The Middle East witnessed remarkable change in August and September
2020 with the Abraham Accords. It began with decisions taken by the
United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain to enter into peace agreements
with Israel. Sudan and Morocco followed soon thereafter. Seemingly overnight, a rare sense of optimism washed over the Middle East.
These agreements were certainly not the first of their kind. In 1979,
Egypt made peace with Israel. In 1993, the Palestinians entered the
Oslo diplomatic process with Israel, initiating more than a decade of
attempted peacemaking. In 1994, Jordan made its own peace with Israel.
For the two decades that followed, observers referred to
Jordanian-Israeli ties as the "warm peace," particularly compared to the
frosty ties Israel maintained with Egypt and the collapse of Oslo.
However, since 2020, if not before then, the Jordanian peace has turned
decidedly cold. It is especially frigid now compared to the rapidly
growing ties between Israel and the UAE, Bahrain, and Morocco. Even
relations between Israel and Egypt have improved. With rhetoric that
increasingly echoes the sentiments of rejectionist Arab nationalists or
even Islamists, Jordan's current policies appear to run counter to the
current trendlines of the Middle East.
After the recent electoral victory of Israeli politician Benjamin
Netanyahu, along with other right-wing Israeli politicians, Jordan
issued an unprovoked and blistering statement warning Israel not to
alter the status quo on the Temple Mount, invoking its role as custodian
of the Al-Aqsa Mosque. The statement signaled the likely renewal of
acrimonious ties between the king and Israel's longest-serving prime
All of this should come as unwelcome news to the United States and to
America's Middle East allies. In anticipation of intensifying great
power competition with China, and perhaps to a lesser extent Russia, it
is crucial for Washington to project unity among allies in the Middle
East. No less important for the Middle East is the prospect of
stability, prosperity, and positive change, which will require Jordan as
a willing partner. This is especially the case amidst the continued
havoc that the Islamic Republic of Iran is exporting across the region.
The following memo assesses Jordan's recent and escalating antagonism
toward Israel. It also explores the regional friction created by
Jordan's abstention from the Abraham Accords alliance structures. The
memo concludes with recommendations to tackle this challenge, which
could hinder U.S. national security interests if not addressed.
Several events led to the profound regional change in the last
decade. The first was the Arab Spring, which began in 2011. While the
first waves of unrest initially challenged the corrupt and ossified
authoritarian regimes that dominated the region, Israel and several Arab
governments stood opposed to the emergence of Muslim Brotherhood
movements that sought to hijack the protests. Concerns about regional
stability deepened in 2013, with the announcement of the interim Iran
nuclear deal known as the Joint Plan of Action (JPOA). The Israelis,
under the leadership of then Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, were
stridently opposed to this U.S.-led effort. In many ways, Israel's
active public diplomacy gave voice to the concerns of the rest of the
region, which is traditionally less vocal. Israel further inspired some
of the surrounding states when it began to wage the "war between wars,"
an asymmetric campaign targeting Iranian military assets across the
Israel also emerged in recent years as a regional (if not a global)
power in the realms of technology, intelligence collection, missile
defense, desalination, agriculture, life sciences, cyber, and more.
The Arab world increasingly seeks to benefit from Israel's
capabilities. Israel's natural gas discoveries, which could serve to
provide additional funds for these advancements, only make a stronger
case for integration.
Concurrently, Arab governments have grown less zealous about the
Palestinian cause. This does not mean that the Arab world has given up
on the idea of Palestinian state. But a growing number of Arab states
are exasperated with the ineffectual Palestinian leadership that has
squandered Arab financial and political support. Slowly and steadily,
Arab countries have deprioritized the Palestinian cause and are now
increasingly pursuing their own national interests. With leading Arab
states stressing "stability and prosperity," there are clear opportunities for other normalization agreements to follow. Jordan appears to be ambivalent about this.
The Benefits of Peace
The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan was opposed to the creation of the
Jewish state in 1948. Jordan joined the Arab war against Israel and
conquered the West Bank and East Jerusalem during that clash. Conflict
between the two countries simmered for the next two decades before
erupting again in 1967, when Israel captured the West Bank and East
Jerusalem. What followed were decades of public enmity but secret
diplomacy. In 1963, King Hussein established a direct channel with a
senior Israeli diplomat in London.
Seven years later, Israel mobilized to thwart Syrian aggression against
the Hashemite Kingdom during the Black September crisis. In 1973, King Hussein even warned Israel of an impending Arab attack on the eve of the Yom Kippur War.
Even though the two countries harbored severe political disagreements,
they came to see one another as assets. In 1987, they nearly reached a
peace agreement, but the First Intifada scuttled that opportunity.
When the Palestinians entered into the Oslo Accords in 1993, that was
the last barrier to agreement for Hussein. He made peace with Israel in
The personal relationship between Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and King Hussein was key to the initial warm ties.
By 1997, however, there were signs of strain. One reason was the
attempted assassination of Hamas official Khaled Meshaal by the Israeli
Mossad in Amman. The attempt on Meshaal's life sparked a diplomatic
crisis that forced Israel to provide the antidote (and the release of
Hamas founding leader Ahmed Yassin from Israeli prison) in exchange for
Jordan's release of the captured Israeli spies.
Tensions also spiked that year when a Jordanian soldier opened fire on a
group of Israeli students visiting the "Island of Peace" — land leased
to Israel as part of the 1994 arrangement. In a dramatic moment, King
Hussein visited Israel and knelt before the victims' families.
After the death of King Hussein and the ascension of his son,
Abdullah, in February 1999, ties began to deteriorate more
significantly. The new king appeared to harbor more overt distrust for
Israel. This is abundantly clear in Abdullah's 2011 autobiography, in
which the monarch asserts that "Israeli policies are mainly to blame for
[the current] gloomy reality."
Tensions soared with the outbreak of the Second Intifada in 2000. This
campaign of terrorism, carried out by scores of Palestinian terrorist
groups, was met with zero tolerance by the Israeli government.
Protesting the Israeli response, Jordan recalled its ambassador.
Diplomatic ties were not restored until 2005, after the violence
Fortunately, what followed was nearly a decade of relatively stable
relations. The commitment to an enduring peace has benefitted both
Israel and the Hashemite regime. Military, intelligence, economic, and
other cooperation have undeniably helped both sides. For Israel, the
predictability and relative stability along its longest border certainly
enables the military pivot toward more pressing concerns.
For Jordan, the economic perks are particularly clear. As an
inducement to enter the peace agreement, President Bill Clinton promised
to forgive $700 million of Jordan's debt (though the sum was later reduced as it passed through Congress).
In November 1997, the U.S. established a Qualifying Industrial Zone
(QIZ) in Jordan. Goods manufactured in the QIZ could be exported to the
United States duty free, provided they had Israeli inputs. The agreement
helped create 60,000 jobs and facilitated substantial growth in trade. Jordanian exports to the United States are now more than $1 billion.
In 2001, Washington signed a free trade agreement with Jordan,
America's first with an Arab country, which came into effect in 2010.
Trade between the U.S. and Jordan increased by more than 30 percent
between 2009 and 2013 alone. Today, the United States is Jordan's largest supplier of aid.
While not all of this resulted directly from the 1994 agreement,
Washington unquestionably intended to provide perks for maintaining
peace with Israel.
Israel also contributed to Jordan's economic growth following the
1994 agreement. Tourism in Jordan expanded significantly following the
peace agreement. This includes a marked uptick in visitors from the
United States and Israel.
Currently, Israel and Jordan are negotiating the construction of the
joint Jordan Gateway Industrial Park to create more jobs and to
strengthen both economies.
Israel has likewise contributed significantly to Jordan's well-being
through the provision of water and energy. The 1994 accords stipulated
that Israel sell Jordan a specified amount of water annually. Israel, a
world leader in desalination technology, has held up its end of the
bargain and last year even agreed to double its contribution.
Meanwhile, in 2014, after discovering gas off its Mediterranean coast,
Israel agreed to export $500 million worth of gas to Jordan.
Texas-based Noble Energy and Jordan's National Electric Company signed a
15-year, $10 billion gas deal in 2016. The deal provides for 40 percent
of Jordan's electricity needs. Noble sent its first shipment of gas to Jordan in 2020.
Israel and Jordan also agreed to a water-for-energy deal in November
2021, whereby Israel will provide Jordan with 200 million cubic meters
of water in exchange for solar energy.
The two countries reaffirmed the agreement at the United Nations COP27
climate conference in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh in
At the conference, Jordan and Israel also signed an agreement to
mitigate pollution of the Jordan River, which borders both countries.
Israel and the United States have also cooperated closely with the Jordanians on a wide range of security-related issues.
Not all of this activity has been made public. But the training,
intelligence-sharing, and other military activity has been hailed by all
three militaries. In 2015, Jordanian pilots flew alongside their
Israeli counterparts in a Red Flag exercise (advanced aerial combat
training hosted by the United States Air Force). This was the first time
the parties publicly acknowledged joint air force training.
Last year, Jordan also participated in an Israeli-hosted Blue Flag
exercise, air force training designed to simulate realistic combat
Increasingly Open Hostility
Despite all of this, Jordan remains relatively poor and somewhat
unstable. Of course, the country's perennially tenuous economic and
political challenges would have undeniably been far worse without the
assistance made possible by the 1994 agreement. But this offers little
Driven by a combination of domestic political considerations,
unrealistic expectations, and both legitimate and illegitimate
grievances, Amman has pulled away from Israel in recent years. The
official rhetoric about Israel has grown increasingly negative, if not
vitriolic. The same can be observed in Jordan's government-censored
media. And despite the ongoing cooperation on a range of challenges,
diplomatic ties are in a deep freeze. Israeli officials are keenly aware
of this dynamic. They have shared their frustration in closed-door
In recent years, senior Israeli officials quietly attributed tensions
to a personality conflict between King Abdullah II and Benjamin
Trump administration policies that Israel welcomed did not sit well
with Jordan, either. Specifically, Jordanian officials warned that
moving the American embassy to Jerusalem was a "red line" that would
have "catastrophic" impact.
Ties were strained further when Netanyahu prepared to annex portions of
the West Bank in 2020, with Abdullah warning of a "massive conflict" as
When Netanyahu left office in 2021, officials in Jerusalem expected
ties to improve. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett claimed that Netanyahu
"destroyed" Israel's relationship with Jordan and declared that his
government was "fixing the relationship."
Alternate Prime Minister Yair Lapid similarly acknowledged Jordan's
role as "an important strategic ally for Israel" and pledged to "work
with" Abdullah to "strengthen the relationship between our two
countries." According to Israeli officials, relations improved during the Bennett/Lapid government's time in office.
However, Jordanian rhetoric toward Israel did not markedly improve. New
tensions are now expected with the return of Netanyahu, given the
king's unabashed distaste for the Israeli leader. Ties could be further
strained with reports that Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal has been spending
more time in Jordan with the approval of the Hashemite Kingdom.
The Palestinian Issue
In an oversimplification of the current dynamics, Jordanian officials
invariably blame Israel's ongoing military presence in the disputed
West Bank for the recent tensions. Officials in Amman have grown sharply
critical of policies they associate with the "Israeli occupation." Of
course, the status quo has not changed dramatically since Jordan entered
into its agreement with Israel in 1994. Moreover, if it were simple to
fix the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, it would have been solved long
ago. Nevertheless, Jordan blames the failure of the Palestinians to
achieve statehood on Israeli policy. The Israelis dispute this,
insisting that a combination of Palestinian corruption, poor governance,
irredentism, disunity, and extremism have made this file even more
challenging to address.
The Palestinian issue is undeniably the driving force behind Jordan's
rhetoric. An estimated 50 percent of Jordan's population of 10 million
is Palestinian, owing to migration from the 1948–1949 Israeli War of
Independence (or the Palestinian "Nakba," depending upon one's view of
history). Jordanian politicians and diplomats will cite this figure
behind closed doors, but the government has in the past attempted to
adjust this figure downward. The Palestinian Authority-run Palestinian
Central Bureau of Statistics estimated in 2015 that 2.2 million
Palestinians were living in Jordan. Whatever the precise number, the Palestinians make up a substantial portion of the population in Jordan.
While Jordanian officials may not say so explicitly, the animosity
harbored by Jordan's Palestinian population toward Israel has a
significant influence on the kingdom's foreign policies. Despite its
reliance upon Israel for security, intelligence, and a range of products
and services, and despite the trilateral relationship with Israel and
the United States that is a core pillar of Jordan's relationship with
Washington, Amman simply cannot embrace Israel openly. This has become
abundantly clear in recent years.
In a speech before the United Nations General Assembly in 2016, King
Abdullah placed the blame for the lack of diplomatic progress between
Israel and the Palestinians entirely on Israel. "No injustice has spread
more bitter fruit than the denial of a Palestinian state," he said.
"Peace is a conscious decision. Israel has to embrace peace or
eventually be engulfed in a sea of hatred in a region of turmoil."
In 2017, a Jordanian stabbed an Israeli security guard at the residential complex at the Israeli embassy compound in Amman.
The guard — Ziv Moyal — shot his attacker in self-defense. The
Jordanian landlord was also shot and eventually died from his wounds. A
standoff ensued after the shooting.
Invoking diplomatic immunity, Israel would not permit Jordanian
authorities to question Moyal. Jordan, however, would not allow Moyal to
leave the country without being investigated. The impasse ended after
diplomatic interventions by U.S. officials. The warm public reception
that Prime Minister Netanyahu gave Moyal did not help improve matters.
Notably, that incident occurred amidst the tensions that flared at
the Temple Mount compound, where Israel had installed metal detectors
after Israeli-Arab gunmen killed two Israeli policemen. The move
unleashed a wave of public outrage, including a direct intervention by
King Abdullah, invoking his role as custodian of the religious
authorities on the Temple Mount, pursuant to the 1994 peace agreement.
After Moyal returned to Israel, Israel removed the metal detectors. After that, Israel reopened its embassy in Amman and agreed to pay reparations.
The frictions between Jordan and Israel were far from settled after
this. In fact, disagreements over the Temple Mount were just heating up.
Jordan, citing its role of custodian over the Temple Mount, continues
to assert itself. Israel, which has sovereignty over the holy site that
holds great significance for Jews and Muslims alike, continues to
coordinate with Jordan. But it refuses to cede full control. This should
come as no surprise. Israel has legitimate security concerns. And the
Israelis want to convey that they maintain full control over their
capital. Jordan, which lost Jerusalem to Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War,
understands this dynamic full well. Nevertheless, Israel's security
presence, the role and numbers of Jordanian personnel assigned to
monitor the compound, and other related issues continue to irk officials
in Amman, who openly express their frustrations.
But it is the fate of the Palestinian national project that remains
the focus of Jordanian officials. In 2020, amidst reports that Israel
might annex parts of the disputed West Bank, the king effectively warned
that he was considering nullifying the 1994 peace agreement. "I don't
want to make threats and create an atmosphere of loggerheads, but we are
considering all options," he stated.
What is notable here is that the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain were
equally opposed to such an Israeli move. However, the UAE and Bahrain
leveraged Israel's desire to deepen ties with the Arab world to thwart
the move. Indeed, the UAE secured Israeli guarantees to prevent
annexation by entering into the Abraham Accords.
During the 2021 war between Israel and the Iran-backed terrorist
group Hamas in the Gaza Strip, Jordan effectively took Hamas' side in
the global battle for public opinion. Just before the eruption of
conflict, a government statement accused "Israeli police and special
forces" of being "barbaric." Amidst coordinated unrest on the Temple
Mount, including rock-throwing and other forms of violence, Jordan
"rejected and condemned" the responding Israeli security forces for what
it described as "violations against the mosque to attacks on
When war broke out several days later, Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman
Safadi slammed Israel at the Arab League, saying the Jewish state was
"playing with fire." At the Arab League's emergency meeting, Safadi
said, "The Israeli Occupation authorities will not enjoy security if the
Palestinians do not enjoy it."
When tensions flared between Palestinians and Israelis during Ramadan
in 2022, including actions taken by Israel to neutralize extremist
group activity, Safadi again claimed that Israel was trying to change
the status quo in Jerusalem and that this amounted to "playing with
During the king's speech before the United Nations General Assembly
on September 20, 2022, King Abdullah made the disputable claim that,
"Christianity in the Holy City is under fire. The rights of churches in
Jerusalem are threatened." The statement drew contestations and condemnations from a range of Christian groups.
More recently, the Jordanian government has excoriated Israel for
actions in lawless pockets of the West Bank. Secretary-General of the
Royal Committee for Jerusalem Affairs Abdullah Kanaan condemned Israel
in harsh terms for its ongoing battle against extremists. The Jordan Times,
a government-censored outlet, cited a litany of purported Israeli
crimes: "killing, imprisonment, confiscating lands, expelling
Palestinians from their lands, raiding Palestinians' Islamic and
Christian holy sites, and imposing restrictions on the freedoms of
worship and culture."
Jordan's concerns may be sincere. However, such rhetoric has failed
to solve any of the region's problems. If anything, it may be
Jordan has made no attempt to hide its rejection of the new regional
order marked by Israeli peace agreements with surrounding Arab states.
Shockingly, despite its peace agreement with Israel and its warm
relations with the UAE and Bahrain, Jordan refused to send diplomatic
representatives to the White House ceremony marking the Abraham Accords.
After the deal was announced, Safadi stated: "If Israel considers the
agreement as a means to end the occupation and meet the Palestinians'
rights to freedom and the creation of a viable independent state with
East Jerusalem as its capital on the pre-1967 borders, the region will
move ahead towards realizing peace, or else Israel will deepen the
conflict that will jeopardize the entire region's security."
After the 2021 war between Israel and Hamas, relations between Jordan
and Israel were sufficiently tense that a senior Emirati official told a
Washington audience that the UAE was actively urging a "reconnection"
between the two countries. The official underscored the need for a
"channel to influence Israel positively."
In March 2022, Amman sent a jarring message: it declined to
participate in the Negev Summit, a diplomatic conference held in Israel
with its peace partners. The UAE, Bahrain, Morocco, and Egypt all
attended, along with the United States. The goal was to formalize
collaboration across a range of fields. Efforts to that end are ongoing.
Under increased scrutiny for eschewing regional peace efforts,
Jordanian officials have provided two different reasons for declining to
join the Negev Summit. The first was a scheduling conflict. Several
articles attribute Jordan's absence to Safadi's schedule. The Jerusalem Post claimed that Safadi was in a "pre-scheduled meeting in Doha" and that he was "more likely to attend future meetings."
Later, it was reported that Safadi had instead accompanied the king to a
meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah.
The second explanation for Jordan's failure to participate in the
Negev Summit was its insistence that the Palestinians be included. Then
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett was apparently hesitant to agree for fear
that the Palestinian issue would upstage the broader, regional
priorities. The UAE reportedly had similar concerns.
Domestic conditions may have also contributed to Jordan's decision.
Days before the Negev Summit convened, Jordanian officials arrested
dozens of political activists commemorating the anniversary of the Arab
Other sources suggest that the government feared political instability,
particularly from Islamists and the dominant Palestinian population but
also among East Bankers (Jordan's traditional tribal power brokers not
of Palestinian origin) if Jordan participated.
Not Only Israel
The Jordanian government is not only potentially imperiling its
valuable relationship with Israel. It has also, at times, snubbed the
pragmatic Arab states that have either entered into alliances with
Israel (the UAE) or are taking steps to mitigate hostilities with the
Jewish state with an eye toward regional stability (the Saudis).
While Jordan has not come out and directly challenged the UAE for its
decision to normalize with Israel, the absence of closer cooperation
between the three countries reveals a fault line. Until now, the UAE and
Israel have exhibited patience toward Jordan. That patience appears to
have paid off. In November, the three countries announced plans to move
ahead with a deal involving water and solar energy.
Tensions between Saudi Arabia and Jordan have been more obvious at
times. Friction emerged in 2021 amidst a purported coup plot involving
the king's half-brother Hamza that was allegedly disrupted by Jordanian
authorities. One figure arrested was Bassem Awadallah, a former
Jordanian official with ties to senior Saudi leadership, feeding
unsubstantiated suspicions that Saudi Arabia was behind the plot.
Saudi officials denied their involvement. But ties were strained enough
to spur a Saudi delegation to travel to Amman to "refute in person"
whatever charges were being leveled.
Based on background conversations with informed figures in Jordan
this summer, the Royal Court may still be adjusting to a new generation
of Arab leaders.
Figures like Mohammed Bin Zayed (MBZ) of the UAE and Mohammed Bin
Salman (MBS) of Saudi Arabia are peers of King Abdullah. Yet, because
their countries enjoy greater wealth and stability, they have
leapfrogged him to emerge as the new leaders of the region. Jordan
certainly does not appear to resent their wealth or success. Still, a
complicated triangle has formed. While MBZ enjoys warm ties with
Abdullah, the king's relationship with MBS is decidedly cooler. MBZ has
reportedly worked to help bridge the differences between the Jordanian
and Saudi rulers.
Jordan's Economic Challenges
If Jordan is indeed ambivalent about the wealthier Gulf states and
their ties to Israel, this is the wrong time to articulate that. Even
with their assistance, Jordan's economy has not performed well. In 2019,
Jordan's GDP growth rate hovered at roughly 2 percent for the fourth
year in a row. This is a marginal decrease from 2010–2015, when Jordan's
GDP grew by an average of 2.6 percent, and significantly lower than
2000–2009, when the average growth rate was 6.4 percent. In 2019, Jordan's public debt reached 99 percent of GDP and then ballooned to 113 percent in 2021.
Some of this is due to the impact of a series of regional crises.
Turmoil in Iraq and Syria has caused critical trade routes to close. The
Arab Spring severely disrupted the country's energy supply. Jordan has also suffered from a massive influx of refugees, as many as 1.3 million, seeking to escape the civil war in Syria. Covid-19 further battered Jordan, causing the economy to contract by 1.6 percent in 2020. The economy has bounced back, but economic growth is still expected to hover at a meager 2 percent. And despite this growth, unemployment in Jordan rose from 18.6 percent in 2018 to 23.3 percent last year.
In September 2022, Jordan and the U.S. signed a seven-year memorandum
of understanding, allocating $1.45 billion annually to Jordan beginning
The aid may help Jordan tackle some of the above challenges, but
Jordanian officials admit that it will likely be insufficient to meet
the country's economic and military needs.
The Saudis and Emiratis serve as Jordan's most important Arab
financial patrons. In 2011, the Gulf Cooperation Council, which includes
Saudi Arabia and the UAE, established a $5 billion development program
Other Saudi investments in 2015 included $50 million for the
construction of a fiber optic internet network and $30 million to
support industrial cities in Tafilah, Madaba, Jerash, and Al-Salt. 
In 2018, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Kuwait pledged an additional $2.5 billion to help revive Jordan's economy.
Fulfillment is another story, of course. In 2019, the UAE provided
$500.2 million in aid to Jordan, primarily through the Abu Dhabi Fund
The UAE also deposited $333 million in the Jordanian Central Bank to
address Jordan's budget deficit. That was converted into a soft loan in
In 2020, the UAE sent several shipments of medical aid to help Jordan combat the pandemic.
In 2022, Jordan, the UAE, and Egypt established the Industrial
Partnership for Sustainable Economic Development — a $10 billion
investment fund backed by the Abu Dhabi holding firm ADQ.
The three countries signed an agricultural agreement under which the
UAE will invest in grain production in Jordan at a time of possible
grain shortages stemming from the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The Jordanian Ministry of Digital Economy and Entrepreneurship and ADQ
launched a $100 million technology investment fund in 2022.
Recently, Saudi Arabia ramped up its investments in Jordan. In June,
the Saudi Public Investment Fund took a $185 million stake (23.97
percent) in the Capital Bank of Jordan.
Jordanian and Saudi companies also signed several agreements at a
convention organized by the Amman Chamber of Commerce and the Council of
The Saudi Jordanian Investment Fund backed a $400 million healthcare
project for an academic hospital and a medical school in Amman.
Some in Jordan believe the Gulf states are still holding back in
terms of total amounts and fulfillment, but they are still
unquestionably important for Jordan's economic well-being. Indeed, Saudi
Arabia and the UAE rank among Jordan's top partners in energy, as well
as other products and services.
External Security Challenges
To the extent that the UAE and Saudi Arabia are well positioned to
buttress Jordan economically, Israel is the natural partner to help
combat some of the country's security threats.
Chief among the kingdom's threats right now is the influx of
Captagon. Jordan sits at the nexus of trafficking routes between Syria
and the Gulf. Shipments of the illicit drug increased by 87 percent
between 2013 and 2018 and have since accelerated.
In 2020, the Jordanian army seized 1.4 million Captagon pills. Seizures
for 2022 reached a whopping 17 million pills. And while Jordan was once
considered just a transit point for pills destined for the Arabian
Gulf, the drugs have become increasingly popular among Jordanian youth,
with addiction cases on the rise.
In 2022, amidst several reports of violent incidents, a clash along the Jordan-Syria border left 27 smugglers dead. King Abdullah blamed Iran-linked militias for the uptick in violence.
Smuggling operations are reportedly backed by the Syrian military's
Fourth Division, led by Maher al-Assad. Several Iran-aligned militias
are also complicit.
Drugs are only part of Jordan's Iran problem. In a May 2022
conversation with former U.S. National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster,
King Abdullah voiced concerns that Iranian forces in Syria could soon
destabilize his country. With Russia expected to redeploy assets and
forces from Syria to the mired war effort in Ukraine, the monarch
expressed concerns that Iran could seek to fill the void. "That vacuum
[left by the Russians] will be filled by the Iranians and their proxies.
So unfortunately, we are looking at maybe an escalation of problems on
our borders," Abdullah said.
Jordan also faces a threat from Iran-backed militias in Iraq to the
north. Additional threats loom in the south, with Iranian assets
reportedly operating in the Red Sea.
The close military cooperation between Jordan and Israel is not
always made public. But officials in both countries (and in Washington)
attest to the fact that these ties are both wide and deep. Cooperation
must continue, or even increase, particularly as Iran's malign activity
grows across the Middle East. Closer ties would likely require a shift
in Jordan's approach toward Israel.
King Hussein was willing to test the boundaries of the contract
between sovereign and subjects, particularly as it related to Israel.
Under Abdullah, this is increasingly not the case. If anything, Abdullah
appears to want to validate the concerns of the Palestinians living in
Jordan. He may be trying to placate the country's Islamist, Palestinian,
and other opposition groups as well after a decade of political and
economic challenges. This could come at a cost.
This is not to say that Jordan's concerns are not occasionally worth
voicing. Israeli policies sometimes justify such rhetoric. No country is
perfect. However, Israel is not alone in encumbering the path to Middle
East peace. The Palestinians, the Iranians, and other malign actors
deserve plenty of blame. Nor is Israel to blame for some of the recent
violent episodes on the Temple Mount. Palestinian rejectionist groups
are too often responsible, both historically and recently.
The motivation for Jordan to advocate urgently for a two-state
solution is certainly understandable. The frustration among Jordanians
of Palestinian descent threatens Jordanian stability. But it is not at
all clear that openly clashing with Israel, a guarantor of Jordan's
regional stability, will solve Jordan's Palestinian problem. If
anything, harsh rhetoric could make conditions worse.
Moreover, there has been little consideration of the security threats
that a West Bank Palestinian state could pose, should one be created.
The Palestinian Authority lacks the ability to govern, let alone to
secure its own borders. The current Palestinian Authority chairman,
Mahmoud Abbas, took power in 2005 and has refused to hold elections ever
since, raising troubling questions about political legitimacy. Jordan
rarely, if ever, voices these concerns.
In fact, there is insufficient Jordanian criticism of the Palestinian
Authority, let alone the violent terrorist groups Hamas or Islamic
Jihad. Whereas the role of Jordan was once seen as a bulwark against the
extremism that was all too common across the Middle East, the Hashemite
Kingdom increasingly ranks among the region's more strident voices as
it relates to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
To be sure, Jordan should not be counted among the Iranian axis that
actively calls for Israel's destruction (Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon).
However, Jordan today does not fit within the bloc of pragmatic states,
such as the UAE, Bahrain, Egypt, and even Saudi Arabia. Instead, it
appears to have found its place among the nonaligned states of the Arab
world (for example, Algeria and Kuwait). These are states that advocate
stridently for the Palestinian cause and reject normalization. But there
is one difference between Jordan and the other states that fit this
description: The others do not urgently require sustained assistance
from America, Israel, or the Gulf states. This should give the Hashemite
Historically, political and diplomatic independence has not been a
deleterious thing for Jordan. This fierce sense of independence has
steered the kingdom away from toxic nationalist, religious, and
ideological trends, such as Islamism and Nasserism. However, in this
case, it is difficult to discern what Jordan gains, apart from appeasing
some of its own subjects at the expense of greater regional instability
and increased prosperity.
A pragmatic bloc of allied states beckons. These states seek a better future for the Middle East.
For the sake of a stable and prosperous future, the continued
influence of the United States in the Middle East, and strong
governments in both Amman and Jerusalem, stronger ties between Jordan
and Israel must be restored. Multiple actors have roles to play in this
The United States: Washington must work to restore
better ties between Israel and Jordan. This relationship is important to
the success of broader normalization efforts, Iran containment
policies, and great power competition. Washington must therefore convey
to Amman that while privately expressed opprobrium is well within
bounds, needlessly hostile public rhetoric is not helpful. Such
statements are rare in Washington, where officials often view Jordan as
beyond reproach thanks to a prevailing view, based on Jordan's
geopolitical position, that it is "too weak to fail." Washington must
change this paradigm while also identifying ways to encourage economic
and military ties between the two countries. This can be done in ways
that strengthen America's position globally, such as encouraging jointly
produced products that bypass China and create more trustworthy supply
chains. Pharmaceuticals is one obvious place to start.
In the meantime, the U.S. should also encourage the parties to create
mechanisms to maintain calm on the Temple Mount and to better monitor
the borders of both countries to counter the flow of the weapons and
narcotics that threaten both nations.
Israel: Jerusalem should coordinate more closely with
Jordan on matters concerning the Temple Mount. Jordan takes its role as
custodian of the Al-Aqsa Mosque seriously. Granting Jordan what it
requests to regulate the holy site (admitting agreed-upon numbers of
religious authorities, guards, and other officials) is smart policy, so
long as Jordan respects Israel's right to intervene during events that
threaten Israeli security. A three-way mechanism with the United States
should be considered. In the meantime, Israel must continue to look for
ways to continue to strengthen Jordan, both militarily and economically.
The Jordan Gateway project, the Blue Green Prosperity project, and efforts to grant Jordan more access to West Bank markets
deserve support. Military and intelligence cooperation should continue
apace. Jordan remains a vital ally to Israel, and it should be treated
as such. This does not grant Jordan the right to whip up anti-Israel
sentiment around the region. When this occurs, Israel should address
that activity through the appropriate channels.
The UAE, Bahrain, Morocco, and Egypt: All four
countries must continue to find ways to encourage Jordan to integrate
into the Abrahamic architecture in the Middle East. Jordan's bilateral
and multilateral cooperation with these countries, and perhaps even its
economic ties, should be contingent, at least in part, upon its
participation in these regional constructs. They are crucial to the
future of the region, and they should not be held hostage by Palestinian
Saudi Arabia: Riyadh is not a party to the Abraham
Accords. Nor is it an avowed enemy of Israel any longer. The Saudis can
demonstrate to Jordan (and the rest of the Arab world) that Arab
governments can maintain a principled position on the Palestinian issue
while tempering public criticism and quietly cooperating on common
threats. The Saudis should work with Amman to identify ways to deepen
the trilateral relationship, even if a solution to the Palestinian issue
Jordan: The status quo, one in which Jordan enjoys the
perks of peace while simultaneously excoriating Israel for real and
imagined transgressions, does not portend stability in the region. Nor
does it bode well for Jordan, given its dependence upon Israel or the
other countries that have committed to a fundamental transformation of
the Middle East. The Hashemite Kingdom must conduct a strategic review
of its peace with Israel, with an eye toward openly acknowledging and
further strengthening the security and trade ties that are indispensable
for Jordan. Such a review should also assess the potential dangers of
allowing ties with Israel to deteriorate, particularly as Jerusalem
loses patience with such scathing public rhetoric. Jordan should also
conduct a review of the benefits of joining Abraham Accords structures,
with the goal of pursuing stability, security, and prosperity.
Ties between Jordan and Israel are currently at a low point. But they
have certainly not deteriorated beyond repair. The structures stood up
by Washington, not to mention by Amman and Jerusalem, remain firmly in
place. A return to the fundamentals, with a concurrent embrace of the
new regional order, are key to a prosperous and secure future for both
American allies. Moreover, they are key to the continued security of a
U.S.-led Middle East.
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 "Jordan warns Israel of 'massive conflict' over annexation," Al Jazeera (Qatar), May 16, 2020. (https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/5/16/jordan-warns-israel-of-massive-conflict-over-annexation)
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 Tovah Lazaroff, "Jordan pulls plug on Red-Dead water project with Israel – report," The Jerusalem Post (Israel), June 19, 2021. (https://www.jpost.com/middle-east/jordan-pulls-plug-on-red-dead-water-project-with-israel-report-671372)
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 Roi Kais, "Is Jordan hiding how many Palestinians are in the country," Ynet News (Israel), December 1, 2016. (https://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4751617,00.html)
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 "Jordan FM: Hero's welcome in Israel for guard who killed two a 'disgrace'," Agence France-Presse (France), July 27, 2017. (https://www.timesofisrael.com/jordan-fm-heros-welcome-in-israel-for-guard-who-killed-two-a-disgrace)
 "Israel begins removal of metal detectors from Temple Mount," The Times of Israel (Israel), July 25, 2017. (https://www.timesofisrael.com/israel-removes-metal-detectors-from-temple-mount)
 Alexander Fulbright, "Netanyahu thanks US for 'behind-the-scenes' work to end Jordan embassy impasse," The Times of Israel (Israel), January 20, 2018. (https://www.timesofisrael.com/netanyahu-thanks-us-for-behind-the-scenes-work-to-end-jordan-embassy-impasse)
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 Conversation with UAE official, July 13, 2021.
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