An “alarming” deterioration in Israeli-Jordanian relations sparked Jonathan Schanzer’s trip to Amman in September. Meetings with senior officials and other Jordanian stakeholders in domestic and regional matters confirmed that “things are not well.”
Schanzer, senior vice president for research at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies think tank in Washington, D.C., said “I don’t believe Jordan is about to turn into an enemy of Israel … or against the United States,” but its “strident” anti-Israel rhetoric strains the Hashemite Kingdom’s relations with Israel, America, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, its indispensable backers.
Speaking on a Jewish Policy Center webinar January 5, Schanzer—author of three books about the Middle East, including Gaza Conflict 2021: Hamas, Israel and Eleven Days of Conflict—noted that the 2020 Abraham Accords among Israel, the UAE, Bahrain and later Morocco and Sudan sent “a rare sense of optimism” washing over the Middle East. But Jordan under King Abdullah refused to be drawn into the ground-breaking diplomacy.
Cooperation between Amman and Jerusalem on security, energy and water is still strong, Schanzer told JPC webinar participants. But Jordanian rhetoric “doesn’t reflect the reality that Jordan needs Israel and it needs the United States.” Instead, an “ugly airing of grievances doesn’t portend well for the region.”
In the early and middle 1990s, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Jordan’s King Hussein maintained a positive relationship, one that included the 1994 Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty, Schanzer said. Though not embraced by the Jordanian public, which is at least 50 percent Palestinian Arab and probably much more according to Schanzer, the connection advanced the interests of Jordan, Israel and the United States.
But Rabin was assassinated in 1995, King Hussein died in 1999. Since the Arab Spring upheavals of 2011 and Washington’s pursuit of misguided Iranian nuclear arms restrictions beginning in 2013, a warm peace between Israel and Jordan went cold. “Rather terrible” relations between King Abdullah and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not help.
“Despite U.S. aid, Israeli water, energy, and security relations helping keep the Hashemite Kingdom together, we began to see real tension between Israel and Jordan,” Schanzer said. Now Amman has emerged as the Palestinian cause’s most vitriolically anti-Israel advocate, he added.
A former official in the Treasury Department’s office of intelligence and analysis, Schanzer noted that as the United States tried to reduce its Middle East presence, Arab states including the UAE, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and even Egypt “began to look to Israel … as the only country standing up to Iran.” Israeli advances in cyberspace, desalination, agriculture and weapons also have made Israel more attractive as a partner.
Jordan—resource poor, potentially running out of water, burdened by millions of Syrian civil war refugees, hit by Captagon drug smuggling and usage and facing Iranian-supported militia on its Syrian and Iraqi borders—should join the Abraham Accord countries, Schanzer said. Arab Accord states “haven’t given up the Palestinian issue,” he said, “but they have de-prioritized it.” Jordan, on the other hand, sounds more anti-Israel than do the Palestinians.
King Abdullah’s government “essentially blamed Israel for the entire conflict” in the 2021 Gaza war, Schanzer commented. Jordanian rhetoric was “outrageous.” This past September Abdullah “attacked Israel at the United Nations for its treatment of Christians,” when Christians fare better in the Jewish state than anywhere else in the Middle East, he added. Further, Jordan sent no representatives to the signing of the Abraham Accords, even though it has a peace treaty with Israel, and declined to attend the 2022 Negev Summit.
This is “a troubling trend” and sends a negative message to the Abraham Accord states and Saudi Arabia, Schanzer said. In Jordan this September, he was “shocked” to see many cars with bumper stickers praising the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. Asking about them, Schanzer was told that Saddam was popular because he “rejected the United States, rejected Israel and died for it.”
“King Abdullah knows full well that Jordan needs Israel to survive, especially as the United States looks to exit the region,” he said. “Israel needs Jordan as much as Jordan needs Israel,” Schanzer asserted. “You would think they would find ways quietly to cooperate rather than publicly lock horns.” Israeli frustration with Jordan may grow, but there is no interest in the Pentagon, State Department or White House in holding Amman accountable. There is a mentality that Jordan as a buffer state “is too weak to fail,” he said.