Israel’s New Airport Is Angering Jordan, a Rare Friend in the Region

The two countries had planned to create a joint airport. Instead, Israel could be creating serious safety problems.

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One reason for Jordanians’ alienation toward Israel is their disappointment with the peace. When the peace treaty was signed in 1994 the two sides planned joint economic and infrastructure projects designed to improve Jordan’s standard of living. This never happened.

In 2012, Prof. Shimon Shamir, a former Israeli ambassador to Jordan, published an important book in Hebrew, “The Rise and Fall of the Warm Peace with Jordan: Israeli Policy in the Days of Hussein.” He points a finger at Israel’s governments, “which did not take serious steps to make the [peace treaty’s] vision materialize.”

One key project, initiated by then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, was a joint airport. Even before the treaty was signed, Rabin proposed to King Hussein that they merge airports in Eilat and Aqaba to create a joint facility based in Aqaba and called Hashalom (The Peace). Hussein enthusiastically supported the idea.

But that project didn’t pan out either amid opposition from the Eilat airport’s employees and the city’s hoteliers, who feared that passengers landing at Aqaba wouldn’t come to Eilat. The support of four prime ministers was of no avail and the idea was scrapped. “The project became an object lesson and a symbol of the vision’s failure,” Shamir wrote.

But Israel apparently didn’t learn from that experience, or no one is concerned about our relationship with Jordan. Otherwise it’s hard to understand the strange decision to build Ramon Airport (named after astronaut Ilan Ramon and his pilot son Asaf) in the Timna area.

In July 2011 the government decided to build an international airport north of Eilat, and on May 9 this year the cornerstone was laid. The process took place without coordination with the Jordanians, insulting them and fully ending the Eilat-Aqaba project. Such coordination is necessary if only because the planned airport is very near its Aqaba counterpart, so if the planning of the two sides’ runways isn’t coordinated, there could be serious safety problems.

According to the arrogant attitude of Israeli decision-makers, since the airport will be located on Israeli territory, there’s no need for coordination. “Besides,” a senior Transportation Ministry official told me this week, “why did we have to coordinate with them? After all, the Jordanians saw no need to coordinate the construction of the Aqaba airport with Israel.” This comment is baseless because the Jordanians began building the Aqaba airport about 30 years before the peace treaty was signed.

The Jordanians were so insulted that about two months ago they dropped their customary restraint and announced their vehement opposition to the construction of the Israeli airport at its present site.

According to Mohammad Amin Al-Quran, the head of Jordan’s Civil Aviation Regulatory Commission, “When we found out about the location of the new Israeli airport, we realized there was a problem. Based on the details we have, the plan does not meet international standards. The distance between the Jordanian international airport in Aqaba and the airport that Israel wants to build is insufficient, and this could endanger planes and passengers on both sides.”

According to Al-Quran, “We rejected the location where Israeli wanted to build the airport. We informed the Israeli side, but apparently it didn’t accept our opinion.”

The spokesman for Israel’s Transportation Ministry said that in recent talks with the Jordanians, “we agreed to continue the meetings and coordination in operating the two airports - at Timna and at Aqaba.”

The Prime Minister’s Office should start paying attention to the issue. It would be a shame if the arrogance of the officials responsible for the new airport estranges one of our last friends in the region.

King Hussein and Yitzhak Rabin in 1994. The cooperation isn't so close anymore. Credit: AP