The Israeli war on Gaza opened a veritable Pandora’s box of speculations and fears in Jordan, of doubts that keep mounting, and all in one fell swoop. The Jordanian establishment, opposition and public opinion were all busy seeking answers, options or alternatives as to the threats facing the country, coinciding with a sharper tone in Jordanian official pronouncements directed against Israeli policies and actions such as has not been witnessed since the signing of the peace treaty with Israel in 1994. Jordanian men and women were visibly in evidence in all protests and in various cities, towns, and camps. What is it that Jordan fears from this war, especially in light of its persistence and the increasing likelihood of its spreading? What are the threats to Jordan’s national security, and what means does Amman possess to face these challenges and threats?
Jordanians of all opinions, backgrounds and social origins are now agreed that Israel has come to constitute the greatest danger to their nation’s security and stability. Israel’s headlong rush towards extremist religiosity and chauvinism, both as state and society, is seen as turning it into an existential threat to the Jordanian state, its sovereignty, and its national identity. However, this broad consensus does not necessarily mean consensus as to how to face this threat, or how to respond to it, or with what resources, or by reliance on which allies and friends.
Israel’s war on Gaza took the Jordanians by surprise as they were following with increasing apprehension the drift in Israel towards the extreme right and what this was leading to. In other words, there is decreasing concern among the Israeli political establishment, both state and opposition, for the interests, calculations and sensitivities of Jordan, as the agenda and priorities of that establishment began to change and be replaced by a rapid expansion of settlements on the West Bank and speeding up projects to Judaize Jerusalem, with all that this implies of undermining any chance to create an independent Palestinian state as part of what is now known as the “Two-State” solution. All this would create mounting challenges for Jordan as it undertakes its role of “guardianship” of Islamic holy sites, and in particular the al-Aqsa Mosque and the Noble Sanctuary.
What made matters worse was that Jordan’s political establishment experienced a real feeling of being let down when the US, Jordan’s most important ally, adopted in toto Israel’s perspective and narrative at least twice in less than five years, despite its knowledge of the great harm that was done to Jordan’s interests and priorities and regarded these as mere “collateral damage.” The first occasion was the period of the “Deal of the Century” launched by the Trump administration, which was planned and made public without either the knowledge or participation of Jordan, indeed at the cost of Jordan’s role and interests. The second occasion was when the US position as regards the Israeli assault on Gaza became patently obvious. Under Biden, the Democratic Administration moved from traditional partiality to Israel to full partnership with it in its war on Gaza, totally impervious to the deep and dangerous fears generated by that war for Jordan’s interests and for regional stability.
Vital interests threatened
Without belittling the importance of the historical, geographical and fraternal feelings which, on nationalist, religious and humanitarian grounds impel Jordan and the Jordanians to express deepest solidarity with the Palestinian people on the West Bank and, nowadays, in Gaza, Jordan nonetheless has a number of national interests which it seeks to protect from the dangers surrounding them.
First among these is the “Two-State” solution. From a broad Jordanian perspective stretching back for three decades, the creation of a sustainable Palestinian state represents the first line of defense of Jordan’s “entity” and identity. Without such a state, the door will remain vulnerable before the Israeli right-wing schemes that seek to solve the question of Palestine outside Palestine itself, namely, in Jordan and at the expense of both Jordan and the Palestinians. Ever since Jordan disengaged administratively and legally from the West Bank in 1988, and especially since King `Abdullah II ascended the throne in 1999, five years after the creation of the Palestinian Authority and the signing of the Jordan-Israel peace treaty, Jordan came to adopt in its foreign policy the principle that “Jordan is Jordan and Palestine is Palestine.” This is a principle that enjoys overwhelming support in Jordanian social and bureaucratic circles and expands further each time leaders of the Israeli right wing make a statement rejecting the Two-State solution or calling for expulsion of the Palestinians. These worries intensify whenever maps are displayed which show Jordan as incorporated wholly or in part within the “Greater Israel” project.
It is perhaps because of this reason in particular that Jordanian officials during the months of war on Gaza have been more vocal and emphatic in expressing Jordan’s rejection of the forcible eviction of the Palestinians from the Gaza Strip, a subject broached by several Israeli officials on both the political and security levels. At the Cairo Summit for peace on October 21, 2023, King `Abdullah II stated Jordan’s “categorical rejection of the forcible eviction of the Palestinians or causing them to leave their land.” Such eviction the King considered to be “a war crime in international law and a red line for us all.” On more than one occasion, the King had undertaken to defend the frontiers of Jordan in case they were exposed to that danger.
Jordan’s Prime Minister, Bishr al-Khasawneh, went even further, stating in statements made on 26 November that “any attempt or any circumstances that are created to evict the Palestinians from Gaza and the West Bank is a red line which Jordan shall regard as tantamount to a declaration of war.” On November 6, he had viewed such a threat as “constituting a violation of the peace treaty with Israel and one which takes us back to a state of no peace,” alluding apparently to Article II, General Principles, paragraph 6, which stated that the two countries “also regard that any forcible movement of population within their two domains which negatively impact either part should not be permitted.” The vigorous diplomacy of Jordan’s Foreign Minister, Ayman al-Safadi, centered around these broad principles.
In tandem with this official policy, popular viewpoints and demonstrations expressed the rejection of Jordan’s men and women of what they called the “settlement conspiracy,” the “alternative homeland” and “eviction.” They called upon the Jordanian state to abrogate the cooperation agreements concluded with Israel, particularly the gas export agreement, the “water for electricity” agreement and going as far as calling for the abrogation of the peace treaty itself. They asked for readiness to face the worst scenario in the relations with Israel by reviving compulsory military training, restoring the practice of a “popular army” and the arming and training of citizens.
The second of these vital interests has to do with the question of the Palestinian refugees, 40% of whom live in Jordan and account for about half of the country’s population. The right of return and compensation for them has now become a low priority given the looming danger of a “new forcible eviction” or a “second Nakba.” Jordanian officials have long recognized the difficulties inherent in the return of refugees to their original homeland but have nonetheless not abrogated their right to do so, nor is it easy for them to do so or to abandon the individual rights of their citizens for compensation for the loss of property and suffering resulting from the first Nakba. Furthermore, Jordan has been demanding compensation to it as the host country for the burdens it has borne over more than 75 years.
If the creation of a Palestinian state might constitute a partial solution to the problem of the 1967 refugees and some of the 1948 refugees, and perhaps a “moral” compensation for not exercising the right of return, the absence of any chances to create a Palestinian state and of exercising the right of return and compensation will always keep the issues of refuge, absorption and citizenship at the very center of national discussion and debate in Jordan. Due to the current onslaught on Gaza, the issue of the return of refugees has been replaced, at least temporarily, by the problem of preventing a new wave of exodus and the attempt to avoid a “new Nakba.” However, that issue has not dropped off the agenda of Jordan and the Jordanians and is most unlikely to do so.
The third of Jordan’s national interests under threat, before but especially after October 7, is the traditional Hashemite guardianship of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and its sanctuary, one that stretches back more than a hundred years. Jordan took care to insert this within Article 9, paragraph II, of the peace treaty which stipulates that “Israel shall respect the special role of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in the Islamic sanctuaries in Jerusalem. When final status negotiations are held, Israel shall prioritize the historic Jordanian role in these places.” Jordan was concerned to conclude an agreement with the Palestinian side which emphasized that guardianship role and to obtain an official delegation by the Palestinian Authority, the PLO and the “State of Palestine” for that guardianship to continue, as per the agreement concluded between the Jordanian King and the Palestinian president Mahmud `Abbas on March 31, 2013.
Jordan watches with great anxiety what is called in Amman the phenomenon of “religioning Zionism and Zionizing religion” unfolding in Israel, which has led to an effective temporal division of the Al-Aqsa Mosque over the past two years, and the efforts made by an Israeli faction which cares nothing for Jordan’s interests and sensitivities and is steadily proceeding to divide Al-Aqsa spatially as well.
Jordan’s guardianship over Al-Aqsa is from a Jordanian perspective one of the pillars undergirding the legitimacy of Jordan’s political regime in its religious dimension. Any ruler of Jordan will find it difficult to lose this guardianship under his watch. An issue of this kind, in a region and an atmosphere replete with “religionizing politics and the public sphere” and with many regimes and political movements employing “religion” in their domestic and foreign policies and in geo-strategic conflicts, will surely leave in its wake worrisome consequences.
The fourth of Jordan’s national interests is distinctly to do with security and with mounting Israeli aggression in the West Bank coinciding with the progress of the war on Gaza. Here, one might speak of three sources of worry and caution for Jordan’s decision makers. These are:
First, “mounting demands for smuggling arms into the West Bank” across Jordanian territory, in response to the growing popularity of “armed resistance” in the conscience of the Palestinians living under occupation and in their priorities. This is evidenced in surveys of Palestinian public opinion, and the presence of several influential regional powers ready and willing to bankroll arms smuggling from neighboring countries to the West Bank by way of Jordan together with mounting demand for arms and the hike in their prices. This is taking place alongside an increase in popular approval of arms smuggling, considering it to be a national and patriotic duty and not as an act which violates national law and sovereignty.
Second is the anxiety resulting from Jordan turning into an arena for “a proxy war” between Iran and its allies on the one hand and Israel and its western allies, especially the US, on the other. Jordanian “radars” have recorded many instances of violations of Jordan’s airspace and sovereignty in the first fourth months of the assault on Gaza. These climaxed in the recent shelling of an advanced US military outpost on the frontier between Jordan, Syria and Iraq which killed 3 US soldiers and injured 34, in addition to drones and missiles fired at Israeli targets from Yemen and Iraq which have crossed Jordanian airspace. If, until the present, it has been possible to contain and control these scattered incidents, the ongoing war on Gaza and the increasing chance of its spreading is an ominous indication of worse to come.
Third is recognition by Jordan that the “deep state” establishment in Israel with which Jordan has long succeeded in cooperating even at the height of Jordan’s disagreement with its political class, is itself drifting towards the religious and chauvinistic extremism sweeping Israeli society as a whole. These deep state institutions, security or military, are no longer a “wave breaker” which preseves relations between the two sides, as was the case beforehand but is becoming yet another problem to be added to the pile of problems on both sides of the Jordan river instead of acting to solve or alleviate problems as in the past. In Jordan’s state institutions and among its elite it is expected that the coming few years will witness increased tensions with these Israeli institutions, one third of whose staff now belong to the extreme right. This is especially the case when a new generation of military and security officers belonging to the extreme right takes over leadership of these institutions. These would be Sephardim and settlers who display greater willingness to actively engage in the field and in the operational aspect of the work of these institutions, while Ashkenazi and liberal Zionist elements move to work in the technically more complex area of armaments like the air force, the cyber wars and similar fields.
To face these challenges and threats to Jordan’s interests, which became evident during the months of war and have become a real and not merely a probable danger, the Jordanian state with all its institutions has resorted to decreasing the “gap of standpoints and expectations” with Jordanian public opinion, now grown angry and constantly demanding more firm standpoints and actions to face the Israeli threat. This might largely explain the shift in Jordan’s official standpoint towards Israel, a thing that has not happened since the 1994 peace treaty, and allowing citizens to express their views in hundreds of protests and demonstrations that swept the whole of Jordan. Jordan fears that this gap might grow to spark an “instability” especially in light of the current social and economic crisis, added to which is “limited confidence” in the process of political reform launched some years ago. To this should be added increasing estimates by regional observers and analysts that the war on Gaza will bear more ominous consequences in the medium and distant terms, be it “prophesying” the coming of a third wave of the Arab Spring, or the revival of the Islamist political current following years of persecution and imprisonment throughout the region. Added to all this too is the fear that the popularity of non-state actors will grow and the fear that confidence will collapse in liberal and civic democratic currents in light of the harm done to the moral system of the West, now fully exposed to view as a result of this war.
Contrary to some western views and assumptions which seek to explain these shifts in Jordan’s official stand by constantly pointing to the presence of “a critical mass of Palestinians” in Jordan, what is missing in these assumptions is the social strata in “east Jordan”, i.e. the political, tribal and bureaucratic elites who are themselves taking a leading role in these popular protests against Israel’s onslaught. It is they who have raised the stakes and slogans of these protests, doing so always from the viewpoint of protecting Jordan as a homeland, a state and an identity, and not merely out of solidarity and compassion for the Palestinians or support for their resistance in Gaza. This is a factor that cannot be denied or underestimated to explain why Jordanians took to the streets.
Options and alternatives
Before, but especially after, Israel’s war on Gaza, the various political, intellectual and media forums in Jordan bandied about a wide spectrum of options and alternatives which Jordan should “keep on the table” to face the evident challenges and threats. The following are five of the most salient of these:
First, since Jordan finds itself in effect, though contrary to its desire, on a path of conflict with “the new Israel” now veering even further into extremism, it is at present logical for Jordan to resort at once to “disengage” from its dependence on Israel, especially in such vital areas as energy, gas, electricity, water and food. The Jordanian state should also take quicker steps along this path by heeding one of the most important lessons of Israel’s assault on Gaza, namely, how quickly Israel cut off all means of survival in the Gaza Strip, pursuing a policy aimed at inducing famine, thirst and lack of medicines, and severing gas, communications, and electricity supplies.
Second, it may not be wise to move towards abrogating the Wadi `Arabah treaty, though many are calling for this, yet decision makers should consider such a scenario and be prepared for its probable repercussions and consequences. Even though this may be the last card held in Jordan’s hand against Israel, to employ it needs Jordan to undertake certain moves and preparations which seem at present not to be ready to hand.
Third, the gradual move from dependence on the outside to self-dependence should take place by diversifying national resources and Jordan’s regional and international relations and not to be beholden to a single axis; by not depending in an almost total fashion on the US; by profiting from the present moment in the history of the world system through diversifying Jordan’s international relations and treaties; by avoiding surrender to US blackmail when a matter concerns states such as Iran, Syria and Iraq but without necessarily moving over to another camp or exchanging one ally for another; by diversifying relations, agreements and markets; by maintaining a balance in regional and international relations---all these are demands now more urgent than ever. Gradual measures are the only means possible and available to reach that goal.
Fourth, Jordan should be open to all segments of the people of Palestine and not be satisfied with placing all its eggs in one basket. It ought to be ready to engage in efforts to restore dialogue, reconciliation and unity among the various Palestinian factions, including the HAMAS movement. This is considered to be an essential demand to protect Jordan’s security and stability, to enhance its role and safeguard its interests.
Fifth, however, the most widespread demand among Jordanians and upon which all are agreed, is to enhance the domestic front, safeguard national unity, and fortify the social fabric in the face of winds of disunity and divisiveness, fed by narrow sectarian interests with support by some regional powers, to enable entry into Jordan’s heartlands. Yet this must be done by encouraging a process of internal reform of multiple dimensions where political reform is an essential component. This would enable Jordan to face the challenges awaiting it in coming days, no matter how ominous.
 "الخصاونة: أي محاولات أو خلق ظروف لتهجير الفلسطينيين من غزة أو الضفة الغربية خط أحمر وسيعتبره الأردن بمثابة ˒إعلان حرب˓"، وكالة الأنباء الأردنية "بترا"، 6/11/2023.
 للتعرف على الموقف الأردن من قضايا القدس والتوطين والوطن البديل، انظر: "الملك: القدس خط أحمر، كلا للتوطين، كلا للوطن البديل"، 27/3/2019.
 طارق ديلوالني، "إسرائيل تعتزم بناء جدار مع الأردن لصعوبة ضبط ˒المناطق الميتة˓"، "أندبندنت عربية"، 2/8/2023.
 لمزيد من التفاصيل انظر: عريب الرنتاوي، "ورقة سياسات: الأردن في بيئة اقليمية ودولية متغيرة… سيناريوهات المرحلة المقبلة"، بال ثينك للدراسات الاستراتيجية.