World, Middle East

Jordan-Israel ties still shaky after embassy shooting

In aftermath of last month’s embassy shooting in Amman, Jordan-Israel relations have yet to return to normal

04.08.2017
Jordan-Israel ties still shaky after embassy shooting

By Kaamil Ahmed

JERUSALEM

When a group of Israeli diplomats crossed the border from Jordan last week, many felt the crisis caused by last month’s shooting at the Israeli embassy in Amman was drawing to a close.

It has since become clear this is not the case, however, and the two countries remain at odds over the incident.

At the center of the dispute is the Israeli security guard who shot dead two Jordanians on July 24 -- a 17-year-old delivery boy accused of attacking him and a doctor who happened to be present at the scene.

Jordanians were outraged that the guard, identified this week by a Jordanian newspaper as 28-year-old Ziv Moyal, was later allowed to return to Israel under cover of diplomatic immunity, where most believe he will unlikely face a proper investigation.

“The situation is quite bad. It's not good and it hasn’t improved in the last few days or weeks. What we need is time and calm and to slow down the rhetoric that is going back and forth,” Daoud Kuttab, an Amman-based journalist and analyst, said.

Kuttab told Anadolu Agency that he felt Israel should publicly apologize for the incident, compensate the families of the victims and conduct a serious investigation into the guard's actions.

“The ball is in the Israeli court; they have to decide what they want. They have to take responsibility,” he said.

Jordan is very important to Israel. Jordan is Israel’s only Arab neighbor, other than Egypt, to officially recognize it and the self-proclaimed Jewish state shares its longest border with the Hashemite kingdom.

Jordan, too, benefits from the relationship, however.

“For Jordan, it [i.e., its relationship with Israel] is important because it helps Jordan's international image and image in the U.S.,” Kuttab said.

“It's also important because of security. Jordan is a small, weak country and it has tried to make good relationships with all its neighbors to protect itself,” he added. “So it's to do with national survival.”

The affair took a peculiar turn Tuesday night when a Jordanian lawmaker challenged one of his Israeli counterparts, Oren Hazan -- who, the lawmaker felt, had insulted Jordan on Twitter -- to a duel on the border.

Hazan accepted, posting a photo of himself getting a haircut in preparation, but was reportedly told to stand down at the last minute by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office.

Israel's Foreign Ministry announced last week that it would, in fact, be investigating the incident and passing its findings on to the Jordanians.

Kuttab, for his part, accused Netanyahu of enflaming Jordanian public opinion by openly -- and exuberantly -- welcoming Moyal back to Israel after the shooting incident.

Barak Ravid, a diplomatic correspondent for Israeli daily Haaretz, said Netanyahu’s reaction to Moyal’s return had irked Jordan's King Abdullah II, who accused the PM of exploiting the incident for political gain.

“Jordanian anger stemmed from Netanyahu's portraying the event as though the Jordanian security forces had besieged the Israeli embassy and were about to lynch the diplomats in it,” wrote Ravid. 

Crisis at Al-Aqsa

Relations have been further aggravated by a crisis centering around Jerusalem's flashpoint Al-Aqsa Mosque complex, which recently saw almost two weeks of Palestinian protests over draconian security measures imposed by Israel.

Israel had said that the measures were a response to an alleged July 14 attack at the mosque complex that killed two Israeli police officers and three suspected Arab-Israeli attackers.

The measures, however, also prompted accusations that Israel was unilaterally imposing control over the holy site, which has remained under Jordanian custodianship since 1967.

The ensuing protests were led by Jerusalem's religious leaders, most of whom are employed by Jordan but are also sensitive to local pressures.

Jordan reasserted its support this week by announcing a $1-million donation to the Al-Aqsa Mosque's Islamic Museum and financial rewards for all employees.

Ofer Zalzberg, a senior analyst for the International Crisis Group think tank, told Anadolu Agency that Israel's longstanding relationship with Jordan was valuable precisely because it ostensibly allows easier management of the flashpoint site, which is also revered by Jews as the “Temple Mount”.

“We are seeing a dramatic crisis between Jordan and Israel which makes de facto joint management [of the site] much more complicated,” he said, adding that the Palestinians were now resisting the two powers -- Jordan and Israel -- which were effectively “managing the site over their heads”.

“We are seeing a growing realization on the Israeli side that, in effect, managing the site with Jordan is what allows Israel to claim sovereignty over the site,” Zalzberg added.

“The alternative, regionally, is Turkey,” he said, “or more importantly, a Palestinian claim for sovereignty over the site”.

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