Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is tarrying in his response to a Jordanian request for water from Israel, a request made due to water shortages in the kingdom.
Netanyahu has not responded positively even though professionals in water matters and defense establishment officials have recommended acceding to the request. Netanyahu’s approach reflects the depth of the crisis between Israel and Jordan, part of which seems to be related to personal friction between the prime minister and King Abdullah.
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The crisis between the two countries was exacerbated in recent weeks, mainly due to the cancellation of Netanyahu’s visit to the United Arab Emirates last week. The new tension began with a proposed visit by Jordan’s Prince Hussein to Jerusalem. The prince, Abdullah’s son, was supposed to visit Temple Mount, but a dispute developed over security arrangements. The Jordanians demanded that the prince be accompanied by dozens of their own armed bodyguards, some of whom would carry rifles, not just pistols. A compromise was reached with the Shin Bet security service regarding the number of guards and the weapons they would carry, but then another dispute broke out over the prince’s wish to visit some churches in the city, outside the Temple Mount compound. The Shin Bet objected and the Jordanians cancelled the visit.
The Jordanians did not make do with that and retaliated the next day by not permitting Netanyahu’s plane to fly over Jordan on his way to the Emirates. Netanyahu was to have flown in an Emirati passenger plane which was supposed to make a stopover in Amman. In the meantime, Netanyahu said he was postponing his visit due to his wife’s hospitalization for an appendectomy. According to the daily Maariv, Netanyahu was furious at the Jordanians, and in response decided to close Israel’s airspace to flights from Jordan, in contravention of the two countries’ peace agreement. Aviation authorities dawdled in carrying out Netanyahu’s directive until he was persuaded to retract it.
Defense establishment sources in Israel and Jordan now say in conversation with Haaretz that this wasn’t the only step taken by the prime minister. According to the peace agreement, Israel regularly transfers water it pumps out of the Jordan River to Jordan. Jordan often requests additional amounts when the kingdom experiences dry spells. Israel mostly accedes to these requests without any problem. The latest request was submitted this month and was discussed by a joint committee of the two countries. The committee convened last week, but despite the recommendations of professionals, Netanyahu and the National Security Council delayed their answer in a manner that attested to his intention of denying the request.
Israeli officials who are in close contact with the Jordanians expressed their concerns over Netanyahu’s moves and over the growing tension between the two countries. They said that Netanyahu was deliberately endangering the stability of the peace accords due to the personal hostility between him and the king and his entourage, ignoring the great strategic value ties with Amman have for Israel. These officials noted, among other things, the fact that Jordan bolsters its border with Israel with additional security forces, relieving the IDF from having to allocate units to foil the infiltrations or weapon smuggling.
The Jordanians are angry at Israel for another reason as well. The kingdom has been afflicted recently with a harsh onslaught of the coronavirus. Jordan would like Israel to help it by transferring vaccines, at least several tens of thousands of doses for vaccinating medical staff. Netanyahu is trying to exercise a “vaccination diplomacy” and reward friendly countries, ranging from San Marino to Guatemala, with vaccines. The Jordanians are not on the list of recipients, at the prime minister’s behest. The distribution is currently on hold anyway due to reservations made by the attorney general.
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Relations between Netanyahu and King Abdullah have been troubled for years, despite the meetings and phone conversations they hold from time to time. In the summer of 2017, a serious dispute erupted over the placement of metal detectors at the entrance to Temple Mount, while around the same time a security guard at the Israeli embassy in Amman shot and killed two Jordanian civilians. Abdullah agreed to release the guard, but was furious at Netanyahu for giving him a hero’s welcome and posing for a photo with the guard.
Netanyahu was recently quoted as saying that “the Jordanians need us much more than we need them.” Journalists who are close to him write disparagingly about Jordan, depicting Abdullah as irrelevant and presenting Jordan as a weak state whose importance is diminishing against the backdrop of Israel’s normalization agreements with the Emirates. The defense establishment strongly disputes this assessment and views Jordan as a critical ally for Israel’s security.