Sheldon Kirshner

Israel Rebooting Relations With Jordan

Israel’s embassy in Jordan — one of only two Arab countries with which Israel has diplomatic relations —  still remains closed, eight months after the Israeli ambassador and her staff fled Amman following an eruption of shooting during which two Jordanians were killed.

This incident brought Israel’s important relationship with Jordan to a virtual standstill and threatened their 1994 peace treaty, signed 15 years after Israel and Egypt officially ended their state of belligerency.

Since mid-January, however, Israel and Jordan have begun to rebuild their bilateral ties.

This occurred after the Jordanian government announced that Israel had complied with all its conditions for resuming normal relations. According to a Jordanian spokesman, Israel has apologized for the deaths of the Jordanians, has offered financial compensation to the bereaved Jordanian families, and has pledged to bring legal action against the Israeli security guard who fatally shot them.

In response to Jordan’s statement, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office released a communique saying that Israel “attaches great importance to its strategic relations with Jordan, and the two countries will act to advance their cooperation and to strengthen the peace treaty between them.”

Israel also announced that the Israeli embassy would reopen, though no date was given.

A few days ago, the Jordanian daily Al Ghad reported that Jordan would approve the appointment of the new Israeli ambassador to Jordan, Amir Weissbrod, whose posting was announced in February by Israel’s Foreign Ministry. He will replace Einat Schlein.

Normally, the formal approval of an incoming ambassador takes place within three weeks of his or her appointment. Which means that Weissbrod — a career diplomat and fluent Arab speaker who served in the Israeli embassy in Amman from 2001 to 2004 — should have taken up his duties by now.

It would appear that this process has been delayed by Jordan, possibly because Israel has yet to fully comply with all its demands.

Israel expressed “regret” for the incident, but did not convey an apology to Jordan. Israel maintains that the Israeli guard in question, Ziv Moyal, acted in self-defence and will not stand trial, as Jordan insists. Israel did not directly compensate the two Jordanian families. Instead, it sent the funds to the Jordanian government.

The incident erupted in Israel’s embassy residence last July when Mohammed Jawawdeh, the 17-year-old son of a furniture store owner, stabbed Moyal after learning he was an Israeli. Moyal opened fire, killing the assailant as well as accidentally shooting the landlord, Bashar Hamaneh, an orthopedic surgeon who had rented the apartment to Israel.

After their deaths, Jordan refused to allow Moyal to leave the country. A day later, Moyal and the embassy staff were permitted to return to Israel. This happened after Israel and the United States applied pressure on Jordan. Netanyahu phoned King Abdullah II. The director of the Shin Bet intelligence agency, Nadav Argaman, visited Amman. The Trump administration intervened on Israel’s behalf.

After the Israelis arrived safely in Israel, Netanyahu offended Jordan by inviting Moyal to his office and praising the manner in which he had comported himself. Netanyahu released photographs and footage of their meeting, infuriating King Abdullah II.

The incident unfolded during a period of stress between Israel and Jordan.

Last summer, Israel installed metal detectors at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem following a July 14 terrorist attack during which three Israeli Arabs killed two Israeli police officers with weapons smuggled into the Al-Aqsa mosque. Israel’s action was regarded as an affront by Jordan, the custodian of the Temple Mount complex. Eventually, Israel removed the detectors, defusing the crisis.

It was not the first time that tensions on the Temple Mount had drawn Israel and Jordan into a dispute.

In the autumn of 2014, shortly after the third war in the Gaza Strip, reports surfaced that Israeli police had entered the Al-Aqsa mosque and had clashed with Palestinians following reports that Jews would be permitted to pray at the Temple Mount. Jordan accused Israel of upending the status quo — which was established in the wake of the 1967 Six Day War  — and recalled its ambassador in Tel Aviv.

Three months later, in the wake of Israel’s assurances that it would abide by the status quo, the Jordanian ambassador returned to his post.

In 1996, a Mossad hit team tried to assassinate Khaled Mashaal — the head of Hamas’ political bureau — in Amman. Posing as a Canadian tourist, a Mossad operative sprayed a toxic substance into Mashaal’s left ear, paralyzing him. Two of the Mossad agents were arrested, while three took refuge in the Israeli embassy.

Netanyahu, then serving his first term as prime minister, sent a special emissary to Amman to plead for their release. King Hussein, who had forged Jordan’s peace treaty with the then Israeli prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, drove a hard bargain. He demanded an antidote to save Mashaal’s life. He also insisted that nine Jordanians and 61 Palestinians imprisoned in Israeli jails, including the spiritual leader of Hamas, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, should be released.

Once Israel had complied with these demands, the Mossad agents were permitted to leave Jordan.

Despite these crises, Israel and Jordan have forged close security and intelligence relations. And a few years ago, Jordan agreed to buy 45 billion cubic meters of gas from Israel in a $10 billion deal. But in every other respect, Jordan’s peace treaty with Israel is an empty shell. It enjoys little grassroots popularity, and nationalists and Islamists have demanded its abrogation.

King Abdullah II has honored the treaty, but is not as passionate about it as his late father, King Hussein. In 1997, Ahmed Daqamseh, a Jordanian soldier, killed seven Israeli schoolgirls near Israel’s border with Jordan. Distressed by the killings, King Hussein paid a visit to the grieving family of one of the slain girls, Adi Malka, asked for forgiveness and promised them justice. Last March, after spending 20 years in prison, Daqamseh was released and hailed as a hero by some Jordanians.

Given the anti-Israel climate in Jordan, Israel began building a 30-kilometer security fence from Eilat to Holot Samar, just north of Timna, in January 2016. It was designed to complement a barrier already in place along the length of Israel’s frontier with the Sinai Peninsula. Netanyahu compared it to similar fences Israel has built along Israel’s borders with Egypt, Syria and Lebanon.

Israel is formally at peace with Jordan, but in the Middle East, good fences make good neighbors.



About the Author
Sheldon Kirshner is a journalist in Toronto. He writes at his online journal,
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