A revised Jordan First policy

After Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, King Hussein of Jordan denounced US preparations for war against Baghdad, saying the campaign was “against all Arabs and Muslims”. Hussein asserted that the objective of the operation was to “destroy Iraq” and pledged to oppose “foreign hegemony” in the Middle East. Amman’s position caused a rift with its main Western ally, leading Washington to freeze its military and economic aid to the Hashemite kingdom.

Thirteen years later, Amman reversed its policy during the invasion of Iraq in 2003. The Hashemite Kingdom allowed US-led coalition planes to fly over Jordan to participate in the war effort and greeted US troops in apparent gestures towards Washington. Jordan’s ideological flexibility with Iraq decades ago and its willingness to radically change policies to safeguard its own national interests foreshadowed a similar about-face underway in Amman towards its neighbors.

A vivid example of Jordan’s political turnaround in recent months is its approach to Syria. King Abdullah was the first Arab leader to call for the resignation of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in November 2011 amid the Syrian crackdown on protesters. Two years later, the Jordanian monarch noted that Assad was responsible for “too much destruction, too much blood” and was beyond rehabilitation. Without stopping there, the New York Times reported in 2014 that a secret center had been established in Amman which sent arms and funds to Syrian opposition fighters. Saudi, Jordanian and American intelligence officers cooperated in the operations room of the center in an attempt to organize aid to the Syrian rebels.

Seven years later, however, Amman is now normalizing its relations with Assad, despite no change in the Syrian regime’s abuses against dissidents or its desire to democratize Syria. In October, King Abdullah met with Assad for the first time since 2011. The Jordanian royal court said the two leaders discussed ties between “brotherly countries and ways to strengthen cooperation.” The Hashemite Kingdom completely reopened its border with Syria in September to boost trade and reportedly promoted Syria’s reestablishment in the Arab League, despite the vote to suspend Damascus ten years ago.

Amman is now prioritizing its economic interests over policy considerations regarding Syria, with Jordan aiming to bring trade back to its pre-war level of $ 1 billion. With the Hashemite Kingdom facing an unemployment rate of nearly 25%, Jordanian officials no longer express concern over the Syrian bloodshed, as Abdullah apparently understands that harsh criticism of Assad would likely prevent stronger economic ties.

Jordan prioritizing its national economic interests over ideological concerns was also recently adopted vis-à-vis Israel. King Abdullah warned in 2013 that Israel could soon become an ‘apartheid’ state, adding: ‘The practical question is whether Israel can exercise permanent control over the Palestinians who are endlessly disenfranchised. , or will it eventually become a South Africa, which could not survive as a pariah state? ”In addition to its solidarity with the Palestinians, Jordan withdrew its ambassador from Tel Aviv in 2014, to protest against Israel’s “violations” in the holy places of Jerusalem.

Yet in the same months that Abdullah strengthened his ties with the Assad regime, Amman took a more nuanced approach towards Israel. Under the auspices of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and US climate envoy John Kerry, Jordan signed an agreement in November that would allow Israel to send 200 million cubic meters of desalinated water to the Hashemite Kingdom in exchange for the transfer of solar power from Amman to the Jewish state. As Jordanian activists protested in Amman, demanding that Abdullah rescind the largest cooperation agreement ever between Jordan and Israel, Jordanian officials refused to withdraw from the agreement as Jordan is the second largest country. poorest water in the world. With the country’s resources already depleted and hosting at least 650,000 Syrian refugees, Abdullah believes that sacrificing his economy and national resources to appease supporters of Palestine is not in Jordan’s interest.

A general view taken from the Jabal al-Qala district shows a Jordanian flag flying above the Jordanian capital Amman.
AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP via Getty Images

The water deal comes just weeks after Jordanian and Israeli economy ministers met for the first time in a decade and signed another deal to increase the goods Amman is allowed to export to the Palestinian Authority (PA). Jordan continued to condemn Israeli settlements in the West Bank, even after former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was ousted and downplayed the importance of meetings with the new Israeli president and prime minister, not even sharing photographs of such events. However, Jordan insists on making deals in recent months with the Jewish state that benefit its economy, even though Bennett has not evacuated any West Bank settlements and insists he will not enter into peace talks. with the Palestinian Authority.

A similar reversal has been observed in Amman’s relations with Qatar. In 2017, Jordan sided with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain in degrading relations with Doha by withdrawing its ambassador from Doha. Jordanian authorities have also closed the Amman offices of the Qatari-sponsored agency. Al jazeera TV channel. In explaining these measures, the Jordanian government spokesperson stressed the importance of “achieving regional stability” as well as maintaining “a consensus among the Arabs”.

Two years later, Jordan broke ranks with the Saudi blockade and appointed a new envoy to Doha and accepted the Qatari ambassador in Amman. Doha is a key economic partner, as around 40,000 Jordanians work in the Gulf state. After the big demonstrations in Amman in 2018 against a tax hike and austerity measures, Qatar pledged $ 500 million to support the economy of the Hashemite Kingdom. Highlighting the importance Jordan now places on Qatar, Abdullah and Crown Prince Hussein recently visited Doha in separate meetings with the Emir of Qatar. Jordan understands that continuing tensions with a wealthy Gulf state can hurt its struggling economy as Amman faces a record national debt of $ 45 billion.

Jordan learned a lesson from the Qatar case in handling the Saudi Arabia-Lebanon dispute in October. While Bahrain, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia withdrew their ambassadors from Beirut to protest a Lebanese minister’s criticism of Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, Jordan did this time not joined its Gulf allies to put pressure on Lebanon. Instead, Amman used his influence and signed an electricity deal with Lebanon and Syria at the end of October. The Hashemite Kingdom realizes that following a Saudi campaign against another Arab state would not advance its national interests.

In April, Jordanians were shocked to see Prince Hamzah, King Abdullah’s half-brother, placed under house arrest for fomenting unrest across the country. Former Jordanian information minister Mohammed Momani accused Hamzah of exploiting the economic pain of citizens to destabilize the Hashemite Kingdom. The “sedition” affair illustrated the need to urgently deal with rising unemployment in the country as Jordanians are increasingly frustrated by the Kingdom’s economic crisis. Abdullah understands that given Amman’s budgetary difficulties, Jordan does not have the freedom to allow ethical considerations abroad to hamper its ability to reach deals in the region that benefit the country’s economy. country. In a somewhat Trump-esque fashion, Abdullah launched a revised Jordan First policy.

Aaron Magid is a Middle East analyst in Washington. Former journalist based in Amman, his articles appeared in Foreign police, Foreign Affairs and Al-Monitor. Aaron is also the host of the podcast About Jordan. Twitter: @AaronMagid

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.


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