Why Jordan Conducted a Major Military Drill Against an Israeli Invasion

Jordan's message to Israel: Our anger with you is real, but some steps are meant to vent public pressure

Jordanian military forces during a drill in November 2019.
Jordanian Armed Forces

The Jordanian military conducted last week a wide-ranging exercise, part of which addressed the scenario of an invasion of the kingdom from the west, to be foiled by blowing up the Jordan River bridges. Representatives of the palace watched the exercise, some of which was also broadcast on television.

Which mysterious, unnamed country is threatening Jordan from the west? The exercise meshes with the clear anti-Israel rhetoric being heard recently in the Jordanian media. King Abdullah is furious with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ever since he declared Israel’s plan to annex the Jordan Valley before the elections in September.

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The Jordanians also conveyed the message by insisting on retaking the lands at Naharayim and near Moshav Tzofar in the Arava, 25 years after signing the peace treaty with Israel.

Efforts to try to reduce the tension include talk of a possible visit to Jordan by President Reuven Rivlin.

Jordanian military forces during a drill in November 2019.
Jordanian Armed Forces
Location of the two territories Israel leased from Jordan after 1994 peace treaty

But these tensions also have domestic reasons. Abdullah is contending with pressures that are almost impossible to juggle. Jordan is still hosting more than half a million Syrian refugees, there is little financial help from Saudi Arabia or the Gulf States and Bashar Assad’s regime in Syria is not realizing Jordan’s hope of renewing the trade route with Turkey through its territory.

Jordan's military drill last week.

Abdullah has also been forced to back down following mass demonstrations against tax hikes and an intense teachers strike.

Raising the tension with Israel, therefore, is a bone being thrown to the opposition. Israel has actually received messages to this effect from the palace: Our anger with you is real, but some of the public steps we’re taking stem from domestic constraints.