This past winter, it had seemed as if spring had come early for Israeli-Jordanian relations. A series of visits and meetings between King Abdullah and senior Israelis, including President Isaac Herzog, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and Defense Minister Benny Gantz, created a false sense of warmth. At the moment of truth, however, as riots erupted on the Temple Mount, Jordan dropped the mask, with senior kingdom officials competing against each other to see who could spout the vilest slander and incitement against Israel.
However, just as no one should have gotten too excited over the short honeymoon period, no one should overreact to this latest in a long line of crises. This is Jordan, this is how it has always been, and this has always been the pattern of our relations with it, even prior to the 1994 peace treaty.
A brief reminder: On the eve of the Yom Kippur War, King Hussein, Abdullah’s father, warned Israel that Egypt and Syria were about to launch an attack. In Israel, as we know, no one heeded the warning. Later, after the war broke out, Hussein stayed out of the fray along his border with Israel, but deployed one of his armored brigades to help the Syrians.
Incidentally, three years earlier, in the summer of 1970, the Syrians attacked Jordan, but that attack was rebuffed after Israel sent a secret message to Damascus warning the Syrians that if they didn’t withdraw their forces from Jordan, Israel would attack them.
The reality is plain to see, at least to anyone not wearing the rose-tinted glasses of a political or diplomatic novice. In the space around us, Israel doesn’t have a more reliable security partner than Jordan. To be more precise, it doesn’t have a more reliable partner than Jordan’s security agencies and army. At the same time, though, very few can compete with the hostility to Israel of the Jordanian public, which is nourished and exacerbated by virulent media outlets and politicians who spread hatred and call for violence.
“Jordan is Palestine” is a quote attributed to Ariel Sharon, but the truth is that King Abdullah I, the grandfather of the current king, said it when he annexed Judea and Samaria into his kingdom, and ruled that there were no Palestinians and that everyone would thenceforth be Jordanian. Years later, Yasser Arafat would follow in his footsteps when he sought to seize control of Jordan as part of Palestine.
This past haunts the kingdom to this day, as a significant portion of its population is of Palestinian origin. Throughout the years, however, the Jordanians’ method of coping with this reality has been to release the pressure valve in the direction of Israel, or more exactly—to pour oil on the fire of anti-Israel sentiment in the hope that the public will turn its rage away from their economic distress, Jordan’s rampant corruption and lack of democracy.
Relations with Jordan are based on security and even economic interests. The advantages from Israel’s perspective are considerable, chief among them the ability to lean on Jordan to safeguard our eastern flank against the threat of radical Islam, and of course, against Iran as well. At the same time, this cooperation is also a security interest of the highest order for the Jordanians.
It won’t hurt to respond to these Jordanian tongue-lashings on occasion. After all, we in Israel, too, need to release some pent-up anger now and then. On second thought, however, it’s doubtful Jordan is as important as it is attempting to portray itself as being, and as long as the important things are working, the dogs can continue barking.
Eyal Zisser is a lecturer in the Middle East History Department at Tel Aviv University.
This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.