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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.