Analysis

Netanyahu's Spin Machine Is Working Overtime - and It Could Destroy Israel's Ties With Jordan

Netanyahu's hero's welcome for the embassy guard who shot and killed his attacker in Amman has angered Jordan, and that's unlikely to pass soon

Netanyahu hugs Ziv, a security officer who worked at the Israeli Embassy in Amman, at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, July 25, 2017.
Haim Zach / GPO

Benjamin Netanyahu's spin machine - erroneously named the prime minister's office - has been working overtime this week, three shifts round the clock, 24/7, no downtime. The more the right criticized the Temple Mount fiasco, the louder whined the spinning wheels. Another few days like these and the overload would have caused blackouts nationwide.

The signal for Netanyahu's right-wing spin campaign was given immediately after the security cabinet's decision on Monday night to take down the metal detectors placed at the entrances to the Temple Mount. Netanyahu issued a statement about instructing his bureau chief to immediately renew the work to set up a new settlement for the evacuees of the illegal outpost of Amona. Then he announced that he instructed the public security minister to carry out manual searches of the worshippers at the Temple Mount – a clearly inapplicable step. He also announced he had instructed the defense minister not to evacuate during the night the settlers who had squatted in the "Machpela House" in Hebron, even though nobody had any intention of doing so.

The alarm in Netanyahu's office generated quite a few pearls. Netanyahu issued a statement about planning to close down Al-Jazeera's offices in Jerusalem – a recycled threat which may not even be carried out legally. He issued another statement that the terrorist who murdered three Israelis in the Halamish settlement must be executed, and a leak to Channel 2 about the prime minister's proposing to the Trump administration to transferring Umm al-Fahm and other Arab communities to the Palestinians as part of a peace agreement. This spin was meant as a Zionist response to the mass funeral held on Wednesday in Umm al-Fahm for the assailants who carried out the terror attack at the Temple Mount two weeks ago. 

This series of spins will probably become harmless folklore. It's difficult to see any of them carried out. Netanyahu's announcements and leaks were meant mainly to distract public opinion and break up the consensus on the right and left about his government's failure to deal with the crisis around the Temple Mount and blur the criticism of the zigzag and capitulation.

But one of Netanyahu's spins wasn't harmless and has already caused considerable security and diplomatic damage to Israel. It may cause more damage. As part of the attempt to change the public agenda, Netanyahu produced a festival-like reception for Israel's ambassador in Amman and the security guard who shot and killed a Jordanian who attacked him, as well as another man. Netanyahu published several announcements, tweets and Facebook posts, presenting himself as the one who extracted the Israeli diplomats from the inferno, as though it were no less than a sequel to the Entebbe operation.

To that Netanyahu added the distribution in every possible medium of a recording of his telephone conversation with the ambassador and security guard, after they had crossed the border into Israel, and video footage of the meeting with them in his office, at which he warmly hugged the shooting guard. 

And if all this weren't enough, his aides tweeted the same photos, with captions in Arabic, so that nobody in Jordan and the Arab world could miss them.

When the Jordanians saw this campaign they fumed. The Jordanian foreign minister couldn't hide his emotions during an interview with CNN on Tuesday night. The Jordanian anger stemmed from Netanyahu's portraying the event as though the Jordanian security forces had besieged the Israeli embassy and were about to lynch the diplomats in it. In Jordan's view, all they wanted was to take the testimony of the security guard, to show the public there that on the one hand, they were fulfilling their international obligations and on the other, they weren't taking the killing of two Jordanian citizens lying down.

When King Abdullah returned to Jordan on Thursday after a few weeks' vacation in the United States he called his higher political council and at the end of it he issued an unprecedentedly harsh statement against Netanyahu personally. The king accused Netanyahu of making political capital on the back of the embassy crisis and at Jordan's expense. He called Netanyahu a provocateur and said his conduct could undermine security in the region and inflame radical elements.

It would be hard to exaggerate the seriousness of this confrontation between the king and Netanyahu. One may imagine how destructive it is to the confidence between the two leaders – a crucial ingredient in the sensitive relations between Israel and Jordan. It would be wrong to think that this is momentary anger that will soon pass. Netanyahu has been boasting for several years that under his reign the ties with Egypt, Jordan and a number of Arab Sunni states with which Israel has no diplomatic relations, have become closer and more strategic than ever. Even if Netanyahu's description is accurate, he managed in a short time to badly damage the alliance with Jordan, which was painstakingly built for years.

It's astounding to see how much damage was caused just for a political short termed spin for Israeli public opinion.