With the media furor over Israel’s election deadlock
and Prime Minister Netanyahu’s legal woes
, other issues looming on Israel’s national agenda tend to be sidelined.
One such topic with far reaching significance was broached briefly last week: Israel’s relationship with Jordan and the ominous prospects for the future.
A Vital Israeli Interest
With attention focused principally on Israel’s northern and southern fronts — where, on the former, Israel has been engaged in curtailing Iran’s build-up in Syria, and, on the latter, in containing the violence on the Gazan border — the importance of Israel’s eastern frontier with Jordan, and of the mountain ridge separating that frontier from Israel’s heavily populated coastal plain, tends to be obscured.
The potential volatility along this (Israel's longest) border were thrown into sharp relief recently by Ephraim Halevy, former Head of Mossad, at a conference marking a quarter-century since the signing of the Israel-Jordan peace treaty.
Halevy prescribed that Israel should lobby the U.S. on Jordan’s behalf on the one hand, and on the other hand, its security establishment should be devising plans to deal with possible future alternatives in the Hashemite Kingdom: “Israel must, in the most blunt and clear way possible, illustrate to Washington that the prosperity of Jordan is a first rate Israeli security and strategic interest.”
“Jordan Should Be an Israeli Top Priority…”
Ironically, Halevy made his plea less than 24 hours after the Jordanian monarch, King Abdallah, addressed the UN, devoting half of his speech to castigating Israel.
However, despite Abdallah’s public display of enmity, it is not difficult to understand Halevy’s perspective. After all, under the Hashemite dynasty, Israel’s eastern frontier has, by and large, been peaceful since the early 1970s.
Indeed, considering the possible Mid-East alternatives, having an ostensibly moderate, pro-Western regime installed in Amman has undeniable appeal.
Accordingly, Halevy bewailed the fact that Washington has downgraded the importance it once saw in Jordan, lamenting, "for three years there has been no American ambassador in Jordan!"
He warned that “the Jordan issue should have top priority because if, God forbid, something should happen in Jordan...and we go back to the situation, in which the border is no longer our longest and quietest border, but out longest and most problematic border, it will be too late!”
Teetering on the Brink?
The Jordanian economy, heavily dependent on imported energy and foreign aid, has been in dire straits for several years. Dissatisfaction is seething, producing large-scale street riots, government reshuffles, and erosion of the monarchy’s base of support.
With unemployment reaching almost 20%, and the specter of decreasing foreign aid, the king is even in danger of losing the support of his traditional base — the Jordanian Bedouin tribes, which constitute the backbone of his regime.
Accordingly, Halevy has ample grounds for concern.
However, the fact that his diagnosis — of how tenuous the Hashemite’s hold on power might be — is accurate, does not necessarily mean that his prescribed remedy — attempting to prop up a floundering monarch — should be adopted.
For as deceptively tempting as the idea might be, Israel cannot take upon itself responsibility for ensuring the current socio-economic edifice of Jordan.
Accordingly, for Israel’s national strategy architects, the prudent working assumption must be that the Hashemite regime has a limited “shelf-life.”
Jordan, Regime-Change and Trump
The instability in Jordan and the prospect of other “various alternatives” (i.e. regime change) assume heightened importance in light of the rumored publication of the long-awaited Trump administration’s “Deal of the Century,” purported to bring the age-old conflict between Jew and Arab over the Holy Land, to an end.
Although the details of the “Deal” are still obscure, it appears that Jordan is slated to play a major role in it — grudgingly or otherwise. Accordingly, the feasibility of the “Deal will be dramatically impacted by the nature of the regime east of Jordan River and its prospective stability.
Indeed, there seems little realistic prospect that any successor regime in Amman will be more favorably disposed toward Israel than the current one.
This takes us back to the crucial importance for Israel of the highlands of Judea-Samaria and the Jordan Valley. As I have been at pains to point out on numerous occasions, not only are these highlands the sole topographical barrier between Jordan and the heavily populated coast plain, but any forces — regular or renegade — deployed on them will have complete topographical command and control of virtually all Israel’s airfields (military and civilian), its major ports and naval bases, its principal traffic axes (rail and road), vital infrastructure installations/systems (electrical power, desalination plants, and water conveyance), centers of civilian government and military command, and 80% of the civilian population and commercial activity.
Accordingly, it will matter greatly whether Jordan is ruled by a government that strives to reign in forces hostile to Israel or one that is indifferent to their aggressive intent — or worse, is complicit with it.
Thus, should the Trump plan entail significant territorial concessions, Israel may well find itself a situation in which it will have to contend with a huge expanse of hostile territory, stretching from the fringes of Greater Tel Aviv to the border of Iraq — and perhaps beyond.
Accordingly, Israel’s security establishment should indeed devise plans to deal with prospective alternatives in Jordan — not only how to cope with them once they arise, but to prevent them from arising at all.
Dr. Martin Sherman is the founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies, dedicated to the preservation and propagation of joint values shared by the USA and Israel as embodied in the U.S. Constitution and Israel’s Declaration of Independence. He served for seven years in operational capacities in the Israeli Defense establishment and acted as a ministerial adviser to Yitzhak Shamir's government. Sherman lectured for 20 years at Tel Aviv University in Political Science, International Relations, and Strategic Studies. He holds several university degrees — B.Sc. (Physics and Geology), MBA (Finance), and PhD in political science/international relations. He was the first academic director of the internationally renowned Herzliya Conference and has authored two books as well as numerous articles and policy papers on a wide range of political, diplomatic and security issues. He was born in South Africa and has lived in Israel since 1971. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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