Jordan has been a strategic partner of Israel for many years, even before the 1994 peace treaty the two nations inked. The main reason for this is their common enemy: the Palestinian national movement.
Israel and Jordan share various common interests, including support for U.S. presence in the region, opposing pan-Arab and pan-Islamic nationalist movements and, of course, fighting the rise of radical Islam, Sunni or Shi’ite. Amman also sees eye to eye with Jerusalem on the issue of the Iranian threat.
Israel assists Jordan in deterring extremists from threatening it, while Israel, for its part, sees Jordan as a buffer state between it and the extremist entities east of the Hashemite kingdom.
Jordan is certainly not interested in a neighboring political entity that could develop into another Hamas-controlled enclave a la the Gaza Strip. Israeli military control of the Jordan Valley is convenient for Jordan, as it protects Amman from the west. This was also the case when Israel ruled the Jordan Valley exclusively, before the second phase of the Oslo Accords was implemented in 1995, which defined this area as “Area C.”
It should be noted that Jordan did not use Israel’s control over the unified Jerusalem as a pretext not to sign a peace deal; all it asked for was to retain its position as the custodian of the Muslim holy places on the Temple Mount.
Since the signing of the peace agreement, Jordan’s dependence on Israel has increased. Israel supplies it with increasing quantities of water, far beyond its obligations under the deal, and it also supplies it with natural gas. In addition, the Israel lobby in Washington works overtime to secure U.S. economic aid for Amman.
Moreover, it’s hard to imagine that Saudi Arabia, other Persian Gulf countries or Egypt will go to great lengths to prevent an Israeli annexation of the Jordan Valley.
Faced with the threat from Iran and the possibility of the United States pulling its troops from the region, Israel remains a regional bulwark against Iran’s aspirations to achieve regional hegemony.
True, Amman is facing domestic opposition to bolstering its relations with Israel. It is difficult to explain the benefits of good relations with Israel to ordinary Jordanians, especially with respect to Jordan’s security need for Israeli control of the Jordan Valley.
But Amman’s political ability to deal with the prevailing anti-Israeli sentiment in Jordan cannot be discounted. The regime has been doing this for a long time via effective security deployment and impressive political flexibility. Unlike other Arab nations, Jordan weathered the Arab Spring well, so the regime can be trusted that it knows what it’s doing.
Israel faces a rare opportunity to advance and potentially realize its security needs for a cemented border in the east, with the support of the world’s top superpower. It is time to pursue an initiative highlighting the need for defensible borders while being sensitive to the demographic issue.
Professor Efraim Inbar is president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies and a Shillman-Ginsburg fellow at the Middle East Institute.
This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.