Jordan’s Positive Era Could Lead to Improved Ties With Israel
Despite facing an array of challenges, some of which may worsen again soon, Jordan’s King Abdullah should be quite pleased with recent trends — both inside the kingdom and along its borders.
This can be understood and analyzed through a number of factors.
Most importantly, it seems that the turmoil inside the royal court has quietened. The alleged April plot against the king, led by his half-brother, Prince Hamza, is over. Some high-ranking scapegoats were “sacrificed” and placed on trial, but the family is working hard to show renewed unity within its ranks.
At the same time, Jordan has been able to block a third wave of Covid-19. Following the second wave that ended in May, Jordanians are gradually being vaccinated, the kingdom is receiving donations for further doses, and it has installed strong border supervision to prevent the entry of the Delta and other variants. This situation could change rapidly, but it seems King Abdullah has gained a few months respite.
The economy is recovering to the best extent possible from the previous pandemic wave. Jordan forecasts that in 2021, it will receive a total of four billion dollars of international assistance. Out of that sum, two billion dollars are designated for public programs such as health and social welfare, and not to security or military needs. This is a significant sum for development projects.
However, despite the positive economic indicators, the Jordanian economy remains shaky, lacks major growth engines, and remains heavily dependent on international assistance.
Externally, King Abdullah’s regional and international status is back on the up. He became the first Arab leader to meet with President Joe Biden in Washington, in a visit that might mark the start of a new regional role for Jordan.
King Abdullah is in a position to promote Israeli-Palestinian diplomatic talks without being in opposition to the Gulf states that signed the Abraham Accords. Rather than being mutually exclusive, Abdullah has found a way, under the Biden administration, to deliver the Palestinian story to the Abraham Accords momentum, using his natural position as “caretaker” of the Palestinian issue.
Meanwhile, Jordan is creating new relations with Egypt and Iraq. This axis is critical to Jordan’s stability, economic development, and struggle to influence Iraq against Iranian influence (and at the same time against Saudi and Emirati influence).
Iran is seeking to strengthen its Shiite militias in Iraq, led by Kataib Hezbollah. Jordan is preparing for the American exit from Iraq, and is working to secure its economic, political, and security interests in Iraq, and along the border, so that it does not become an eastern zone for Iranian-backed aggression.
In Washington, Abdullah spoke of Iranian-made drones that attacked Jordan, and of his concerns regarding Iran’s activities in the region. The king also mentioned that the conflict between Israel and Iran in Syria affects Jordan, and how, on several occasions, missiles fired at Israel from Syria landed in Jordan.This is even more important in light of the fact that the US is preparing to move some of its military presence from Qatar to Jordan in order to reduce exposure to Iran’s firepower range.
On the Syrian front, Jordan has managed to get other Arab countries to improve their relations with the Assad regime, while improving trade channels along the border. It is not yet clear how renewed fighting in the Dara region, in southern Syria, will impact this trend.
Jordan is studying the new government in Israel and it views a number of improvement points from its perspective, while recognizing the limitations of how far relations can really improve under current conditions.
After years of bad blood between Abdullah and Netanyahu, a series of high-level bilateral meetings between the king and Israeli leaders has ignited hopes of a brighter future. Core problems have not been solved, but a new process of dialogue has clearly begun.
In addition, several obstacles have been removed; Israel agreed to boost water supplies to Jordan, and the World Bank’s decision to abolish the Red Sea-Dead Sea program has extracted a thorny issue between the sides. Tensions however very much remain. Israeli actions in eastern Jerusalem and settlement construction in Judea and Samaria receive ongoing Jordanian condemnations, just as they always have. King Abdullah is aware that the new Israeli government cannot maneuver significantly regarding the Palestinians. He recently said that the government was not ideal, but his discourse with its leaders gives him optimism.
Moreover, the relatively tranquil period gives the king the ability to advance relations with Israel — with minimal public wrath. This stands in stark contrast to previous times when protests led the king to take policy decision to upset relations as a tool to calm unrest.
The above leads to the conclusion that the glass ceiling of Israeli-Jordanian relations remain in place, although after years of being stuck, there is now a way to boost diplomatic, civil, and economic relations — albeit below that ceiling.
For Israel, improved relations serve the national interest. The peace treaty with Jordan is a core strategic asset, facilitating security arrangements along Israel’s eastern border, repelling threats from the east, and supporting regional stability. Jordan’s influence on the region is positive. Thus, even if the peace between the two nations is a cold one, especially due to anti-Israeli sentiment among the Jordanian public, the relationship forms another part of the regional puzzle that, when combined with the Abraham Accords, enables multilateral regional cooperation that includes Israel on a range of essential civilian matters.
The bottom line is that the Biden administration should view Jordan as a key component of its regional stability architecture, along with Egypt and the Gulf states. It would be a waste not to utilize King Abdullah’s window of opportunity to step forward with his vast experience and skills of being an innovator, a recruiter, and a connector who can energize regional processes.
Tomer Barak (IDF, Ret.) is a publishing Expert at The MirYam Institute. He concluded his military career in 2021 after 21 years of service in the Israeli Military Intelligence and in the Strategic Planning Division.
The MirYam Institute is the leading international forum for Israel focused discussion, dialogue, and debate, focused on campus presentations, engagement with international legislators, and gold-standard trips to the State of Israel. Follow their work at www.MirYamInstitute.org.