Israel wants the Jordan Valley in case Jordan’s king falls

“We live in an environment undergoing strategic changes. There is no threat to the Jordan Valley from the eastern frontier,”

Shelly Yachimovich on December 30, 2013.

I have not read anyone talk about it, but Israel’s demand to maintain the Jordan Valley as a wall against security breaches from the east only makes sense if you assume there will be new threats in the future. At the moment, Israel and Jordan have a strong security-based relationship for unspoken reasons: Jordan fears the fall of Fatah; Israel fears the fall of King Hussein. As Alon Ben David put it in Al-Monitor a few months ago:

“The collapse of King Abdullah II’s regime would in all probability pose the most significant threat to the security of Israel. However, the Israeli public seems to be in effect oblivious of and indifferent to the goings-on in the country neighboring Israel on the east. At the same time, official Israel is keeping mum about its contacts with the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.”

Jordan supports Israel’s hold on the Jordan Valley as a buffer against a Hamas government in the West Bank, plus that potential Hamas government’s influence on the East Bank.

Jordan’s majority population is now Palestinian, though it’s not a black-and-white division between Palestinians and “East Banker” Jordanians. Integration hasn’t reduced Palestinian identity among Jordanians but as much as it has embedded it. As a consequence, Jordan fears interference from a hostile Palestine and wants Israel to serve as a buffer for the kingdom.

A Palestinian shepherd in the Jordan valley. Nov 20, 2009 (photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash90)
A Palestinian shepherd in the Jordan valley. Nov 20, 2009 (photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

Israel is well aware of the that Jordan’s king is not all-powerful and has to be prepared for a Muslim Brotherhood-governed Jordan and terrorist infiltration similar to what saboteurs and infiltrators carried out from the Jordanian-controlled West Bank in the years before the 1967 Six Day War.

This all imagines the worst case scenario, though. For the foreseeable future, Jordan’s throne is stable. The kingdom took on over 750,000 Iraqi refugees in the last decade but staved off any organized threat some of them might have posed on the country – most have returned to Iraq. The government seems to be managing the ~500,000 Syrian refugees with that experience in mind. (Sidenote: There is little chance that jihadists will come into Jordan and stir trouble – they didn’t have time or resources to leave Iraq to attack Jordanian targets in the 2000s, nor will they in Syria when tied down by Bashar al-Assad. It is more likely they will flow out of the country to Syria.) The instability of Syria and Iraq has frightened Jordanians – of Palestinian descent or not – out of any bigger push for changes with the government:

“The appetite for the kind of mobilisation that could generate real change has very much diminished.” – Mouin Rabbani

The Peace Process

Jordan, however, is still isolated in a sense. It has plenty of diplomatic connections, but very little influence on the peace process. Jordan is itching to be more involved in the talks (even a party to them), but has been relegated to the sidelines, at best as an equal to Saudi Arabia.

Jordan also has no incentive to make trouble for Israel over its policies toward the West Bank and the peace process. Even if Israel were to take a more assertive posture on Jerusalem and more specifically its holy sites, Jordan would not gain from stirring public rage at the Israelis that could give the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas a reason to be more active in the Kingdom.

King Abdullah II has said Syrian refugees have overwhelmed Jordan and now total one-tenth the size of his country’s population, but so did the Iraqi refugees of the last decade at one point.
Jordan’s King Abdullah II addresses the 68th session of the United Nations General Assembly, Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2013 at U.N. headquarters. (photo credit: AP Photo/Richard Drew)

If Jordan remains stable and a republic or some version of democracy pushed the king aside, there would be a low chance the country would become hostile to Israel, but the opening up could give an aggressive political movement the chance to sweep into parliament and then impose itself on the country in a manner similar to Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood. The ballot box could collapse after a couple elections and suddenly a regime would rule Amman with hostile intent to the Jewish State. In this somewhat dated analysis by Robert Satloff and David Schenker from May 2013 (prior to the downfall of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood), the authors point out the Palestinians on the west side could be a major influence on the Palestinians to the east:

Islamists’ ambitions in Jordan will largely be determined by events outside the country, particularly the extent to which they, and particularly the jihadists among them, assume prominent roles in post-Assad Syria; the potential for Hamas to overtake Fatah as the dominant player in Palestinian politics; and whether Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood leadership, with Qatari financing, looks to Jordan as an avenue for expanding its regional influence.


– Robert Satloff and David Schenker for the Council of Foreign Relations, May 2013

Threats of the Future

These are the factors that are really pushing Israel’s security establishment to make a genuine argument against ceding the Jordan Valley to a Palestinian state. This doesn’t enforce the argument one way or another about needing a civilian Israeli presence to enforce the IDF there for 10 years, 25 or even indefinitely. It’s just reality.

A view of Amman, with the Jordanian flag flying high over the city (photo credit: Michal Shmulovich/Times of Israel)
A view of Amman, with the Jordanian flag flying high over the city (photo credit: Michal Shmulovich/Times of Israel)

Some people are right, there is no Iraqi general that could march his army west through the Jordanian capital and into Israel like there was 40 years ago. At least not right now. The real concern is a sudden revolutionary fervor overtaking the improbably resilient Jordanian monarchy like the winds of change swept out dictators in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt.

About the Author
Gedalyah Reback is an experienced writer on technology, startups, the Middle East and Islam. He also focuses on issues of personal status in Judaism, namely conversion.
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