(March 20, 2017 / JNS) On the surface, Israel and Jordan appear to have peaceful, productive and sometimes even friendly relations. Their 1994 peace treaty and deepening economic ties—including a 15-year, $10 billion natural gas deal inked in 2016—seem to indicate that all is well between the neighbors.
Jordan’s recent treatment of the cases of anti-Israel terrorists, however, has tested the Hashemite kingdom’s relationship with Israel and may reveal seething animosity beneath the surface—at least within the Jordanian population.
Two incidents last week—the early release of convicted murderer Ahmed Daqamseh, a Jordanian soldier who massacred seven Israeli schoolgirls in 1997, and Jordan’s refusal to honor a U.S. extradition request for Palestinian terrorist Ahlam Tamimi—have brought the strength of the Israeli-Jordanian relationship into question. Jordan’s refusal to cooperate with Israeli interests in these situations might be understood as cold or even hostile behavior toward the Jewish state.
“It is shocking that [Jordanian leader] King Abdullah would permit this unrepentant and unrehabilitated killer to be released from prison,” Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, president of the Tel Aviv-based civil rights organization Shurat HaDin – Israel Law Center, told JNS.org. “His father made such a big ceremony out of personally apologizing to the parents of the schoolgirls he murdered and swore that Daqamseh would serve out his life in jail. Apparently these were just empty words that have now been disregarded. It’s an indication that Jordan is drifting further and further away from the democratic West and into the camp of the Middle East extremists that are overwhelming the regime.”
Darshan-Leitner added that releasing a murderer of Jewish children such as Daqamseh “is not a political concession to maintain governmental stability. It’s an outrage that should have been fought by the Israeli government and Jewish organizations worldwide.”
Indeed, the Jordanian government is cognizant of the need to maintain political stability against the backdrop of ongoing political upheaval throughout the Middle East, which has seen long-established regimes swiftly overturned in popular uprisings since late 2010.
Further, the majority of Jordan’s population remains of Palestinian origin, and despite the existence of a formal government-to-government peace treaty with Israel, the Jordanian public harbors an enduring and deep-seated resentment toward Israel.
This dynamic was apparent in the dramatic moments following Daqamseh’s release from prison. Daqamseh, who had received a life sentence in a Jordanian military tribunal, was freed early after several years of intensive lobbying efforts by Jordanian lawmakers. As the Mercedes carrying Daqamseh arrived in his home village after the release, ecstatic supporters crowded around the vehicle and greeted the convicted murderer of children with triumphant chants of “Allahu akbar!” (God is greater).
Throughout his imprisonment and following his release, Daqamseh himself has remained unrepentant and has called for the elimination of “the Zionist entity.”
Meanwhile, the Jordanian government refused America’s request to extradite Tamimi, citing a domestic court ruling that forbids the extradition of Jordanian nationals. Like Daqamseh, Tamimi shows no remorse for her deadly terrorism.
Israel jailed Tamimi for her role in the Sbarro pizza restaurant terror attack in Jerusalem in August 2001—a bombing that killed 15 people, including seven children and a pregnant woman, and injured more than 130. Both Israelis and Americans were among those killed.
Granted safe haven in Jordan following her release as part of the controversial 2011 Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange between Israel and Hamas, Tamimi—operating out of the Jordanian capital of Amman—now hosts a Hamas-affiliated television show, which she has used as a platform to boast about her involvement in the murder of Jews and to incite hatred against Israel.
Regarding Jordan’s refusal to extradite Tamimi, Darshan-Leitner said, “It makes no sense that Jordan relies so heavily on American military support for its survival, and at the same time would refuse the request and provide this mass murderer safe haven.”
Sarah Stern, founder and president of the Washington, D.C.-based Endowment for Middle East Truth think tank, said the extradition issue “is not just a matter of justice, it’s a matter of national security.”
“Tamimi is instructing people how to commit acts of terrorism on a television show that is broadcast into homes throughout the world,” Stern told JNS.org. “If we are allowing people like Tamimi to literally get away with murder, and implying that the lives of certain American citizens are less important than others, that says something very ambiguous about our resolve in this fight against radical Islamic terrorism.”
Yet Mideast expert Dr. Jonathan Schanzer, vice president of research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank, said that despite the recent events seemingly revealing Israeli-Jordanian tension, their ties are too crucial to be undermined by these incidents.
“The relations between Israel and Jordan have become of increased strategic importance to both sides,” Schanzer told JNS.org. “Intelligence and defense cooperation have deepened over the years. And after the incident last week in the skies over Syria, it is now clear that the two neighbors will also likely have to work together in the near future to coordinate missile defense cooperation.”
In the incident Schanzer referred to, Israel reportedly intercepted a Syrian anti-aircraft missile Friday by utilizing the Arrow long-range missile defense system, marking that system’s first operational use in its 17 years of existence.
“Yes, there is still anti-Israel sentiment that exists in Jordan and the Arab world, and this individual (Daqamseh) who was responsible for mass murder was celebrated by some in Jordan, but I think it’s safe to say that the government of Jordan is not celebrating him and will do its best to clamp down on whatever incitement follows his release,” Schanzer said. “Jordan’s relationship with Israel is extremely important to the kingdom, especially as it is also connected to Jordan’s relationship with the U.S., and Jordan greatly depends on the U.S.”