With embassy attack, Jordan’s ties with Israel go from rancid to toxic
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AnalysisAbdullah has enjoyed the secret benefits of warm ties with Israel, while publicly keeping relations cold

With embassy attack, Jordan’s ties with Israel go from rancid to toxic

While Israel focused its ire against the Palestinian leadership for escalating violence, the Hashemite Kingdom has been assiduously fanning the flames surrounding Temple Mount

Avi Issacharoff, The Times of Israel's Middle East analyst, fills the same role for Walla, the leading portal in Israel. He is also a guest commentator on many different radio shows and current affairs programs on television. Until 2012, he was a reporter and commentator on Arab affairs for the Haaretz newspaper. He also lectures on modern Palestinian history at Tel Aviv University, and is currently writing a script for an action-drama series for the Israeli satellite Television "YES." Born in Jerusalem, he graduated cum laude from Ben Gurion University with a B.A. in Middle Eastern studies and then earned his M.A. from Tel Aviv University on the same subject, also cum laude. A fluent Arabic speaker, Avi was the Middle East Affairs correspondent for Israeli Public Radio covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Iraq and the Arab countries between the years 2003-2006. Avi directed and edited short documentary films on Israeli television programs dealing with the Middle East. In 2002 he won the "best reporter" award for the "Israel Radio” for his coverage of the second intifada. In 2004, together with Amos Harel, he wrote "The Seventh War - How we won and why we lost the war with the Palestinians." A year later the book won an award from the Institute for Strategic Studies for containing the best research on security affairs in Israel. In 2008, Issacharoff and Harel published their second book, entitled "34 Days - The Story of the Second Lebanon War," which won the same prize.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Jordanian King Abdullah II in Jordan in January 2014 (photo credit: Kobi Gideon / GPO/FLASH90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Jordanian King Abdullah II in Jordan in January 2014 (photo credit: Kobi Gideon / GPO/FLASH90)

With tensions already boiling over the unrest surrounding the Temple Mount, Sunday’s incident at the Israeli embassy compound in Amman could mark a critical juncture in ties between Israel and Jordan.

In what was quite clearly a terror attack, an Israeli security guard was attacked with a screwdriver by a local carpenter, who was there fixing furniture. The guard opened fire, killing the attacker as well as the landlord, who was also on the premises.

Following the incident, relatives of one of the dead men blocked roads at Mediterranean Sea Square in Amman and called for the Israeli security guard to be harshly punished.

Under normal diplomatic circumstances — without the tensions over Israel’s security measures at the Temple Mount following the July 14 terror attack at the holy site — it is likely the relatives’ demonstration would have been dispersed swiftly, and the security guard and the embassy’s diplomatic team brought back to Israel immediately.

But amid the political and regional uproar over Israel’s decision to place metal detectors at the gates to the Temple Mount, where the Jordanian Waqf has administrative authority, Jordan is not only refusing at the moment to allow the security guard to return to Israel, despite his diplomatic immunity, but is also demanding to interrogate him.

Jordanian security forces stand guard outside the Israeli embassy in Amman following a stabbing there on July 23, 2017. (AFP Photo/Khalil Mazraawi)
Jordanian security forces stand guard outside the Israeli embassy in Amman, following a stabbing there on July 23, 2017. (AFP Photo/Khalil Mazraawi)

All this has led to a diplomatic crisis between the Jordanian royal court and the Prime Minister’s Office not seen since Mossad agents tried to kill the head of the Hamas terror group Khaled Mashaal in broad daylight on the streets of Amman in 1997.

Benjamin Netanyahu, who at the time was serving in his first stint as prime minister, was forced to provide the antidote to the poison that had been poured into Mashaal’s ear, and to release from jail the spiritual father of the suicide bombers, Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, in order to secure the release of the two Mossad agents who had been captured in the assassination attempt.

The stabbing at the Israeli embassy compound comes as little surprise.

Jordanians carry a model of the Dome of the Rock mosque during a demonstration in Amman against new Israeli security measures at the Temple Mount on July 21, 2017. (AFP Photo/Khalil Mazraawi)
Jordanians carry a model of the Dome of the Rock mosque during a demonstration in Amman against new Israeli security measures at the Temple Mount on July 21, 2017. (AFP Photo/Khalil Mazraawi)

The anger over the Temple Mount and the violent clashes in Jerusalem and the West Bank are reverberating throughout the Middle East, and especially in Jordan, which, along with its Temple Mount/Al-Aqsa administrative role, also has a majority Palestinian population.

Attitudes to Israel among the Jordanian public have long been highly negative. But things have gotten markedly worse since the July 14 Temple Mount attack.

Jordan was the first to castigate Israel for taking the rare move of closing the Mount to Muslim worshipers that Friday and the next day, a closure imposed while Israel searched for additional weapons, examined security arrangements at the holy site, and worked to determine how the attackers had smuggled their weapons into the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Waqf officials lead Muslim prayers outside the Temple Mount in Jerusalem's Old City on July 16. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Waqf officials lead Muslim prayers outside the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City on July 16. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Jordanian media heavily criticized Israel, as is its wont, but the Jordanian Parliament Speaker Atef Tarawneh set the official tone, by calling the Arab-Israeli terrorists from Umm al-Fahm who carried out the attack, killing two Druze cops, “martyrs who sowed and watered the pure land.”

“May Allah have mercy on our young people, members of the Jabarin family, whose family members deserve to receive glory and honor,” Tarawneh said during a session in parliament.

Time and again, Israel directs its anger — justifiably — at Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas over the incitement in Palestinian media against Israel. This serves Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s political agenda, meeting the approval of his right-wing coalition. But nobody in the Israeli leadership was spelling out to Jordan that its assaults on Israel needed to stop — apart from Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, who said Tarawneh should “shut up” if he didn’t have anything to offer besides praise for terrorists.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas gives a speech during a meeting of Palestinian leadership in the West Bank city of Ramallah on July 21, 2017, during which he announced freezing all contacts with Israel. (Flash90)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas gives a speech, during a meeting of Palestinian leadership in the West Bank city of Ramallah on July 21, 2017, during which he announced freezing all contacts with Israel. (Flash90)

Jordan’s incitement against Israel has intensified in recent days, with the metal detectors as the focus. The Waqf officials who chose not to enter the Temple Mount via the new metal detectors, and who have led the opposition to the security measures, are employed by Jordan, with their salaries paid by Jordan.

It seems to have been forgotten that Jordan and Israel have had a peace treaty since 1994, enjoy strong economic ties, and especially a deep security cooperation, with the full extent of Israeli military assistance kept under wraps.

No few Jordanians owe their very lives to Israeli intelligence, but the country’s Hashemite rulers do their utmost to hide this from their subjects. It is preferable for the kingdom not to be seen by the Arab public as enjoying military and other ties with Israel.

This effort to minimize public knowledge of the extent of the relations between Jordan and Israel highlights the sharp differences between Jordan’s King Abdullah II and his late father Hussein. Unlike his son, Hussein did not seek to downplay the peace deal he had initiated. Abdullah has worked to keep the peace cold.

File photo of US President Bill Clinton, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, King Hussein of Jordan and Israeli President Ezer Weizman at the peace treaty signing ceremony in the Arava Desert, October 1994. (Flash90/Yossi Zamir)
Then-US President Bill Clinton, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, King Hussein of Jordan and Israeli President Ezer Weizman at the peace treaty signing ceremony in the Arava Desert, October 1994. (Flash90/Yossi Zamir/File)

Abdullah has allowed the tightly muzzled press in his country to attack Israel at every opportunity and has given the green light to politicians like the parliament speaker to praise terrorists. All this, even as Jordan enjoys the fruits of its security cooperation with Israel, which has helped to prevent a number of terror attacks by Islamist groups against Jordanian targets.

Now, the dispute over the Temple Mount has further poisoned the atmosphere.

Despite all this, Abdullah is the only figure who can help bring an end to the Temple Mount crisis, and end the standoff over the attack at the embassy compound.

The Jordanian’s king advisers accuse Israel of misleading them, asserting that Netanyahu did not update Abdullah during their phone call the day after the July 14 shooting on the decision to install the metal detectors.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and Jordan's King Abdullah II, during the former's surprise visit to Amman on January 16, 2014 (photo credit: AP/Yousef Allan/Jordanian Royal Palace)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and Jordan’s King Abdullah II, during the former’s surprise visit to Amman on January 16, 2014 (AP/Yousef Allan/Jordanian Royal Palace)

The Palestinian Authority has also accused Netanyahu of deceiving them, saying that he promised Mahmoud Abbas that the status quo in place since Israel captured the site in 1967 would be preserved, and that the prime minister made no mention of the metal detectors during their conversation following the attack either.

Israel has maintained, however, that no change has been made to the status quo, saying that the existing arrangements on the Temple Mount itself have not been altered in any way and that the placement of the metal detectors falls under its purview of guaranteeing security at the holy site.

On the ground, meanwhile, we’re now in full crisis routine.

Demonstrators run from Israeli security forces following clashes at the Old City of Jerusalem's Lions Gate on July 23, 2017. (AFP Photo/Ahmad Gharabli)
Demonstrators run from Israeli security forces following clashes at the Old City’s Lions Gate in Jerusalem, on July 23, 2017. (AFP Photo/Ahmad Gharabli)

On Sunday, thousands of Muslims gathered on the streets outside the Lions Gate and again refused to enter the Temple Mount/Al-Aqsa Mosque compound. Clashes also broke out in a number of Palestinian villages around Jerusalem and in the West Bank.

And Israeli leaders? They convened for more than six hours overnight without making any decisions and are again scheduled to meet Monday afternoon.

Why hurry? The metal detectors were installed hastily, but now the cabinet evidently believes it can take its time and weigh such steps and their implications with all the seriousness that they deserve.

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