Iran handed Jordan and Israel an opportunity to improve ties

Some threats simply beg to be turned into opportunities.

Jordanian Minister of Foreign Affairs Ayman Safadi confirmed that his country’s air force intercepted several Iranian drones between April 13 and 14, helping defend against Iran’s unprecedented missile and drone attack against Israel. The military assistance by the Hashemite Kingdom followed a political decision to close its airspace, which made it easier for Israeli and Western pilots to shoot down Iranian drones before they reached Israel.

Jordan’s military mobilization comes at a time of intense political friction between Amman and Jerusalem. Since Hamas’s Oct. 7, 2023, attack, Jordanian officials have repeatedly condemned Israel for its conduct in the war in Gaza. This included comments by Jordan’s king and queen about Israel’s Palestinian policies catalyzing Hamas’s attack.

Nonetheless, Jordan deserves significant credit for its recent military action — especially because Iranian outlets have threatened that Jordan will be attacked next if it cooperates further with Israel. Consequently, the kingdom issued a démarche to the Iranian ambassador in Amman.

There are challenges aplenty on the home front too. Protests outside the Israeli Embassy in Amman have been all too common, with security forces often resorting to non-lethal force to disperse protesters. The Jordanian public has specifically been turning out to protest the war in Gaza and demand that Jordan cancel its decades-old peace treaty with Israel.

The public was likewise agitated by Jordan’s efforts to foil Iran’s weekend assault. “The Jordanian king dropped missiles on his citizens to protect Israel,” an activist alleged on X.

Jordan’s cold relationship with Israel is not new. The kingdom, which is home to over 2.3 million Palestinians, has grown increasingly hostile in word, if not in deed, toward the Jewish state. In May 2021, Amman blamed Israel for sparking an 11-day Hamas-Israel war, accusing Israeli security forces of carrying out “barbaric” attacks against Muslim worshippers in Jerusalem.

But Jordan’s efforts last month suggest that the timing may be ripe to turn a new leaf. In particular, three areas present opportunities to deepen Jordan-Israel cooperation.

One area that constitutes low-hanging fruit for cooperation is in the counter-drone space. Israeli and Jordanian military planners should meet to assess how and where they succeeded against these low- and slow-flying Iranian threats, share best practices, and begin conversations about deepening cooperation in the future to offset the surprise factor should a new attack arise. Washington should consider facilitating this meeting.

A second area for cooperation is counternarcotics. Jordan has recently escalated its campaign against drug smugglers with ties to Iran-backed militias, striking narco-trafficking operations and producers of an amphetamine-like drug known as Captagon inside Syria. This pushback has resulted in bloody clashes with traffickers at the Jordan-Syria border.

As Jordan is a key member of the constellation of status-quo, pro-Western states in the region, its stability is in Israel’s interest. Not only is narco-trafficking threatening that stability, but the drugs are beginning to threaten Israel directly. Israeli media reported that Hamas terrorists were high on Captagon as they carried out their Oct. 7 attack.

A corollary to cooperation on counternarcotics is counter-arms smuggling. Iran has been trying to take advantage of discontent in the West Bank and flood the area with arms for over two years. Recent reports allege that Tehran is using smuggling routes in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and, critically, Jordan to bring arms into Israel. Reportedly, these operations rely on Bedouins, who cross from Jordan into Israel.

A report from last May revealed that the problem ran deeper: A Jordanian lawmaker was indicted on charges of supporting a ring that smuggled guns into Israel. Intelligence cooperation against these cells can build goodwill and repair the security-based foundation for Jordan-Israel ties.

Finally, Israel and Jordan can deepen their decades-old natural resources partnership. In 2021, Israel and Jordan signed a water-for-energy deal whereby Israel agreed to double its freshwater exports to Jordan in exchange for energy from an Emirati solar farm in the Hashemite Kingdom. The project was due to launch in November 2023, but Jordan decided to withdraw from the agreement in protest of Israel’s Gaza counteroffensive. Amman appeared to reverse that decision in March, asking Israel to extend the deal by one year. Jordan’s openness to cooperation can be capitalized upon.

There were ample opportunities for Jerusalem and Amman to repair their relationship before Oct. 7. The logic of acting on these areas has only grown following Jordan’s defense against Iran’s attack on Israel. Neither state should permit that intervention to remain transactional and not transformational.

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