Israel Sending Medical Aid to Jordan to Deal With COVID-19 Spread

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Masked Jordanians shop for Ramadan decorations in Amman, last week.
Masked Jordanians shop for Ramadan decorations in Amman, last week. Credit: Muath Freij / Reuters

Israel will send extensive medical aid to Jordan on Tuesday to help it deal with the spread of the coronavirus in its midst. The aid is being sent in response to a Jordanian request and reflects an Israeli effort to ease tensions with its eastern neighbor.

The package is expected to include hundreds of ventilators, coronavirus test kits, medical face masks and ordinary face masks. But it apparently won’t include any coronavirus vaccines.

Jordan’s request was sent through the defense establishment and approved by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the National Security Council and the Health Ministry.

Since the pandemic erupted last year, more than 685,000 residents of Jordan have been diagnosed with the virus and more than 8,200 have died. Case numbers peaked about a month ago, when more than 8,000 new cases were being diagnosed each day.

Since then, lockdowns and other measures have reduced incidence of the illness to around 2,400 new cases per day. The death rate has also declined, though it remains high at about 70 people per day.

Jordan’s population, which includes a large number of refugees, is about 10.2 million, slightly higher than Israel’s. Like most Arab countries other than the Gulf States, Jordan has had trouble acquiring and administering vaccines, so only 1.2 percent of the population is fully vaccinated.

Amman sent its aid request last month, when incidence of the illness was peaking. The fact that coronavirus cases have declined sharply in Israel over the last two months, thanks to its successful vaccination campaign, made it easier for Israel to provide Jordan with the medical supplies. The number of seriously ill coronavirus patients in Israel fell below 200 last week and the hospitals have closed their special coronavirus wards.

As Haaretz has previously reported, Netanyahu had recently delayed agreeing to a Jordanian request to increase its annual water allotment from Israel under the peace treaty But two weeks ago, several weeks after the request was made, Netanyahu finally agreed. Jordan will pay Israel for the extra water, which it needs to offset a severe drought.

The recent Israeli gestures follow a fairly tense period in the bilateral relationship. In mid-March, just before the last election, Netanyahu wanted to visit the United Arab Emirates, but the trip ended up being canceled, in part because the Jordanians delayed the takeoff from Amman of the Emirati plane that was supposed to take Netanyahu to his destination.

Netanyahu was furious and wanted to retaliate by denying Jordanian planes access to Israeli airspace. But according to the daily Maariv newspaper, senior civil aviation officials delayed implementing that decision and then it was cancelled.

Medical staff assist a coronavirus patient in an intensive care unit at a hospital in Amman, Jordan, last month.Credit: Muath Freij / Reuters

Another dispute had erupted a day earlier over security arrangements for a planned visit to the Temple Mount by Jordan’s Prince Hussein. Amman was furious over Israel’s refusal to let his guards carry rifles rather than pistols and canceled the visit.

Despite these efforts to ease bilateral tensions, diplomatic sources acknowledge that the relationship remains fraught, and that the heart of the issue is the deep distrust between Jordan’s King Abdullah and Netanyahu following a series of incidents through the years.

The kingdom is also apparently concerned about right-wing politicians’ statements dismissing the importance of bilateral security cooperation and, at times, claiming that Jordan should become a Palestinian state rather than the West Bank and Gaza.

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