Jordan’s Alliance with Israel is Unbreakable, Whether They Like it or Not


Good friends are hard to come by in the Middle East, where regimes are regularly faced with public unrest, rocked by civil war and sometimes even overthrown by angry citizens or the designs of the world powers. In light of this reality, it is baffling that the Jordanian parliament would even think of threatening their peace treaty with Israel, let alone publicly recommend that the government re-examine it the way they did this week. While relations between Israel and Jordan have been tense for the last several years due to stalls in talks with Palestinians, disputes over the Temple Mount and the 2018 shooting at the Israeli Embassy in Amman, Jordanian politicians have to know that losing the alliance with Israel would also cost them their most consistent regional partner. Israel may not be good friends with Jordan, but it is an indispensable ally in a region where reliable neighbors are in short supply.

Israel and Jordan signed a peace treaty with one another in 1994. Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Jordanian King Hussein bin Talal agreed to the treaty which they hoped would bring an end to several decades of active conflict, including full-scale Jordanian invasions of Israel in 1948 and 1967. In reality, the treaty served to publicize a relationship between the two countries that had silently been growing since the 1970s.

Following his army’s defeat at the hands of the IDF during the Six Day War, King Hussein realized that he was not going to be able to defeat the Israelis on the battlefield. Unlike his then-allies Egypt and Syria, Hussein seemed to hold relatively little grudge against Israel over the results of the war, and this, combined with his more pro-Western orientation, made him much more amenable to nuanced relations with the Israelis.

The decision to establish lines of communication with the Israeli government was made easier for Hussein following the 1970 Black September conflict. The Jordanians waged war on the PLO, who had set up in Jordan and were posing a threat to the Hashemite rulership.  During the course of the war, a Syrian army invaded Jordan in order to support the PLO.  The Jordanians successfully repulsed the incursion, and during the Syrian withdrawal, the Israeli Air Force engaged in flyovers intended to frighten the Syrian forces. According to some sources, the Mossad proceeded to warn King Hussein of several assassination attempts. In return, during a clandestine meeting with Prime Minister Golda Meir in May of 1973, King Hussein is alleged to have warned of an impending Egyptian and Syrian surprise attack. His warning was not heeded, and the attack was launched on October 6th, 1973, resulting in the Yom Kippur War. The Jordanians contributed minimal forces to the Yom Kippur War, and recently declassified documents indicate that this was part of a mutual Jordanian/Israeli understanding that Hussein was only doing so to save face among the other Arab leaders. This understanding led to Israeli and Jordanian forces deliberately avoiding major engagements with one another during the war.

The relationship between the two countries only grew stronger following the 1994 peace treaty, and will remain so, despite claims to the contrary by Jordanian politicians. Jordan’s economy has benefited tremendously since the peace treaty, due to cooperation with Israel in both industry and trade. Jordanian goods pass through Israel on their way to Turkey and Iraq bypassing war-torn Syria, and in 2016, Jordan and Israel inked a massive natural gas deal, in which Jordan will buy natural gas directly from Israel. The treaty has also led to an increase in Jordanian tourism revenue, with thousands of Israelis and foreign guests crossing the border every year to see world-renowned sites such as Petra.

There are two other components of the peace treaty that are even more vital for Jordan.  The first component is the fact that the alliance with Israel protects the Hashemite dynasty. King Abdullah II, Hussein’s son, knows that for as long as his country is allied with Israel, his continued reign is an Israeli national security priority. Should Jordan choose to invalidate part or all of the treaty, Israel will have far less interest in providing the Jordanian regime with assistance against terrorism and other threats against continued Hashemite rule. The second of these components is water. Jordan is an almost landlocked desert country, and the only natural source of fresh water for the entire country is the Jordan river, which it shares with both Israel and Syria. A dissolution of the treaty would lead first to the loss of the 50 million cubic meters of water Israel gives to Jordan annually, and then to a major water crisis that would leave the Jordanian populace and economy as dried out as its desert.

The Jordanian parliament can make whatever recommendations it likes about the status of Jordan’s peace treaty with Israel, but 25 years of open economic and security cooperation will make it virtually impossible to act on them. Jordan is the weaker of the two countries in most measurable ways, and so would only be hurting itself. Israel is a much more stable country, and would not be at the same economic and security risk as Jordan if the latter were to abrogate any of the treaty. Israel would face relatively minor economic setbacks, while Jordan would have to reckon with fallout that could lead to a collapse of the Hashemite regime. The short-lived surge of national pride felt by hard-liners in the Jordanian government would be outlasted by the long-term consequences of turning on their most reliable ally in the region.

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Chaim Zalman Hutz is a rabbinic student, amateur historian and future political prisoner from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, now living in Jerusalem, Israel.