Analysis

Israel and Jordan Want to Resolve the Embassy Crisis, but the Jordanian Public Complicates Matters

The recent chain of violent events underlines how wrong Israeli leaders were in thinking that the Temple Mount metal detectors were a purely tactical move

Israel, Jordan want to resolve the embassy crisis, but the Jordanian public complicates matters. Forces outside the Israeli embassy in Amman, July 23, 2017.
KHALIL MAZRAAWI/AFP

The chain of backlash following the bloody attack on the Temple Mount that killing two Israeli policemen on July 14, continues. 

Israel reacted to what had been a local incident with a step that it described as tactic in character: placing metal detectors at the entrances to the Mount. But the ensuing dispute over the security measures spurred an upswing in attacks, culminating in the massacre of the Salomon family in the settlement of Halamish on Friday; it led to more clashes in Jerusalem, where three Palestinians were killed by Israeli gunfire on Friday; and as of Sunday night, to a serious incident in Amman, which complicates Israel's relations with Jordan.

Q&A: Haaretz analysts answer readers' questions on Temple Mount and Jordan crises

Arguing that such things happen anyway because of the perennial hatred the Arabs harbor for the Jews is irrelevant. Terror attacks do happen here and there and have for decades. But it is hard to mistake the intensity of the religious feeling, and the violence, that the dispute over Temple Mount provokes among the Palestinians and now, Jordan too.

According to the Foreign Ministry announcement, an Israeli security guard was attacked with a screwdriver by a Jordanian handyman working on the envoys' residence next door to the embassy. Defending himself, the guard shot the worker, killing him and another Jordanian, who owned the house next door. The Jordanian news reports ignore the initial attack by the worker and now a diplomatic crisis has developed around Israel's rejection of the Jordanian police's demand to investigate the guard, who has diplomatic immunity.

The tensions unfolding here are three-faceted: the protest in Jordan in respect to the change in status quo, which is being deliberately whipped up by the Muslim Brotherhood and toxic anti-Israeli propaganda actually being disseminated by people associated with the government; rage over the deaths of two Jordanian citizens by the Israeli guard; and the dispute over interrogating the Israeli guard who fired the shots. 

Both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and King Abdullah of Jordan would presumably prefer to resolve the problem as soon as possible. Achieving that becomes much more complicated now that the Jordanian public knows the facts. If they don't resolve the issue soon, the Israeli diplomatic corps and their guards in Jordan could be in serious danger.

With hindsight, it is obvious that the Israeli political echelon failed to properly assess the implications of placing the metal detectors on Temple Mount. The decision was made too hastily after the deaths of the two policemen on the Mount. The evolving crisis with Jordan now places a question mark on one of the great achievements in which Netanyahu takes pride in recent years, and quite rightly so: the warming alliance with the conservative Sunni nations in the area, including Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. 

It is true that Jordan has been playing a double game for years, under pressure from the street: it coordinates moves with Israel in secret while publicly condemning Israel every time the sentiment in the territories, and mainly in Jerusalem, heats up. But Jordan's moves on Sunday make clear that when the dispute touches on Temple Mount, its wiggle room has limits.

The crisis in Jordan makes resolving the issue of the metal detectors on the Mount all the more urgent. The Trump administration's special envoy to the region, Jason Greenblatt, is supposed to be coming to Israel on Monday to discuss the crisis. Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law, is involved in the talks. But reaction by the Trump administration is belated and all they're trying to do is calm the situation. Trump is beleaguered by serious internal issues and in any case, evinces little understanding of the Middle East. His behavior is very different from the Obama administration's efforts regarding previous flare-ups on the Mount two and three years ago, and from Obama's personal intervention in winding down the siege of the Israeli Embassy in Cairo in 2011. Where is John Kerry, that obsessive messianist, when he's really needed?

One also has to wonder, while about it, at the behavior of the Israeli military censor. Initial reports about the incident in Jordan reached Israel slightly after 7 P.M. on Sunday night, and were shortly released on the Jordanian media, then in the world press. In Israel the censorship blackout lasted almost 12 hours, though the information had been accessible to any Israeli who can type the word "Jordan" in Google or twitter. 

One can understand holding back details on an incident involving injured soldiers until their families are informed.  One can, barely, understand the demand that we rely on the foreign media for some hours following incidents that would affect Israelis living in a foreign country. But the attempt to impose a total blackout for half a day, in the reality of media today, was doomed. These horses had fled the stable long before.

For years Israel took pride in not fearing to expose its people to embarrassing or worrying truths, in contrast to its neighbors. Now, based on the excuse of concern for the safety of diplomats, when the facts were perfectly well known in Jordan and everywhere else, means that the only ones who didn't know the facts were Israelis. That isn't how a democracy with confidence in itself behaves.