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Why Jordan acted to stop Iranian drone attack on Israel despite blasting Israel over Gaza

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In a surprising move, Jordan shot down Iranian drones and missiles intended to strike Israel during a major attack by Iran on April 15, 2024. The action by the Jordanian military represents a delicate balancing act for the Arab kingdom as it navigates relations with Israel while facing pressure from a sizable pro-Palestinian population at home.

The Iranian bombardment involving over 300 drones and missiles was the first direct assault by Iran on Israeli territory. It came amid escalating hostilities after over a month of intense fighting between Israel and Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip.

While Iran’s targets were in Israel, Jordan’s airspace and territory were also threatened by the incoming projectiles and drones. Jordan stated it acted strictly in self-defense, downing the Iranian weapons aimed at Israel that also posed a potential risk to the kingdom.

“Any missile or projectile that could fall in Jordan will cause harm to Jordan, so we did what we have to do,” explained Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi in an interview with CNN. “Let me be very clear. We will do the same regardless of where those drones are from, from Israel, from Iran, from anybody else.”

A Fragile Diplomacy

The move put Jordan’s military directly at odds with Iran, an unlikely alliance partner, even if only for this particular incident. It also highlighted Jordan’s difficult diplomacy as it tries to balance its economic and security ties to Israel with domestic political pressure to support Palestinians.

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Just weeks ago, Jordan’s King Abdullah II strongly condemned Israel’s military actions in Gaza, accusing it of “collective punishment” and creating an “unprecedented humanitarian catastrophe.” The king withdrew Jordan’s ambassador from Tel Aviv over the Gaza fighting.

However, despite the rhetoric, Jordan has also cultivated important economic and security relations with Israel since the two countries signed a peace treaty in 1994. The treaty, brokered with U.S. support after the 1993 Oslo Accords, made Jordan only the second Arab country after Egypt to officially recognize Israel.

Fragile Economic Ties

Today, Jordan’s 309-kilometer border with Israel is the calmest and least militarized frontier for the Israeli Defense Forces. Trade, jobs, and economic links bind the two nations together, even amid the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict that Jordan voices support for.

Under a U.S.-backed trade agreement, Jordan has established Qualified Industrial Zones that allow products manufactured using Israeli components to be exported duty-free to America. These zones have created over 36,000 Jordanian jobs, crucial in a country with limited economic resources ranked just 89th globally in GDP.

The economic partnership has drawn criticism from Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood opposition, which has demanded the industrial zones be shut down. But the government has rebuffed these calls, citing the importance of the jobs created.

Jordan also remains one of the largest recipients of U.S. foreign aid, an incentive to maintain positive relations with America’s close Israeli ally.

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Navigating a Narrow Path

So when Iranian weapons rained down across the region on April 15th, Jordan found itself forced to make a difficult choice – allow the Iranian attack to proceed unchallenged over its airspace, or intervene to defend itself while inadvertently protecting Israel.

According to Israeli officials, Jordan’s defensive actions prevented 99 percent of the Iranian drones and missiles from reaching Israeli territory. While framed as an act of self-preservation, the move effectively shielded Israel from the full brunt of Iran’s assault.

In the interview with CNN, Foreign Minister Safadi emphasized that Jordan’s priority now is de-escalating the situation and finding a pathway to “lasting peace” that ends the violence in Gaza and Israeli measures in the occupied West Bank.

Yet Jordan’s monarchs have long walked a tightrope when it comes to Israel – maintaining critical economic and security cooperation while needing to respond to public anger over Israeli treatment of Palestinians to maintain their legitimacy at home.

The Iranian drone incident simply represented the latest challenge in that long-standing balancing act for the Jordan’s Hashemite rulers. A leaked photo appearing to mock King Abdullah by depicting him in an Israeli military uniform swiftly went viral after the events of April 15th, underscoring the domestic blowback.

History of Conflict and Uneasy Peace

Jordan’s complex position is rooted in the tangled history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict stretching back decades. In 1948, Jordan was among the Arab armies that invaded the former Palestinian territories in the wake of the UN partition plan that called for creating a Jewish state alongside an Arab state.

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After a war that established the State of Israel, Jordan occupied and eventually annexed the West Bank and East Jerusalem in 1950. The two sides clashed again in the 1967 Six Day War, when Israel seized control of those Palestinian territories from Jordan.

So while Jordan signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994 following the Oslo Accords between the Palestinians and Israelis, it retained a legal basis and domestic political incentive to continue advocating for Palestinian statehood and rights in the occupied lands.

For King Abdullah, the intercepted Iranian drone attack highlighted these longstanding pressures that will likely persist even after the latest hostilities have subsided. Walking the line between preserving critical economic and security ties while resonating with pro-Palestinian public sentiment at home will remain an ongoing challenge.

Jordan’s surprise military move to stop the Iranian weapons may have defended the kingdom’s airspace. But it also underscored how increasingly difficult it has become for Jordan to avoid inadvertently shielding Israel on some fronts, even as it criticizes its neighbor over the grinding Palestinian conflict.

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Mezhar Alee
Mezhar Alee
Mezhar Alee is a prolific author who provides commentary and analysis on business, finance, politics, sports, and current events on his website Opportuneist. With over a decade of experience in journalism and blogging, Mezhar aims to deliver well-researched insights and thought-provoking perspectives on important local and global issues in society.

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