Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu appeared to accuse Israel’s ally Jordan of aiding Iran’s nuclear program via a never-implemented pipeline deal Monday.
Netanyahu’s comments were aimed at prime minister Naftali Bennett, whose government recently agreed to double the amount of water Israel exports to Jordan, which is experiencing a severe shortage.
“[Bennett] doesn’t understand that when he gives King Abdullah water, Abdullah is simultaneously giving oil — to who? To Iran,” said Netanyahu at a meeting of his Likud faction at the Knesset on Monday.
Netanyahu stated that Abdullah “unfortunately agreed” to the creation of a future pipeline from Iraq through Jordan to Egypt, which would therefore “give Iran huge economic power” to develop its economy “and its nuclear program and its terror activities.”
The Iraq-Jordan pipeline, which was first proposed in 2013, has yet to be established, and an agreement to extend it to Egypt has yet to be signed. It’s unlikely that any use of the pipeline would see Jordan, which has no oil, sending the resource to already oil-rich Iraq or Iran.
Adbullah, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, Iraqi President Barham Saleh, and Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi met last month in Baghdad in efforts to forge closer ties between the nations. Iran is not part of the proposed agreement, though Tehran exerts some influence over the government in Baghdad.
It is extremely rare for senior Israeli officials to publicly criticize Jordan or Egypt, which up until recently were Israel’s sole open allies in the Arab world. The comments underlined the frayed relationship between Netanyahu and Abdullah, which was blamed for a nadir in bilateral ties between Jerusalem and Amman.
In a speech to the Knesset plenum Monday evening, Bennett hit back at Netanyahu’s comments.
“In the name of what Israeli interest did Netanyahu sacrifice our ties with Jordan?” Bennett asked rhetorically. “We are fixing these relations in order to build better ties with the Jordanian Kingdom — this is in the best security interests of the State of Israel.”
Bennett reportedly met secretly earlier this month with Abdullah in Amman, and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid met with his Jordanian counterpart, Ayman Safadi, on Thursday. On Saturday evening, new President Isaac Herzog spoke with Abdullah via phone about “the recent return of diplomatic ties between the two countries.”
Netanyahu accused Bennett of not understanding that he should have demanded concessions from Jordan in exchange for the water. The former prime minister noted that Oman, which he had sought closer ties with, has moved toward Iran after rejecting the potential of normalization with Israel, and suggested that Jordan — which signed a peace deal with Israel in 1994 — could do the same.
“It’s no surprise that Oman, and not just Jordan, is moving toward Iran,” said Netanyahu. “Weakness is what pushes other countries away, strength brings them closer. This is a weak government that is canceling out so many of our achievements, which is another reason to bring it down.”
In April, Netanyahu himself approved the supply of an additional three million cubic meters of water to Jordan, after a several-week delay due to escalating tensions between the nations.
Jordan still faces a water deficit of several hundred million cubic meters a year, and would have to import considerably more to ensure a continuous supply for all its needs. Jordan is one of the driest countries on earth and its water shortages are expected to worsen with climate change.
Abdullah is slated to meet with US President Joe Biden at the White House next week.