Col. (res.) Dr. Eran Lerman: Annexation will not destroy the Jordanian and Egyptian governments, nor will it harm the peace treaties with Israel.
By Tovah Lazaroff, The Jerusalem Post, 27.04.2020
The possible collapse of the Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty and potential destruction of a stable regional ally, the Hashemite Kingdom, is one of the stronger arguments against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plan to annex West Bank settlements this year.
The 1994 peace treaty with Jordan, as well as the predecessor 1979 treaty signed with Egypt, have been a foundation cornerstone of Israeli regional security and gateway to the Arab world.
The value of the two treaties in an otherwise hostile region has only increased in relation to the growing threats from Iran and ISIS and other fundamental Islamic terrorist groups.
So that idea of an Israeli plan, either unilateral or in conjunction with the US, that risks those treaties and the stability of this country after a decade of regional turmoil has to give one pause.
“Unilateral annexation will damage stability in the Middle East” and harm Israel, said former Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) director Ami Ayalon.
In specific, he explained, “the peace treaty with Egypt and the peace treaty with Jordan are in a way, the two cornerstones, of our [regional] policy and our security for the last 30 to 40 years.”
A retired admiral, Ayalon is among a group of over 220 former security officers who have embarked on a campaign against the move through the group Commanders for Israel’s Security.
Last week, he and two other high level former security officials – Maj.-Gen. (ret.) Gadi Shamni and former Mossad director Tamir Pardo – published an article in the US based Foreign Policy magazine, warning about the implications to Jordan and Egypt.
There are many rational reasons for the two countries to maintain ties with Israel, Ayalon told The Jerusalem Post.
Egypt relies on Israel for intelligence and security cooperation when it comes to fighting Al-Qaeda and ISIS in the Sinai. Jordan has water and gas deals with Israel. Both countries also rely heavily on financial assistance from the United States, which are tied to the peace deals.
Still, Ayalon thought, those factors would not be enough to offset the danger to the kingdom from the street.
In the aftermath of the Arab Spring, however, regional leaders can not afford to ignore the public opinion, particularly on a topic where emotions run high such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Ayalon said.
Rulers in both Egypt and Jordan “have to listen to the voices on the street, because they understand that power,” Ayalon explained.
Egyptian President Abedel Fattah el-Sisi has more flexibility than Jordan’s King Abdullah, Ayalon said. Jordan is home to a large number of Palestinians, and there are also many young people who are radicalized, Shamni said.
“They will never accept Jordanian silence with regards to annexation. In order to survive, the king will have to take extreme steps that might even severely damage the Israeli-Jordanian peace agreement,” he said.
Throughout the years, Israeli actions in the West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza have had a destabilizing influence, Ayalon said said.
“But there is a huge difference between incremental change” and a large “unilateral” act such as annexation, particularly one that is against the declared will of all Arab leaders, he said.
Shamni, who was also Israel’s former military attache to the US and a military adviser to former prime minister Ariel Sharon, said that the plan created unnecessary turmoil and security problems.
At issue here, Shamni said, is Israel’s eastern border, which is its calmest out of the five borders. There are hostilities along the Lebanese, Syrian and Gaza borders. Even the Egyptian border can be problematic because of terrorist groups in the Sinai dessert.
But along the eastern border, the combined efforts of Israeli and Jordanian security forces have kept violence at bay, Shamni said.
Jordan itself acts as an additional security buffer for Israel, so that it provides a strategic safeguard against terrorism and other security threats, he said. Jordan’s location, bordering Iraq on the other side, makes peaceful relations with Israel particularly significant.
Coordination with Jordan is “crucial” for Israel’s safety along this critical stretch, he said.
“The majority of the Jordanian security apparatus wants Israel [the IDF] to be in the Jordan Valley,” he said, adding that the situation at present is effective and stable.
However, annexation is about politics not security, he said. Shamni minced no words, noting that it was “stupid” to risk a “strategic” asset such as Jordan, just to ensure the “political survival of a certain government or prime minister.”
But the situation is not clear cut and to those arguments, there are also counter ones.
Col. (ret.) Eran Lerman, a former deputy director at the National Security Council, said he believed that annexation would not destroy the Jordanian and Egyptian governments, nor would it harm the peace treaties with Israel.
Lerman, who is vice president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security, said that the turmoil in the Middle East was precisely one of the reasons, Israel’s ties with those two countries would survive.
“The Jordanian government is very vocal in its overt opposition and they may need to take certain visible measures in response” to indicate its “deep dismay,” Lerman said.
Lerman recalled that ties were already strained as evident by Jordan’s decision last year to end the 25-year lease to Israel for the Island of Peace at Naharayim. He expected other “slap in the face” gestures, even serious ones, but that otherwise ties would hold.
There were more reasons for Jordan and the Hashemite Kingdom to find a way to preserve Israeli ties in light of annexation than to cut them off, he said.
Jordan has come to depend on its “intimate relationship” with the Israeli defense establishment, he said. “It is also the most consistently pro-American player in the region,” he said.
Given the threats from Iran and the instability in Iraq, it is important for Jordan to remain within that Israeli and US security envelope.
Moving forward, Jordan would need certain assurance that Israel doesn’t plan to annex the entire West Bank, Lerman said and that there is no plan to turn Jordan into Palestine.
It would be particularly important for Jordan to hear from the Trump administration that the Israeli application of sovereignty is not an independent action, but part of the US peace plan.
The turmoil of the Arab Spring, might be a warning to the Jordanian public and help ensure a more limited response, he said.
“Everyone in the region has experienced how catastrophic life can be if you throw yourself off the cliff Syrian style,” Lerman said.
At the end of the day, he predicted, neither the Jordanian public or the Hashemite Kingdom would want to risk “their very future.”