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Jordan helped Israel against Iran, now locals are protesting

Jordanians protest outside the Israeli embassy complex on 27 March 2024 (MEE/Mohammad Ersan)

Despite much loud and public anger about Israel's conduct in Gaza, Jordan came to Israel's aid this weekend. Jordanians who have protested against Israel are feeling betrayed. By Cathrin Schaer | Emad Hassan | Hamza al-Shawabkeh

The criticism began almost immediately. Over the weekend, Iran launched more than 300 drones and missiles at Israel. Neighboring Jordan played a significant role in fending off the attack and it is likely that it shot down Iranian projectiles.

"The Jordanian king dropped missiles on his citizens to protect Israel," one widely shared post on X, formerly known as Twitter, said. The words were posted alongside a picture of drone wreckage in the Jordanian city of Karak, which is not very far from the border with Israel. The post, in Arabic, was later changed to be less negative of Jordanian leadership, which is known to repress criticism.

"Jordan following the money as usual," said one commentator.

"It's irresponsible of them to shoot missiles down over their own cities," another added.

A lot of anti-Jordan misinformation also appeared online, including posts that falsely accused the Jordanian king and his daughter, a pilot, of personal involvement. Others suggested that Jordanians had died when flaming wreckage fell on them. Though there was wreckage, the Jordanian government reported no injuries and specific videos showing wreckage turned out to be of oil tankers on fire several weeks earlier.

There were even accusations that the Jordanian government had signed a secret deal with Israel and the US to allow them access to Jordanian airspace.

Many people in Jordan angry about support for Israel

Beyond the misinformation, others pointed to what they saw as the hypocrisy of their own government and those of other Arab countries that have condemned Israel's military campaign in Gaza, called for a cease-fire and say they support the Palestinian cause. But then, their critics pointed out, they also helped defend Israel against Iran. Popular anger has largely targeted Jordan, but also the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.

One in five people in Jordan,including the queen, are of Palestinian descent, and the Palestinian cause is close to the hearts of many. Many see the Jordanian military cooperation as a betrayal.

"I'm very upset at how Jordan defended Israel," said Hussein, a political activist who would only give his first name because criticizing the Jordanian government can be dangerous. "A lot of people here do not accept this. We don't support Iran and see it as a major cause of what is happening in Gaza. But we do stand with any action that deters Israel in Gaza."

Jordan's King Abdullah II heads a hereditary constitutional monarchy that human rights groups say is sliding into authoritarianismImage: Bernd Elmenthaler/IMAGO

"It was a difficult night," said Maryam, a university student in Amman, who lives near one of the areas where wreckage fell; she too only gave her first name. "Iran isn't popular in Jordan in general. But I reject Jordan's interception of Iranian missiles, and its involuntary involvement in this war."

This conflict is "bringing vulnerable US allies like Jordan to a most unwelcome position between a rock and a hard place," Tuqa Nusairat, an expert on US policy in the Middle East for the Atlantic Council, wrote in an analysis on the weekend.

Jordan: Interception was self-defense, not normalization

The Jordanian government issued a statement saying it had acted in self-defense, intercepting objects that entered Jordanian airspace "because they posed a threat to our people and populated areas."

What happened over the weekend "could never be framed as defending Israel, but rather defending Jordanian sovereignty and airspace," Mahmoud Ridasat, a retired senior officer and military expert based in the Jordanian capital Amman, told DW.

After all, he explained, you cannot know where a drone or missile is going to land. And with regard to Israeli media reports that were celebrating Jordanian military cooperation, he said,  "this is nothing more than Israeli propaganda." 

Jordanian society is relatively divided on this issue, explained Tahani Mustafa, senior Palestine analyst at the Brussels-based think tank International Crisis Group. "And you can understand why," she told DW. "People don't really know much about the details of Jordan's economic, diplomatic and security relationships with the US and Israel because that sort of thing is not often reported here." 

Not-so-secret defense deal with US

The countries are closer than many may be aware of. Mustafa suspected that the "secret deal" some Jordanians were debating refers to the 2021 defense cooperation agreement between the US and Jordan, which was condemned by activists because it bypassed parliamentary approvals.

The controversial agreement allows US forces, vehicles and aircraft to enter and move around Jordan freely. As a 2023 report to US Congress put it, it "formalizes years of US-Jordanian military cooperation, which became more visible at the start of [operations] against the [extremist group] Islamic State."

"But it was only when the first protests about Gaza began, that a lot of people started saying Jordan should be kicking the Americans out," Mustafa told DW. 

Over the past few weeks, thousands of locals have gathered regularly outside the Israeli embassy in Amman to protest the situation in Gaza. They have also called for a reversal of the 1994 Israel-Jordan peace treaty.

Jordan's actions aimed at 'preventing regional escalation'

Julien Barnes-Dacey, director of the Middle East and North Africa program at the European Council on Foreign Relations, is fairly certain this weekend's action and the ensuing upset won't destabilize the Jordanian government though.

"Clearly different sides are going to present it in different ways," he told DW. "But ultimately the Jordanians can justify their actions because drones and missiles were flying through their airspace. The Jordanian response was aimed more at preventing regional escalation than tightening up any strategic alliance with Israel."

What would be far more destabilizing and dangerous for Jordan and many other nations in the Middle East is a regional war, Barnes-Dacey pointed out.

"I think that means that they [the nations] are all going to continue to work to stop incidents that could provoke an unravelling," he concluded. "They will keep talking to the Iranians, they will continue to try to de-escalate. And if there are more security incidents, if there are further attacks over their airspace, the Jordanians will likely do the same again."

Edited by: Anne Thomas

Second publication by courtesy of DW


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