in the near term, but like the rest of Israel’s immediate neighbors, they would be no match for Israel in a shooting war. For once they have control of the state, they can no longer play the role of “beleagured guerrillas” fighting against the Big Bad Israeli Bully. It will be state vs. state in a shooting war between uniformed military organizations; i.e., Israel’s kind of war.

    If a radicalized Jordan tears up the peace treaty and throws their army at Israel, this gives Israel the perfect excuse to annex J&S, and kick the Palestinians in these areas into Jordan, which now would be, in both de jureas well as de facto terms, the Palestinian state. The Palestinians could no longer claim that Israel is “denying them their rights to self-determination” – the main propaganda club with which Israel is beaten in the court of world opinion – as they would already have their “state”, this being Jordan.

    I don’t think a Palestinian majority government, that may have overthrown the monarchy or even allowed them to remain in a ceremonial role, would be that stupid. I strongly suspect that they’d be willing to negotiate a settlement that would render J&S the status of a DMZ, with contiguous Palestinian areas annexed to Jordan, and contiguous Jewish areas (Greater Jerusalem, Gush Etzion, Maale Edumim, Ariel) annexed to Israel.

    But if they are that stupid, then they lose the whole of J&S, and Israel does not have to say she’s “sorry”.

    Either way, Israel wins. I see no downside to the overthrow of the Hashemites. Some might say, “What are you talking about?? You don’t call the strong possibility of another war a ‘downside’??” To which I reply, a war is coming in any event. Better it be fought on terms favorable to Israel, than not.

    The Hashemites must go. Good riddance, I say.