Why Jordan, Which Slammed Israel Over Gaza, Stepped In To Stop Iran Drones

Jordan's King Abdullah has strongly criticised the Benjamin Netanyahu dispensation for Israel's war in Gaza

Why Jordan, Which Slammed Israel Over Gaza, Stepped In To Stop Iran Drones

Debris of a missile Jordanian forces intercepted over Amman during the Iranian attack

New Delhi:

As Iran fired over 300 drones and missiles, Arab-majority Jordan joined Israel's allies in intercepting them. The development, arguably as surprising as Iran's first direct attack on Israel, comes in the wake of Jordan's strong criticism of the Benjamin Netanyahu dispensation for Israel's war in Gaza that has left over 33,000 dead.

The response by King Abdullah II, which has been panned by pro-Palestine voices, is in effect a delicate balancing act by a militarily weak and poor country that cannot risk war with its neighbour. In its official statement, Jordan said it shot down the Iranian drones in an act of self-defence and not to help Israel.

War And Peace

Jordan was among the Arab League countries that invaded the former Palestinian Mandate territory in 1948 in the aftermath of the UN General Assembly resolution recommending a plan to partition the territory into an Arab state, a Jewish state and the City of Jerusalem. After the war, Jordan was in control of the West Bank and East Jerusalem and formally annexed the territories in 1950. About 20 years later, in 1967, Jordan and Israel were again on opposite sides in the Six Day War and Amman lost control of the West Bank and Jerusalem to Israel. Eventually, it signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994, the second Arab country after Egypt to do so. This was after the 1993 Oslo Accords -- a peace process between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization led by Yasser Arafat.

A peace treaty in place, Israel and Jordan opened their borders. To this day, the 309-km border Israel shares with Jordan is its quietest. The Israeli military deploys just three battalions on this border, significant in a heavily militarised region.

Israel-Jordan Relations

Jordan's economy ranks 89th in the world by GDP. Thanks to a treaty promoted by the US, it has Qualified Industrial Zones for companies that use Israeli inputs. These companies can export their products duty-free to the US and have generated 36,000 jobs over the years -- a significant development in a country with a population of just over a crore. The Muslim Brotherhood's demands that the government shut down these zones have elicited a simple reply: they provide jobs. Jordan is also among the biggest recipients of aid from US, Israel's strong ally.

The ties, however, have not stopped Amman from hitting out at Israel over its handling of the Gaza issue. Amid Israel's counterstrike on Hamas after the October 7 attacks, King Abdullah condemned the "collective punishment" of Palestinians in Gaza. Jordan also accused Israel of creating an "unprecedented humanitarian catastrophe" and recalled its ambassador from Tel Aviv. The king also pushed for a ceasefire in Gaza and appealed to Western leaders to back the cause. This political position, despite strong trade links, is a tightrope walk by Amman to balance its economic interests and the sentiments of a significant Palestinian population.

The Balancing Act

Even before Iran's drone strikes, King Abdullah had made clear that he would not allow the Iranians "to play" in his territory as they do in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, according to a report in Ynet news. In an interview with Arab media outlets and to a Jordanian newspaper, Abdullah expressed his discontent with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps directing pro-Iran militias in Iraq against Jordan. Amman has seen the cost Iraq and Syria have paid, so wants stability within its borders.

When Iran fired its volley of missiles and drones, King Abdullah, it is learnt, was working with his military and intelligence for a swift response. Its planes took off to shoot down drones targeting Israel. Tel Aviv later said that 99 per cent of the drones were shot down before they reached its borders.

In conversation with the CNN, Jordan's foreign minister Ayman Safadi said the focus now is to de-escalate the situation and the first step towards that is to end the "aggression" in Gaza and the "illegal measures" on the West Bank and get on a track that will produce "lasting peace".

On intercepting Iranian drones aimed at Israel, the minister said, "We are in the range of fire. Any missile or projectile that could fall in Jordan will cause harm to Jordan, so we did what we have to do. Let me be very clear. We will do the same regardless of where those drones are from, from Israel, from Iran, from anybody else."

While Jordan's response is no less than a surprise, seeing it as a fundamental shift in their relations would be premature. It is rooted more in Amman's necessities than in a diplomatic stance.

The move has, meanwhile, sparked strong criticism of King Abdullah. A meme of the king in Israeli military uniform has gone viral.