Analysis / A Small Cloud Passing Over the Jordan River

The attack on the IDF patrol near Yardena, and on the reinforcements called for help yesterday morning, took place at a particularly embarrassing moment.

The attack on the IDF patrol near Yardena, and on the reinforcements called for help yesterday morning, took place at a particularly embarrassing moment. It was near the end of tripartite talks between top-ranking Israelis, Jordanians and Turks, and not far from the planned visit to Jordan by top-ranking IDF general staff officers and Israel Air Force officers, led by Operations Commander Maj. Gen. Dan Harel, for the semi-annual meeting of the "seniors" - the top officers of the two country's armies.

Thus, by accident, the Jordanian army's regional commander, based close to the Sheikh Hussein Bridge, was in Israeli territory at the time of the incident, and from there - after initial contact with the liaison officers - coordinated his forces with the IDF's. Israel's ambassador to Jordan, David Dadon, also wasn't in Jordan at the time of the incident.

Dadon, whose family continues living in Gilo, a place much more subject to shooting than the Bet Shean Valley, was at the foreign ministry taking part in a discussion about Israeli activity in Jordan. But even if he had been in Amman yesterday, there wasn't much he could do to get help from the Jordanian foreign ministry, and not just because it was Christmas Day. The main channel, indeed, practically the only channel, for contact on sensitive issues between the two countries (and every issue between Israel and Jordan is sensitive), is between the defense establishments.

The Jordanian kingdom is not only the eastern bank of Palestine (and even more so, in the valley, the Dead Sea and the Arava of Israel), it's also the west bank of Iraq, and the south bank of Syria. Israel has a clear interest in the security and welfare of Jordan. The peace may be chilly on the surface, almost like that between Israel and Egypt, because in both Arab countries there are powerful currents opposed to peace and boycotting its supporters.

But unlike the Suez Canal and the Nile, the undercurrents in the Jordan River are strong and positive. A prime example is the Amman Center for Peace and Development, headed by retired general Mansour Abo Rashed, a former chief military intelligence officer and the Jordanian army's liaison with the IDF in the early years of the peace treaty.

It's not easy nowadays to be an open self-declared supporter of peace with Israel, and it's not safe to be an Israeli there. The embassy, and Dadon, personally, are protected by a particularly large force of some 2,000 security personnel three shifts a day. In light of that investment, from the king's own coffers, albeit in the wake of assassinations of Israelis and fear that the next attacks won't be prevented, the Jordanians can't understand why the IDF doesn't assign an officer to accompany Jordanian diplomats in Tel Aviv, the territories and to the bridges. At checkpoints they look to the soldiers like Palestinians, and get the same treatment.

As expected, Jordan tries to maneuver among all the forces around it. It is helping the American war effort as a respectable member of the military alliance if the countries including in the U.S. military's Central Command (among other things, participating in the Bright Star exercises), and now in Afghanistan, with special forces (that King Abdullah once commanded), and a field hospital. A Jordanian liaison officer is stationed in General Tommy Franks headquarters in a Florida air force base.

Jordan also protects its position as a party worried about Palestinian affairs (and even Israeli Arab affairs, with a delegation of Israeli Arabs received just this month by Abdullah), and applies its own influence and pressure on the Hamas. Two weeks ago, Al Majeed, the Jordanian weekly, reported that after a phone call between Hamas secretary Khaled Mashal (who was deported from Jordan with other members of the political bureau of the Hamas) and Islamic activists in Jordan, the Jordanian authorities renewed Mashal's passport. A small, tolerable concession, but as the Israeli embassy in Jordan reported back to Jerusalem, "not the last word in Jordan-Hamas relations."

The Jordanian security service keeps a sharp open eye on subversive activity in the kingdom - it's a threat to the regime, and only as a by-product of that is there a threat to the Israeli border or Israelis in Jordan. The smuggling of weapons over the border from Iraq to Jordan, to leave them there or move them into the territories, worries the Hashemite regime.

The temptation to smuggle is great. An assault rifle stolen from Saddam Hussein's army on the Iraqi side of the border may be worth $10, but will be worth 100-300 times as much if it manages to make its way into Jordan, through the kingdom and over the Jordan River.

It's difficult to seal the Jordanian-Iraqi border, in the area where the H-Road, which led from Iraq to the Haifa oil refineries cuts across the vast desert. The hole beckoning the smuggler is 180 kilometers long. The Jordanians want to seal fence it, for protection and prevention, with western aid.

The scene of yesterday's attack is also not far from the Jordanian-Syrian border, and that, too, is a problematic zone for the Jordanians. The friendship between Abdullah and Bashar Assad, two sons in their 30s who pushed aside uncles (Prince Hassan and Rifat Assad) and inherited their fathers' seats, does not protect Jordan from Syrian subversion.

General Sa'ad Kheir, the head of the GID (General Intelligence Department), who takes pride in being the only head of a intelligence agency in the Arab world who corresponds with the citizens via the Internet, emphasizes that terrorism hurts Jordan no less than any other country. Among its victims were a king (Abdallah, Hussein's grandfather), and two prime ministers (Heza'a al-Majili and Wasfe al-Tal).

If not for Abdallah's assassination, the vision of peace would have been reached five decades ago with four fewer wars, Kheir writes, explaining the GID's fight against terror. Kheir was deputy and heir of the previous GID chief Samih Bader El Deen Buttikhi, who was removed from the job in November 2000, and is the most important of King Abdullah's advisors.

The power in the kingdom is concentrated in the royal palace and in Kheir's hands. The government and its foreign ministry have no influence of relations with Israel. The army, until further notice, is disciplined, and to remove any doubt, soldiers of Palestinian origin are kept away from the military zones on the Israeli border.

Twenty years ago, after the cease-fire agreement between Menachem Begin in Jerusalem and Yasser Arafat in Beirut, with American and Saudi mediation, then defense minister Ariel Sharon tried to claim that a Palestinian attack at Mahoula was a violation of the agreement and justified Israeli action. Now, Arafat's in the territories, Sharon is prime minister and Jordan is a quiet, reliable partner for peaceful and secure relations with Israel. If there's no continuation to yesterday's deadly ambush, the incident will be but a small passing cloud over the two sides of the Jordan River.