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Why Jordan came to Israel’s rescue

On its face, Jordan’s high-risk decision to support Israel in repelling the hundreds of aerial vehicles that Iran fired at the Jewish State appears inconsistent with its vocal criticism of the Israeli invasion of Gaza. Amman’s long-time support of the Palestinians could have prompted it to remain passive in the face of the Iranian attack, as most Arab states did.

Indeed, with between 20 and 50 percent of Jordan’s population being of Palestinian origin, including Queen Rania — herself an outspoken opponent of the Israeli incursion into Gaza — prudence would have dictated that Jordan not play a role in the defense against the Iranian aerial onslaught.

Yet unlike most of its Arab counterparts, Jordan acted in precisely the opposite way. The Jordanian Air Force reportedly intercepted and shot down “dozens” of drones or missiles that were crossing its airspace and were headed for targets in Israel.

Jordan is indeed a major non-NATO ally of the U.S., which immediately came to Israel’s rescue. But being an ally does not necessarily result in supporting American military efforts. Similarly, although Jordan and the U.S. signed a defense cooperation agreement in early 2021, that agreement is limited to “unimpeded access” to Jordanian facilities for American military personnel and contractors for a variety of activities such as training, exercise maneuvers and transit. It does not commit Jordan to undertake any military operations on behalf of the U.S. Likewise, although Jordan’s military cooperation with Israel dates back their 1994 peace treaty, there is no arrangement for the two countries to support each other militarily.

There were other reasons influencing Jordan’s decision to join Israel, the United States, the U.K. and France in targeting and shooting down Iranian drones and missiles. Some of the drones, or ballistic and cruise missiles, could have fallen on Jordanian territory rather than on Israel. Amman argued that it was not so much supporting the defense of Israel as protecting its own territory from a misfired Iranian aerial vehicle.

Foreign Minister Ayman al-Safadi emphasized that point the day after the Iranian attack when he told local Jordanian television that the military had assessed that there was a danger that drones or missiles could fall short of their Israeli targets and land in Jordan. Indeed, a number of the Iranian missiles landed nowhere near their intended targets; for example, the fuel tank of an Emad missile that had been carrying an 1,100-pound bomb was found floating in the Dead Sea. Jordan clearly was at risk from the attack that now has been re-estimated to have numbered 500 drones and missiles.

Second, the remarkable images of the explosions over Jerusalem’s Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif indicated the vulnerability of sites that are holy to Muslims. Jordan’s King Abdullah could not tolerate any damage to the shrine called the Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa Mosque. Like his father King Hussein — and his grandfather and great-grandfather before him — Abdullah is the legal custodian of the al-Aqsa compound. That a strike on the shrine and the mosque, built by Sunni Arab rulers in the seventh century, would be carried out by Shiite Iran, which has long sought to destabilize the kingdom, could only have reinforced Abdullah’s determination to protect the holy sites.

A number of Arab states, as well as many Jordanian Palestinians, have joined Iran in lashing out at the Amman government for in effect defending Israel against Tehran’s attack. Such criticism is unlikely to faze the king. His father faced even harsher criticism when, in March 1997, King Hussein paid a shiva visit to the bereaved families of seven young Israeli girls who had been killed by a Jordanian policeman on a Jordanian-Israeli tourist resort that Amman administered. Hussein, who went so far as to go down on his knees to beg forgiveness for the killings, ignored the criticism, and Abdullah is doing the same. Indeed, Jordan called in the Iranian ambassador to protest Iran’s “harmful disinformation.” Foreign Minister Safadi promised to “retaliate” against Iran if Tehran continued to spread falsehoods about his country.

Whatever the reasons for Jordan’s participation in defending against the Iranian attack, having done so helped the combined defensive efforts of Israel and its friends — resulting in 99 percent of the shots fired at Israel failing to hit their targets. For that, Israel owes Jordan much gratitude, which perhaps it can demonstrate by heeding Amman’s concerns that Jerusalem do all it can to support international efforts to provide more humanitarian aid to Gaza’s beleaguered civilians.

Dov S. Zakheim is a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and vice chairman of the board for the Foreign Policy Research Institute. He was undersecretary of Defense (comptroller) and chief financial officer for the Department of Defense from 2001 to 2004 and a deputy undersecretary of Defense from 1985 to 1987.

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