Jordan’s ‘House of Cards’: The implications for Israel

Israel could face a situation where, along its lengthiest border, there would no longer be a conservative, pro-Western monarchy, but an extreme Muslim regime, with incandescent hostility towards the Jewish state.

King Abdullah II of Jordan addresses the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, Jan. 15, 2020. Credit: European Parliament via Wikimedia Commons.
King Abdullah II of Jordan addresses the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, Jan. 15, 2020. Credit: European Parliament via Wikimedia Commons.
Martin Sherman
Martin Sherman
Martin Sherman spent seven years in operational capacities in the Israeli defense establishment. He is the founder of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), a member of the Habithonistim-Israel Defense & Security Forum (IDSF) research team, and a participant in the Israel Victory Project.

There is nothing certain, but the uncertain. ~ Traditional Proverb.

Incoming media reports from Jordan indicate that the clash within the royal family earlier this week has now been resolved … or quashed. However, much uncertainty still shrouds the recent events in the Hashemite monarchy as to whether there was a genuine attempt at a coup, led by King Abdullah II’s half-brother and former crown prince, Hamza bin Hussein, or a preemptive power play by the king himself against his recalcitrant sibling.

Prince Hamza was Jordan’s heir apparent for five years after his father, King Hussein, died in 1999. But in 2004, King Abdullah stripped him of his title, later appointing his then-teenage son, Prince Hussein bin Abdullah, as crown prince.

Amid conflicting reports that Hamza had been placed under house arrest—and following a number of high-level arrests allegedly linked to a coup attempt—he accused the Jordanian leadership of corruption, incompetence and harassment in a video conveyed to the BBC.

Hamza denied that he was part of any initiative to undermine the regime, and although the military had claimed that he was not under house arrest, it did disclose that he had been ordered to stop actions that could be used to harm Jordan’s “security and stability.”

Lingering tensions in the palace and in the streets

Jordan’s deputy prime minister, Ayman Safadi, accused the prince of liaising with foreign parties regarding the destabilization of the country, claiming that he had been under surveillance for some time. Significantly, whatever truly transpired, it was serious enough for other regional states such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt, as well as the United States, to pledge their support for the king.

Although it seems that for the moment matters have been smoothed over, with Hamza signing a letter, stating: “I place myself in the hands of his majesty the king … I will remain committed to the constitution of the dear Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan,” tensions—designated by some as “unprecedented”—still remain. Indeed, the affair is considered so sensitive that a ban, imposed on all news outlets and social-media platforms, has been placed on any public discussion of it, as well as on all images and video clips related to the inquiry.

With few natural resources, Jordan is a country beset by a myriad of domestic problems, crumbling infrastructure, a hopelessly overloaded welfare system inundated by refugees fleeing war-torn neighbors, widespread civil discontent and frequent protests, all exacerbated by a raging COVID-19 pandemic.

According to CNN, poverty and unemployment are at record levels and have driven Jordanians to the streets. However, “tolerance for protests has diminished significantly”—increasing the likelihood of further instability and disaffection with the leadership.

Topographical barriers and security

All of this throws—or at least should throw—into sharp relief one factor, often overlooked in the press reports covering the developments there, with far-reaching security implications for Israel and the feasibility of a prospective Palestinian state.

This is the crucial importance for Israel of the possibility—the more austere might say, the probability—of a regime change in its eastern neighbor, and the attendant significance of the territory usually allotted for a future Palestinian state: namely, the highlands of Judea and Samaria (aka the “West Bank”).

This territory towers above Israel’s heavily populated coastal plain; controls the approaches to Greater Tel Aviv; dominates crucial infrastructure installations and systems—including Israel’s only international airport, Ben-Gurion; sits atop vital water resources; and abuts the Trans-Israel Highway, the major thoroughfare connecting the north of the country with the south.

These highlands are the sole topographical barrier between Jordan and Israel’s crowded coastal megalopolis. Any forces—regular or renegade—deployed on them will have complete topographical command and control over all of central Israel, with the ability to disrupt daily life at will, making it impossible to maintain any semblance of social and commercial routine.

Topography and security (cont.)

Accordingly, as any prospective Palestinian state will be sandwiched between Israel in the west and Jordan in the east, it matters greatly whether Jordan is ruled by a government that strives to rein in forces hostile to Israel, or one that is indifferent to their aggressive intent—or, worse, is willingly complicit with it.

If the monarchy falls, or is even sufficiently weakened, so as to become a mere puppet regime of more powerful radical forces, Israel could find itself in a dire situation. For along its eastern border, there may no longer be a conservative, relatively moderate pro-Western monarchy, but in all likelihood, an extreme Muslim regime with an incandescent hostility towards the Jewish state. This will make the highlands of Judea and Samaria (the “West Bank”) even more crucial for Israel’s security.

Avoiding the nightmare

The underlying lesson for Israeli policymakers is that the country’s working assumption must be that the Hashemite Kingdom has a limited shelf-life, and it would be wildly imprudent to base any long-term strategic planning on its long-term durability.

Consequently, Israeli strategic planners must prepare blueprints for the country to contend with a daunting situation in which—along its longest frontier and narrowest dimension—it is confronted with a huge expanse of hostile territory, stretching from the fringes of Greater Tel Aviv to the border of Iraq, and perhaps beyond.

As Israel has little to no ability to determine who will—and who will not—rule Jordan, the only way it can avoid this potential nightmare scenario is to ensure continued control of these highlands—which ipso facto—precludes the establishment of a future Palestinian state on them.

Martin Sherman is the founder & executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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