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Netanyahu reportedly delaying approval of Jordanian request for water

Sources accuse PM of endangering peace deal with Amman, after recent spat over planned Temple Mount visit, overflight permission for premier’s planned UAE trip

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, leader of the Likud party, addresses supporters at the party's election night event in Jerusalem, early on March 24, 2021. (Emmanuel Dunand/AFP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, leader of the Likud party, addresses supporters at the party's election night event in Jerusalem, early on March 24, 2021. (Emmanuel Dunand/AFP)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has delayed approving Jordan’s request for water from Israel, according to a Friday report, amid recent tensions between Jerusalem and Amman.

Citing Israeli and Jordanian security sources, the Haaretz daily said Jordan made the request this month to alleviate water shortages. The request was submitted through the joint Israeli-Jordanian water committee, established after the 1994 peace deal between the countries.

Despite officials backing the water transfer, Netanyahu and the National Security Council have delayed responding to the request, which the report said indicated he intends to refuse it.

Unnamed Israeli sources said to have close contacts with the Jordanians expressed concern over the strained ties between Jerusalem and Amman, accusing Netanyahu of endangering the peace agreement due to the animosity between him and the Jordanian royal family.

View of the Jordan River after heavy rains in northern Israel, on December 27, 2019. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

They asserted the premier was ignoring the strategic value of Israel’s relations with Jordan, noting the deployment of Jordanian forces along their shared border allows the Israeli military to station fewer troops there.

The newspaper also said Jordan wants Israel’s help in securing coronavirus vaccines, but that Netanyahu left it off a list of countries included in a now halted initiative to supply doses to friendly nations.

The report came weeks after Netanyahu had been set to visit the United Arab Emirates for the first official trip by an Israeli leader, half a year after the countries established formal relations. He had hoped to use the audience with the UAE’s crown prince to boost his reelection campaign less than two weeks before the March 23 Knesset elections.

The trip was scrapped, however, with Netanyahu’s office citing difficulties coordinating the flight to the UAE over Jordanian airspace, after Jordan’s Crown Prince Hussein canceled a visit to the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, a sensitive holy site under Jordanian custodianship, due to disagreements with Israel over security arrangements.

Rather than taking an Israeli jet, Netanyahu had arranged for an Emirati plane to shuttle him to the UAE — apparently due to security reasons. That airliner had been docking at Jordan’s airport in Amman, waiting for a go-ahead from local authorities before taking off to Israel to pick up Netanyahu. Jordan held up the approval for several hours before eventually giving a green light later that day. However, by the time Netanyahu was cleared to fly, it was already too late and the Prime Minister’s Office decided to cancel the trip, due to time constraints.

Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman al-Safadi later confirmed that Jordan held up granting Netanyahu overflight permission in retaliation for the prince’s canceled visit to Jerusalem. Safadi accused Israel of violating an agreement on the arrangements for the visit, while Israel has said Hussein arrived with heavier security than promised.

The diplomatic spat underscored Jordanian frustrations with Netanyahu and tensions between the two neighbors that have simmered for years.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and Jordan’s King Abdullah II, left, at the Royal Palace in Amman, Jordan, on January 16, 2014. (AP/Yousef Allan, Jordanian Royal Palace)

According to a report earlier this month, Netanyahu ordered the closing of Israeli airspace to flights heading to and from Jordan in retaliation for Amman’s delaying of the plane slated to take the prime minister to the UAE.

Netanyahu made the decision unilaterally without consulting the cabinet or aviation officials, who panicked upon receiving the order, recognizing its major international implications, Maariv reported.

However, the premier evidently had a change of heart minutes before the order went into effect and decided to retract the directive, according to the report, citing several senior officials involved in the incident.

Barring Jordan-bound planes from using Israeli airspace would have been a violation of the peace deal Israel struck with Jordan in 1994. The directive would also have violated the aviation deals Israel has reached with countless other countries, including the United States, which use Israeli airspace for flights landing in Jordan or ones that use Israeli and Jordanian airspace to reach other destinations in the region.

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