Israel Mends Fences With Jordan Over 'Unfriendly Remark'

Julie Stahl | Jerusalem Bureau Chief | Thursday, February 23, 2006

Israel Mends Fences With Jordan Over 'Unfriendly Remark'

Jerusalem ( - Two of the United States' strongest allies in the Middle East were at odds on Thursday over comments made by a senior Israeli military officer who suggested that King Abdullah might be the last monarch in Jordan.

Jordan was upset over the comments made by Maj.-General Yair Naveh, the head of Israeli army forces in the West Bank and Jordan Valley. Naveh spoke on Wednesday at a closed meeting of diplomats and journalists at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

Speaking about Hamas' rise to power in recent Palestinian parliamentary elections, Naveh said that an "Islamic process" was taking place in the Middle East.

"Hamas is gathering strength, and a dangerous axis starting in Iran and continuing through Iraq and Jordan is in the process of being formed," Naveh said.

"I don't want to be a prophet but I am not sure there will be another king after King Abdullah [II]."

Naveh said that 80 percent of the Jordanian population is Palestinian. "Let us try and imagine that the entire [Hamas] movement from the West Bank will continue to flow across the bridges into Jordan, together with Hamas ideology and leadership. The family ties are taking on Hamas characteristics, and this means that in a few years Hamas will become stronger in Jordan."

Although the briefing was not intended for publication, the general's comments were leaked to the local press late Wednesday afternoon.

"We strongly condemn and reject this irresponsible remark made by Maj.-Gen. Naveh," the Jordanian Charge d'Affairs in Israel Omar Nadif told The Jerusalem Post. "Such an unfriendly remark may, if it is not corrected, have a negative impact on Jordan-Israel relations," Nadif was quoted as saying.

Israel's effort to soothe ruffled feathers began immediately.

On Wednesday, Israel's Foreign Minister Tzippi Livni telephoned her Jordanian counterpart, Foreign Minister Abdul Ilah Khatib, and said Naveh's statements did not represent a formal Israeli policy.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said Israel is interested in strengthening Israel's "strategic partnership" with the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. He noted that Livni had met with King Abdullah in Washington when she was there two weeks ago.

Israel's Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and Army Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen Dan Halutz issued a joint statement on Wednesday, saying that Naveh's remarks did not reflect Israeli state policy.

"Israel views Jordan as a strong and stable country with a glorious heritage and tradition and a promising future," they said. They expressed their gratitude for Jordan's "vital contribution to regional peace and stability."

On Thursday, Halutz met with Israeli army generals and urged them to be careful about the remarks they make in public. "A careless remark could be misinterpreted and taken out of context," Halutz was quoted as saying.

Press reports said Naveh would officially apologize to Jordan on Thursday.

Jordan has been hit by a number of al-Qaeda-linked terror attacks, including a triple bombing at three Western-owned hotels in Amman last November. A U.S. diplomat was also murdered in an attack blamed on al Qaeda in 2002.

Jordanian officials have thwarted a number of massive terrorist attacks and sentenced the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab al Zarqawi, to death in absentia three times for various terror-related offenses.

Historically stable regime

Professor Asher Susser, director of the Dayan Center at Tel Aviv University, said it is impossible to predict the long-term future of any country in the region. But he noted that the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan has outlived many previous predictions of its demise.

Of all the countries that were established in the region in the 1920s - including Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan - only Jordan is still ruled by the same regime, said Susser.

In 1958, the British Minister Anthony Nutting said of King Hussein (King Abdullah II's father) that he was "very courageous" but that his days were numbered. King Hussein ruled Jordan for more than four decades and died of natural causes in 1999.

However, Jordan's concerns are not to be ignored, said Susser. Jordan is concerned about the Shiite "arc of influence" - the rise of Iran and a Shi'ite Iraq. Jordan also has been concerned about instability in the West Bank for the last five years and now the rise of Hamas. The kingdom faces potential trouble on both borders at the same time, Susser said in a telephone interview.

Nevertheless, Jordan's "record of stability, cohesive regime and good friends" has enabled it to cope with difficulties in the past, he said.

Among Jordan's best friends are the U.S. and Israel. "These are important friends to have [and] they are very supportive," he said.

Jordan is crucial for regional stability because of its geo-political position, Susser said.

Long before Israel and Jordan signed a peace treaty in 1994, Israel came to the rescue of King Hussein.

In 1970, the Jordanian kingdom was in the midst of a civil war with the PLO, which was based in Jordan at the time. When Syria also invaded Jordan, Israel mobilized its reserves in a show of strength along the Jordanian border.

A combination of Jordan's victory over the invading Syrians as well as the Israeli mobilization forced the Syrians to withdraw, said Susser.

The rise of Hamas is not good news for the Jordanians or the Israelis, said Susser. But when the Palestinians have confronted either country in the past, they have underestimated the resilience of both Israel and Jordan, he said.

Susser said Naveh's estimate of 80 percent of Jordanians being Palestinian is far too high. Just over 50 percent of the population of Jordan is Palestinian, he said, and that includes King Abdullah's wife, Queen Rania.

Subscribe to the free daily E-Brief.

Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.