'Whoever carries out severe criminal act will pay the price'

FM Cohen: We don’t hold Jordan responsible for its MP’s weapons smuggling attempt

Israel tries to avoid crisis with Amman after lawmaker arrested trying to bring 200 guns into country, but pledges he will see justice; Jordan’s ambassador meets with MP in custody

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Foreign Minister Eli Cohen at a ceremony at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, January 2, 2023. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Foreign Minister Eli Cohen at a ceremony at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, January 2, 2023. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Israel tried to avoid placing responsibility directly on Amman on Monday after the arrest of a Jordanian parliamentarian over the weekend on suspicion, according to Jordan’s foreign ministry, of smuggling over 200 guns and gold into the West Bank.

“I don’t think that the episode is connected to Jordan in general, but to an irresponsible criminal act,” said Foreign Minister Eli Cohen in an interview with the Ynet news outlet.

“I don’t want to assign guilt to the entire government or the entire parliament,” Cohen added.

At the same time, Cohen stressed that, because it involved weapons, it was “a very serious incident, which will be examined, and we are studying it in depth.”

According to Jordan’s Ammon news outlet, the arrest took place Saturday evening at the Allenby Bridge border crossing, as MP Imad al-Adwan was heading into Israel by car.

Video viewed by The Times of Israel showed around a dozen AR-15-style assault rifles and around 200 handguns spread in rows on a floor as Israeli officials catalogued them.

However, Israeli authorities refused to comment on whether they were the weapons seized from Adwan’s car. Police issued a gag order on the case, barring many details from being published by Israeli media.

Jordanian MP Imad al-Adwan, reported by Jordanian media to have been arrested at the Allenby Bridge border crossing on April 23, 2023, as he was heading into Israel by car. (Jordanian media)

Former Jordanian MP Tarek Khoury accused Israel of fabricating the gold angle, in order “to turn the heroic act into a smuggling issue.” Israel’s Channel 12 news, without citing a source, said no gold was found in Adwan’s vehicle.

According to Ammon, Jordan’s Ambassador Ghassan Majali is meeting with Adwan on Monday afternoon.

Adwan’s cousin, Abdel Rahman al-Adwan, Jordan’s former chief of public security, is representing the family in its communications with Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi and Parliament Speaker Ahmed Safadi.

Handguns allegedly seized by Israel at the Allenby Crossing after a Jordanian MP tried to smuggle them into Israel, April 23, 2023. (courtesy)

Asked by Ynet what Israel would demand in order to repatriate Adwan to Jordan, Cohen said that “first of all, the basic demand is of course to bring him to justice, and that he should pay the price for the serious act he carried out.”

“Of course, an incident like this cannot just pass on by,” he continued, ” and of course whoever carries out a severe criminal act must be brought to justice and pay the price.”

Israel’s top diplomat added that the Foreign Ministry and security officials are in touch with Amman, and no final decision will be made until Israel completes its investigation.

A surge of violence and terror attacks has wracked the West Bank in recent months, aided by a flood of illegal weapons, including many guns smuggled from Jordan.

The incident this weekend came amid already elevated tensions between Amman and Jerusalem even further.

Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi gives a joint press conference with his German counterpart on April 3, 2023 at the Foreign Office in Berlin. (John Macdougall/AFP)

According to the Kan public broadcaster, Foreign Minister Safadi was refusing to answer calls from his Israeli counterpart Cohen after news of the incident broke.

Earlier this month, an unnamed senior Israeli official told the Walla news site that Safadi’s recent conduct and statements had exacerbated the crisis, adding that he “acted like a Jordanian [Itamar] Ben Gvir” — a reference to the far-right Israeli national security minister, whose conduct and policies have been widely viewed as contributing to growing friction with the US and other countries.

Jordan has repeatedly lambasted Jerusalem, in more than 10 statements, over an incident during Ramadan in which cops entered Al-Aqsa to confront Palestinian rioters and were filmed beating some of them. At one point, Jordan refused to receive messages from Israel through the US or the United Arab Emirates, saying it would only accept direct messages and only if Israel commits to not enter the mosque again.

The Israeli officials cited in the report said they had held positive meetings with Safadi ahead of Ramadan, when Israel-Palestinian tensions regularly flare over the Temple Mount, but that he adopted a hardline position as matters came to a head.

Prior to the recent tensions over the Temple Mount, a perennial thorn in Israeli-Jordanian ties, Amman summoned the Israeli envoy over far-right Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich’s speech last month at a conference in Paris, during which he claimed the Palestinian people are an “invention,” while standing behind a map of “Greater Israel” that includes modern-day Jordan. Days earlier, Smotrich stirred international outrage with a call to “wipe out” a Palestinian town in the West Bank following the killing of two Israeli brothers in a terror attack.

In an interview released earlier in April, Jordan’s first ambassador to Israel called for Amman to change its approach to relations in light of the current hardline government in Jerusalem and said there was no longer a chance for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Emmanuel Fabian contributed to this report. 

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