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Gantz vows to assist Jordan, in first Israeli comment after alleged coup attempt

Defense minister says incident involving former crown prince Hamzah bin Hussein is an ‘internal matter,’ hails security cooperation with Amman

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz speaks at the annual Jerusalem Conference of the 'Besheva' group in Jerusalem, on March 14, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Defense Minister Benny Gantz speaks at the annual Jerusalem Conference of the 'Besheva' group in Jerusalem, on March 14, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Sunday said Israel was prepared to assist Jordan as necessary following an alleged coup attempt there over the weekend, in the first official comments from Jerusalem about the issue.

Gantz referred to the incident as an “internal Jordanian issue,” stressing Israel’s close security ties to Amman.

“A strong and flourishing Jordan is a security and economic interest for us, and we need to do what we can to help them,” Gantz said.

“But as I said, regarding the internal developments there — that’s an internal issue,” he said.

The defense minister’s comments were the first on-the-record remarks by an Israeli official about the alleged coup attempt. The Israeli government has been monitoring the situation in next-door Jordan closely since reports first emerged Saturday of the alleged attempted coup.

On Saturday, Jordanian security forces arrested a number of people, including high-level officials, allegedly suspected of plotting to take power from King Abdullah II, who has ruled Jordan since 1999. Abdullah’s half-brother, former crown prince Hamzah bin Hussein, was implicated in the plot and claimed to be under house arrest, though the country’s military said he had not been detained but was instead instructed to “stop some activities that could be used to shake the stability and security of Jordan.”

Jordan’s King Abdullah II laughs with his half-brother, then-crown prince Hamzah Bin Hussein, right, on April 2, 2001 (AP Photo/Yousef Allan)

The Jordanian government officially denied that it had thwarted a coup by Hamzah but said that “some of the prince’s actions were used to target Jordan’s security and stability,” according to the government-run newspaper Al-Rai.

Israel and Jordan made peace in 1994, forming a deep security relationship despite occasional diplomatic tensions and a general antipathy by the majority-Palestinian Jordanian population to Israel.

“Jordan is a peaceful neighbor, with extraordinary strategic importance. We will do what is necessary to maintain that relationship, which has lasted some 30 years,” Gantz told reporters on a phone briefing Sunday.

The defense minister noted that Jordan has fared poorly through the coronavirus pandemic, with thousands of deaths and a recent spike in infections. Last month saw protests across the country after medical personnel at a government hospital ignored depleted oxygen levels in respirators, resulting in the deaths of several patients. The kingdom has also faced a significant recession in light of the pandemic.

“We will do whatever is needed to assist them economically and in terms of health to help them get through the challenges they are facing. This is not only my decision but I hope one made by the Prime Minister’s Office and the National Security Council,” Gantz said.

The United States and Saudi Arabia also expressed support for Jordan’s King Abdullah II over the weekend. US State Department spokesman Ned Price said Washington was “closely following” the reports on the arrests of top Jordanian officials.

“We are… in touch with Jordanian officials. King Abdullah is a key partner of the United States, and he has our full support,” he said.

Neighboring Saudi Arabia also reacted swiftly to the developments in Amman.

“The kingdom stresses its full support for the Hashemite kingdom of Jordan… and for the decisions and measures taken by King Abdullah II and Crown Prince Hussein to safeguard security and stability,” it said.

Hamzah is the eldest son of late King Hussein and his American wife Queen Noor. He has good relations officially with Abdullah and is a popular figure close to tribal leaders.

Abdullah had appointed his half-brother crown prince in line with Hussein’s dying wish, but in 2004 stripped him of the title and gave it to his own eldest son Hussein.

Abdullah and Hamzah have not displayed any open rivalry over the years.

AFP and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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