King Abdullah of Jordan. Photo via WikiCommons.

Jordan’s anti-Israel rhetoric on rise despite security cooperation

The 50th anniversary of the Six-Day War, which Israel fought against Jordan and other Arab states, is showing how much has changed in the Israel-Jordan relationship.

Since 1994, the two countries have had an official peace treaty, and over the years, security cooperation has deepened. Ties between their armies are close, and they share an interest in preventing unrest in the West Bank, which Israel has controlled since 1967.

Furthermore, Israeli intelligence officials say the security cooperation and intelligence sharing between Jordan and Israel are stronger than ever. They count this cooperation as one of the strongest weapons in Israel’s arsenal and say it is crucial for both countries’ stability.

At the same time, however, popular sentiment in Jordan against cooperation with Israel is rising. Last month, a delegation of sheikhs from various tribes visited Israel, where they met with President Reuven Rivlin, whose father was one of the first to translate the Quran, the Muslim holy book, from Arabic into Hebrew and was an Islamic scholar.

The sheikhs spent five days touring Israel and meeting religious figures. When they returned, they encountered an outcry against them and their visit to Israel in the mainstream media and on social media. That anger intensified after two incidents — the first, when Israeli troops shot and killed a Jordanian-Palestinian attacker after he stabbed an Israeli policeman; the second, when Israeli troops in September shot a Jordanian tourist who tried to carry out a knife attack.

“There is a clear increase in anger and support for anti-normalization,” said Mohammed Husainy, the director of the Identity Center in Jordan.

Anti-normalization means opposition to cooperation with Israel in any field. It is part of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement that calls for a boycott of the Israeli government and Israeli citizens. For example, BDS has tried to prevent pop stars from giving concerts anywhere in Israel, not only in the West Bank.

After Israel and Jordan signed the peace treaty in 1994, Israeli tourists began to flock to Jordan, especially to Petra, one of the wonders of the world. Jordanians began to visit Israel, although mostly to see relatives in the West Bank and to pray at Al-Aqsa.

Some Israeli analysts say that King Abdullah allows the anti-Israel rhetoric as a way for Jordanians to blow off steam.

“The Jordanian regime maneuvers between its need to cooperate with Israel and to address the sentiment of the population,” said Eyal Zisser, a professor at Tel Aviv University. “They do allow anti-Israel rhetoric in the media and at the popular level whenever there is a small incident.”

The situation is similar to that of Egypt, the other country with which Israel has a formal peace treaty. Although security cooperation is close, most Egyptians are vehemently anti-Israel. 

Egypt, Jordan and Israel have similar security concerns and all want to eliminate the terror threat from ISIS, which also has killed dozens of Egyptian police in the Sinai. All three countries see a nuclear Iran as a potential threat.

Most analysts say that in the long run, the common security interests will continue to overshadow the public anger at Israel. 

Israelis barred from entering Jordan over kippot

A group of Israeli tourists were prevented from entering Jordan because members of the group were wearing yarmulkes.

The incident occurred more than a week ago, but was first reported by Israel’s Channel 2 on Sunday.

The group was planning to travel to the Tomb of Aaron near Petra. The tomb is believed to be the burial place of the first High Priest, Aaron, the brother of Moses.

In December, an Israeli family was denied entry to Jordan at a crossing near Eilat because the husband and the couple’s sons wore kippot; they were told they could not enter Jordan with “Jewish items.”   After that incident, Jordan told Israeli authorities it was a one-time error, according to Channel 2.

A Foreign Ministry official told Channel 2 that not allowing tourists carrying Jewish religious items in their bags to enter Jordan appears to be official policy. The ministry reportedly has sought clarification of the issue from Jordan.

Airport planned for Israel-Jordan border clouds neighborly ties

A new airport planned by Israel near its border with Jordan is clouding the usually businesslike relationship the two neighbors have built since making peace in 1994.

Due to open next April, Ilan & Asaf Ramon Airport at Timna, in Israel's desert south, will be 10 km (6 miles) from Jordan's King Hussein International Airport. They will serve Eilat and Aqaba, the adjacent Israeli and Jordanian resort cities on the Red Sea.

Citing worry the proximity could spell dangerous disruptions to its air corridors, Amman last year complained to the U.N. International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

Israel said Ramon would abide by ICAO regulations and pose no safety risk. The ICAO later said Israel and Jordan were addressing the matter directly “as one would expect from two countries with a peace treaty and a wide scope of cooperation in many fields”.

Israeli Transport Minister Yisrael Katz played down the dispute with Jordan, one of two Arab states with full ties with Israel.

“There is no confrontation,” he told Reuters in an interview. “There have been discussions (and) it was agreed that we will hold a professional-level meeting. The (Ramon) airport will open, and there will be coordination of air traffic.”

Jordan sounds less upbeat, however.

“We do not want to stand in the way of Israeli projects, but we have our concerns regarding our own airport, and there is also the matter of keeping the spirit of our peace agreement,” said a Jordanian official who declined to be identified.

The official was referring to a proposal, discussed in conjunction with the treaty, of building a jointIsraeli-Jordanian airport.

Katz said such a facility was an “option” that had gone unexercised. Opened in 1972, King Hussein underwent expansions after the 1994 peace accord to meet what the airport's website said was the rising demand of air traffic. Katz said Israel was therefore free to open Ramon on its side of the border.



Jordan's concern, he suggested, was over the prospective loss of tourists to Israel. Ramon will have a 3.6-km (2.2-mile) runway able to accommodate the largest airliners while King Hussein's runway length is a more limiting 3.1 km (1.9 miles).

King Hussein currently handles around four to six takeoffs and landings a day. Israel is planning for 10 times that capacity at Ramon.

“The thing is, this (Ramon) is a big international airport, representing a mass of tourists, which is seen as possibly competing with them in tourism and such things,” Katz said.

“We will propose to them that large planes that can't land there (King Hussein) will land here. I have no problem with people going to Aqaba from there (Ramon). They can cross at Arava crossing,” he said, referring to an overland border terminal north of Eilat, a 15-km (9-mile) drive from Ramon.

Peace with Israel was never popular among ordinary Jordanians, many of whom are Palestinian, and Amman officials sometimes lament what they see as the sluggish dividends from economic cooperation with their richer neighbor.

One Jordanian official based in the Aqaba area accused Israel of building Ramon airport to “market Petra” – the nearby archaeological wonder in Jordan – for excursions by tourists who would spend the bulk of their vacation in Eilat.

“We are protecting our national tourism industry from any invasion and from selling it illegally,” said the official, who also requested anonymity.

“Now we have imposed on those coming from the (Arava) crossing to either pay sixty dinars ($85) for a one-day (visa) or spend two nights in the kingdom,” with the fee refunded, the official said.

Eilat is currently served by a small municipal airport whose planned demolition will free up real estate within view of the beach.

Named after an Israeli astronaut lost in the 2003 space shuttle disaster and his eldest son, who died in a 2009 air force accident, Ramon is envisaged as an emergency alternative to Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, Israel's main international gateway. Ben Gurion was briefed shunned by most foreign carriers due to incoming Palestinian rockets during the 2014 Gaza war.

Jordanians hired by Eilat hotels in groundbreaking program negotiated with Israeli gov’t

In a first for Jordan-Israel relations, a small group of Jordanian citizens recently gained employment in Israel’s hospitality sector as part of a pilot project negotiated by the two countries.

The Washington Post reported Monday that the program, which “very quietly” launched six months ago, currently permits 700 Jordanians to cross the border to work in the Red Sea resort town Eilat. The program ultimately will allow in 1,500 Jordanians.

On the program’s first day, in November, 172 workers arrived in Eilat, according to The Tower. That day, Israeli Interior Minister Silvan Shalom greeted the new workers, saying, “This is a day of celebration for Israeli-Jordanian cooperation … that will strengthen ties between Israel and Jordan, improve service in Eilat hotels and prevent illegal migrants from working in Israel.”

Eilat’s 40 hotels employ 9,000 workers, a third of them in housekeeping, according to the Post.

Ahmed Riashi, 25, told the Post that his dishwashing job at Isrotel’s Royal Garden Hotel pays twice what he made working as a waiter in Amman, Jordan’s capital. He said the Jewish Israelis he has encountered on the job have reacted positively upon learning he was Jordanian and several asked to take selfie photos with him.

The tightly regulated program requires the Jordanian workers to return to Jordan by 8 each evening, bars them from traveling outside the Eilat city limits and restricts them to cleaning jobs.

According to the Post, the new employees are 99 percent male and, after being vetted by the Jordanian government and Israeli hotels, undergo a background check by the Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic security agency.

Because the program’s goals include ending the hotel sector’s reliance on illegal African migrant employees, hotels are required to fire an African each time they hire a Jordanian, according to the Post.

Jordan signed a peace treaty in 1994, becoming Israel’s second Arab neighbor after Egypt to establish full diplomatic relations.

Israel promised acess to Straits of Tiran after Saudi-Egypt deal, says defense chief

Israel was guaranteed in writing free passage through the Straits of Tiran after Saudi Arabia’s planned takeover of two strategic Red Sea islands, Israel’s defense minister told reporters Tuesday.

Egypt agreed to hand over the islands, which it has controlled for more than 60 years, as part of a deal to build a bridge over the sea between the two countries that was announced during a weekend visit by King Salman of Saudi Arabia.

The deal had raised questions about Israel’s continued access to the passage, the revocation of which was a casus belli of the 1976 Six-Day War between Israel and its neighbors. But Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said Israel was consulted early in talks over the deal and gave its consent.

“An appeal was made to us – and it needed our agreement, the Americans who were involved in the peace agreement and of the MFO,” Yaalon said, referring to the Multinational Force and Observers peacekeeping forces at the Israeli-Egyptian border. “We reached an agreement between the four parties – the Saudis, the Egyptians, Israel and the United States – to transfer the responsibility for the islands, on condition that the Saudis fill in the Egyptians’ shoes in the military appendix of the peace agreement.”

In the document given to Israel, Saudi Arabia, which does not have formal relations with Israel, pledges to abide by the principles that have governed Israeli-Egyptian relations since their 1979 peace treaty, Haaretz reported. According to the treaty, the Straits of Tiran and the entire Gulf of Aqaba are international waterways open to free passage by Israel and overseen by the international observers.

The islands being relinquished to Saudi Arabia, Tiran and Sanafir, stand sentry at the entrance to the Gulf of Aqaba. The Israeli city of Eilat and the Jordanian city of Aqaba are located at the northern tip of the gulf. The Saudi-Egyptian deal has faced public criticism in Egypt as a blow to national pride.

Jordan could play key role in calming Israeli-Palestinian tensions

This article originally appeared on The Media Line.

When Secretary of State John Kerry decide to fly to the Middle East to try to calm rising Israeli-Palestinian tensions after a wave of stabbing and shooting attacks, he did not land in Jerusalem, but in Amman, the capital of Jordan. Kerry’s choice shows the important role of the Hashemite Kingdom’s head of state, King Abdullah II, who has good relationships with the Israelis, the Palestinians and the Americans.

Following the talks, Kerry announced a series of  steps designed to ease tensions between Israel and the Palestinian centered on Jerusalem and the compound at the heart of the city, known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslim as the Noble Sanctuary. Chief among these measures was the King’s proposal to place 24-hours security cameras overlooking the contested site.

Jordan’s reigning monarch since 1999, the English educated, 53-year old, Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein remains popular among Jordanians. Pictures of the King adorn the interior of offices and stare down onto pedestrians in the street in every city in the country. Jordan maintains a key role in the ongoing dispute in Jerusalem, as its peace treaty with Israel states that the Hashemite Kingdom is responsible for supervising the Noble Sanctuary. The Muslim Waqf, which supervises the site, is a Jordanian body, although Israel maintains overall security at the site, and will send Israeli soldiers in when officials believe it is needed.

Israel and the United States would be keen to see Abdullah intervene and try to put an end to violence between Israelis and Palestinians, Yoram Meital, head of the Herzog Center for Middle East studies at Ben Gurion University, told The Media Line. From the Israeli government’s point of view, Jordan’s role is essential, due to the hostility between the current right-wing cabinet and the Palestinian Authority (PA).

“For Bibi (Binyamin) Netanyahu, King Abdullah would be a much better partner (than Mahmoud Abbas) to speak with and maybe get into agreement with on the Temple Mount/Al-Aqsa,” the professor suggested.

However, Abdullah is unlikely to relish being brought in as mediator. For one, if Abdullah was to declare that Israel was maintaining the status quo, as both Israel and the US desire, the King would lose credibility with his own people. Although high level cooperation exists between the two neighboring countries, Israel is still viewed with suspicion by a great number of Jordanians. Amman, the country’s capital, has recently seen demonstrations, where protestors condemned what they declared as Israeli violence towards Palestinians in recent weeks.

“King Abdullah is not a mediator to Israel and Palestine – Jordan has made this clear,” Oraib Rantawi, the founder and director general of the Amman-based Al-Quds Center for Political Studies, told The Media Line. Jordan views itself as committed to the establishment of a Palestinian state and so does not wish to be pushed into acting as neutral mediator, Rantawi explained.

“It is the US who has the power and the moral responsibility (to take this role),” he said.

To add to Abdullah II’s reasons for shying away from becoming a broker, is his inability to trust the Israeli Prime Minister, both Rantawi and Meital separately suggested. “Abdullah has no trust, no confidence, in Netanyahu because he does not commit to what he says,” Rantawi argued.

Despite this Kerry managed to reach some agreement. “I am very pleased to announce today that Prime Minister Netanyahu has agreed to what I think is an excellent suggestion by King Abdullah, to provide 24-hour video coverage of all sites,” John Kerry said. Such monitoring will reduce the ability of individuals to use the holy site as a means to create incitement in Jerusalem, the Secretary of State declared.

However, when Muslim Waqf officials tried to install cameras this week, Israel took them down, saying they had not been coordinated.

“This arrangement that Kerry put through will not hold water in the long term because he did not address the core issue – Palestinian claims for full sovereignty,” Meital said.

For the time being such concerns are being overshadowed by other events in the Middle East. For the US and Jordan, the Islamic State (ISIS) poses a more pressing danger. The jihadist organization and the Syrian civil war which helped create it, represent a continued threat to Jordan.

However, it is something that that the monarch, after sixteen years on the throne, has the experience and the reputation to handle, Rantawi hinted. “Jordan is one of the few Arab countries still secure and stable – this does not happen accidentally, it is the result of policies enacted by the king himself,” the academic declared.

Jordan’s handling of the turbulence of 2011 and the Arab Spring appear to coincide with this view. Although street protests did occur, unlike in most neighboring states the security forces did not require large scale violence to put down demands for reforms. As Rantawi put it, “in Jordan people talked about regime reform but not regime change.” Compared to Iraq, Syria or even Egypt, the smaller Hashemite Kingdom appears stable and running business as usual. 

Israel and Jordan agree to put surveillance cameras on Temple Mount

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and King Abdullah of Jordan agreed to place surveillance cameras on the Temple Mount in what U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said “could really be a game changer” in discouraging violence at the Jerusalem holy site.

Kerry announced the placement of the 24-hour-a-day cameras at an appearance before reporters on Saturday with Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh in Amman.

“This will provide comprehensive visibility and transparency, and that could really be a game changer in discouraging anybody from disturbing the sanctity of this holy site,” Kerry said, calling it a “first step” toward bringing Israel and the Palestinians back together to discuss long-term peace. “I expect Jordanian and Israeli technical teams will meet soon to discuss the implementation of this idea alongside other measures to maintain and enhance public order and calm.”

Deadly Palestinian attacks on Jewish-Israelis have sharply increased in recent weeks amid tensions over the Temple Mount, which is holy to Jews and Muslims. Driving the tensions in part have been reports among the Palestinians that Israel is planning to alter the site, which houses the Al-Aqsa mosque compound. Palestinian Authority President Abbas himself has made the charge, which Netanyahu has continued to vehemently deny.

In televised remarks on Saturday night, Netanyahu said there would be “increased coordination between the Israeli authorities and the Jordanian Waqf, including to ensure that visitors and worshippers demonstrate restraint and respect for the sanctity of the area, and all this in accordance with the respective responsibilities of the Israelis authorities and the Jordanian Waqf.” The Muslim Waqf is responsible for overseeing the Temple Mount site.

Judeh in his appearance with Kerry called Jordan “a stakeholder” when it comes to Palestinian-Israeli peace, saying all the final status issues “touch the very heart of Jordan’s national security and national interests.” He added that no final arrangement can be arrived at between the two “without the input and active participation of Jordan.”

On Sunday, at the start of the weekly Cabinet meeting, Netanyahu defended his decision to install the cameras.

“Israel has an interest in stationing cameras in all parts of the Temple Mount,” he said. “First, in order to disprove the claim that Israel is changing the status quo. Second, to show where the provocations really come from and to foil them before they ever happen.”

In his televised remarks, Netanyahu reaffirmed Israel’s commitment to the status quo on the Temple Mount.

“Israel will continue to enforce its longstanding policy: Muslims pray on the Temple Mount; non-Muslims visit the Temple Mount,” Netanyahu said, adding later, “As we have said many times, Israel has no intention to divide the Temple Mount, and we completely reject any attempt to suggest otherwise.”

Palestinians criticize Temple Mount surveillance plan

Palestinian officials are opposing a plan to install 24-hour surveillance cameras on the Temple Mount.

Several Palestinian leaders criticized the proposal on Monday, Bloomberg News and Reuters reported.

“The placement of cameras in the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound is not only a violation of the status quo; it also enables Israel to exercise security control and provides it with more enhanced means of surveillance,” Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi said in a statement, according to Bloomberg. “Israel, as it has repeatedly done, will use it against the Palestinians and not against extremist Jewish settlers or Israeli officials.”

Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki said on Voice of Palestine radio that the plan was “a new trap,” according to Reuters. Maliki accused Israel of planning to use the footage to arrest Muslim worshippers that it believes are “inciting” against it.”

The plan, which was announced by the United States on Saturday with support from Israel and Jordan, aims to deter violence at the site, which is holy to both Jews and Muslims. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry described the plan proposed by Jordan as a “game-changer.”

Netanyahu blasts Jordan’s King Abdullah for Temple Mount criticism

A day after Jordan’s King Abdullah sharply criticized Israel’s actions in defusing violence on the Temple Mount, Israel accused Jordan of being partially responsible for the conflict.

In a strongly worded message to Jordan, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed on Monday that the Jordanian Waqf, an Islamic authority that administers the Temple Mount site, allowed Muslims to stockpile weapons in the Al-Aqsa mosque.

“Don’t run away from your responsibility,” Netanyahu’s message read, according to Israel’s Channel 2. “The Waqf broke the status quo by letting rioters armed with stones sleep in the Al-Aqsa mosque.”

On Sunday, Abdullah told a group of visiting Arab-Israeli Knesset members that the Temple Mount was only for Muslim prayer. He condemned an Israeli police raid on Sept. 13 that uncovered a stockpile of bombs and rocks that officials feared would be used to injure Jewish worshippers.

“What is Netanyahu trying do achieve with this action; is he trying to cause an explosion?” Abdullah said in the meeting, according to the Hebrew website Maariv.

Abdullah hinted that he would bring up the issue with the European Union.

Israeli police have clashed with Muslim protesters in and around the Temple Mount over the past two weeks. Jews are allowed to enter the site but are not allowed to pray.

Tensions at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque spill over onto international stage

This article originally appeared on The Media Line.

Following three days of clashes between Israeli security forces and Muslim demonstrators at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, the King of Jordan has warned Israel that its “provocation” is risking the relationship between the two neighbors. The compound surrounding the mosque – the Temple Mount to Jews; the Haram Al-Sharif to Muslims, and sacred to both – is located in the center of Jerusalem’s Old City, but remains under the custodianship of Jordan which controlled the area before 1967.

“Any more provocation in Jerusalem will affect the relationship between Jordan and Israel,” Abdullah II, monarch of the Hashemite Kingdom, said, adding that his government “will not have a choice but to take actions, unfortunately.”

Jordan is one of only two Arab states, along with Egypt, that have signed peace treaties with Israel. Tensions rose in the Old City during the religious holiday of Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year. With a number of Jewish holy days taking place in the upcoming weeks, including the holiday of Yom Kippur – coinciding this year with Eid Al-Adha, the Muslim Festival of the Sacrifice – there are possibilities of further clashes. This could lead to increased diplomatic tensions between Israel and Jordan, which temporarily withdrew its ambassador to Tel Aviv last year following similar confrontations.

The Hashemite Kingdom’s view of Israel is based on two separate levels – the government and the population, Yoav Alon, from Tel Aviv University’s department of Middle East and African history, told The Media Line. Both governments share a number of strategic interests including countering the Islamic State, links between military and intelligence institutions and curtailing Palestinian nationalism, Alon said.

It is only on the issue of the Al-Aqsa Mosque that the two struggle to see eye to eye. “Jordan sees itself as someone that is responsible for the Temple Mount and that is why they are so touchy about the status quo,” Alon suggested.

Between 1948 and 1967 Jordan controlled the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem. Following the capture of this territory, and the holy sites within the Old City by Israel in the Six Day War, Jordan remained custodian of Al-Aqsa.

However the strategic ties of the government in Amman with Israel are not supported by many Jordanians.

“There will always be tension as long as the Palestinian situation is not resolved… because half of the population in Jordan originate in Palestine,” Alon said. This forces King Abdullah II’s government to maneuver between its commitments to the wishes of its people and to the pragmatic approach of realpolitik. “The Jordanian regime has to walk on a tightrope doing a balancing act,” Alon explained.

Negative views of Israel are strong on the streets of the Hashemite Kingdom. “The majority in Jordan are looking to Israel as a government of occupation… especially with the latest escalation against the Palestinians civilians around Al- Aqsa Mosque,” Mohammed Shamma, a Jordanian journalist, told The Media Line. There are activists within Jordanian society who aim to see the peace agreement with Israel cancelled. These groups use events like the clashes in Jerusalem to draw attention to their cause, said Shamma, pointing to a recently held anti-Israel protest in Amman.

Additionally, during Arab spring protests in Jordan in 2011, along with calls for reform and democracy there were widespread demands to change the relationship with Israel, Shamma said. Clashes at the Al-Aqsa Mosque always push public perception in this direction, with social media users widely disseminating images and videos they believe demonstrate abuses by Israeli security forces, the journalist explained. 

Irrespective of what ordinary Jordanians may think, relations between the government and its Jewish neighbor have remained strong for years. It is worth noting that the King spoke about the relationship with Israel being changed without specifying what that could entail, Uli Wacker, the Jordan director for the Friedrich Naumann Foundation, told The Media Line.

The king knows that once he hints Israel has crossed a line it will get the message, Wacker said. Both states share an interest in stable relations and since this confrontation happens every year there is no reason to believe it will affect their relationship, Wacker said.

“The only concern of the Jordanians is that Israel might change the rules on the Temple Mount,” Wacker argued, suggesting that if Jews were allowed to pray there this would bring the whole Islamic world against Israel. But the Jewish state is not stupid enough to do this, he added.

“This little area is one of the tensest areas on this world, because two faiths maintain religious aspirations to this place – the Jewish Temple and the Al-Aqsa mosque,” he concluded.

Holy to half of humanity – the polluted water of the Jordan River

This article first appeared on The Media Line.

When US Naval officer William F. Lynch became the first Westerner to sail the lower Jordan River in 1847, he traversed the Sea of Galilee down the Jordan to the Dead Sea over current so strong that, according to his journal, he required four metal boats, one of which was smashed on the rocks of the powerful rapids. Lynch goes on the recount the broad and forceful flow of the then-mighty river.

Today, though, the Jordan is barley a trickle – just four meters wide and two meters deep in some parts. Its color is an opaque brown; and despite being holy to the world’s three major religions, a mouthful of the river’s water would most likely lead to a variety of rather unpleasant effects.

Throughout the years, successive governments in Syria, Israel and Jordan have redistributed the water supply for various reasons. Sewage has been leaked or directly pumped into the river; while a variety of overflows from agricultural and fish farming add to the flavor. A variety of plants and wildlife, including willow trees and otters, which had formerly followed the banks of the meandering river can no longer be found along its shores.

If you had told William F. Lynch that a rejuvenation program costing billions of American dollars would be required to restore an adequate flow to the Jordan River within a mere 150-years, it is a fair guess to say it’s unlikely he would have believed you.

EcoPeace, a non-governmental organization formerly known as the Friends of the Earth Middle East, sees the restoration of the Jordan River as a problem for all people of the region: especially Israelis, Jordanians and Palestinians. Not only is the degradation of the water supply harmful to the environment and the communities which rely on it, but it is wasting the huge financial potential of the valley which could improve the living standards of many.

The successful transformation of the river would lead to huge economic and environmental advantages, argues Gidon Bromberg, the organization’s director in Israel. He told The Media Line that EcoPeace believes that if its proposals were enacted, the number of tourists and pilgrims visiting the Jordan Valley would increase to as many as ten million each year –a tenfold increase that Bromberg called “a game changer” for the region’s economy.

EcoPeace has put together a series of policy proposals which it has termed the “Master Plan for Sustainable Development in the Jordan Valley.” A variety of measures ranging from pollution control, water resourcing and ecological management; to the development of tourism and cultural heritage sites make up the organization’s wish list, forecasted up to the year 2050.

The benefits would be felt in agriculture and industry as well as in the tourism and environmental sectors, Bromberg said, while explaining that changes in perception would need to be made. “It requires that we treat the river differently – as a livelihood source, as the healthy economic engine, instead of seeing the river as the sewage canal and as the dumping ground.”

“We feel that the Jordan Valley is part of the common cultural heritage of this region and it is being shared between three parties here: the Palestinians, the Jordanians and the Israelis,” Lars Faaborg-Andersen, the European Union’s ambassador to Israel, said, keen to show that the EU was a partner to the Master Plan.

The benefits of cooperation and of sustainable development when living in a well-populated compact area were clear to see, the ambassador said, suggesting that this is true in Europe and in the Jordan Valley as well. Bottom-up cooperation, as evidenced by EcoPeace’s past work, could lead to peace building, Faaborg-Andersen said, adding, “We hope that the (local) governments will take inspiration from this.”

Europe’s economic and political integration following the Second World War, and the decades of relative peace which have followed since are a model to follow according to Bromberg, who argued that just as steel and coal, the continent’s two most important resources, were were able to form ties in Europe, water and energy could do the same in the Jordan Valley.

Yet, inevitably, as with everything in the region, the discussion devolves into a political one. “Water is not a problem, it is not a zero sum game. Some people, especially in Israel, have a surplus of water,” Dr. Nader Al-Khateeb, EcoPeace’s director in the Palestinian Territories, told The Media Line. Politics, and not a shortage of water, was causing the pollution and lack of economic resourcing seen in the area, he charged. According to Al-Khateeb, it is for this reason that the NGO EcoPeace weighs in on politically-charged issues and debates and is “very clear about our political position, [supporting] a two state solution, within the international (consensus) on recognized 1967 borders.”

A stance on politics is not unnatural Bromberg said, “Our name is EcoPeace: ecological peace – we are an environmental organization at heart but we are also a peace organization.” In order to move forward on the environmental agenda, Bromberg argued, such issues have to be touched on and therefore EcoPeace advocates for a two-state solution.

“We don’t think that this is particularly radical – our Israeli Prime Minister says he’s in favor of a two-state solution,” Bromberg pointed out.

But he did acknowledge that EcoPeace is not without its detractors. Activists in the Palestinian Territories and in Jordan have received threatening phone calls and activities by the organizations have been disrupted by individuals aligned with the “anti-normalization campaign”[Editor’s Note: a movement in the Arab world opposing all efforts to “normalize” relations with the state of Israel or institutions located inside the Jewish state.] In Israel, EcoPeace has found itself labelled as traitorous.

Extremists on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are hostile to EcoPeace’s work, Bromberg said. Such individuals believe that any cooperation with the other side prior to a resolution of the conflict is an attempt to maintain the status quo or is collaboration against your own people, the Israeli Director said. “We think that has no analytical or practical basis what so ever,” Bromberg concluded.

A pro-Israel think tanks maintains that water has increasingly become a politicized weapon in the discussion of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and is being used as a tool to delegitimize the Jewish state. NGO Monitor, an organization which aims to expose anti-Israeli sentiment among many of the groups working in Israel, listed a number of NGOs it felt were using water as a political tool. EcoPeace was not among the list, reinforcing its assertion that “it focuses on the environment and not on the conflict.”

In the meantime, while the politics is debated, the Jordan continues to trickle by and thousands of pilgrims come to be baptized in its sickly beige water each year. If environmentalists are able to get their way, within a few decades the water such visitors bathe in might even be clean.

Four teachers among six Israeli-Arabs charged for promoting Islamic State

Israel's Shin Bet undercover internal security agency and police said on Monday they had arrested and charged six Arab citizens, including four school teachers, with supporting and spreading the ideology of Islamic State.

The six, residents of the Bedouin Negev desert town of Hura in southern Israel, were charged with various offences and three were alleged to have planned joining Islamic State militants in Syria, a statement from Shin Bet said.

“The investigation uncovered that the suspects met secretly to discuss and promote Islamic State's ideology,” Shin Bet said.

“The hard core among the activists are employed at schools in the Negev. Some took advantage of their position and attempted to plead the case for ISIS among pupils and teachers on school premises,” it added.

The six appeared at Beersheba District Court and the statement said five of the six admitted the charges. Lawyers for the accused were initially unavailable.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett said he had ordered the immediate dismissal of the teachers.

“Terrorists will not be teachers in Israel … I have ordered the director general of the Education Ministry to revoke the teaching licenses of all those involved and to sack them immediately,” Bennett said on Monday.

Arabs, the majority of them Muslim, make up around a fifth of Israel's population. While often sympathetic to the Palestinians and resentful of what they see as entrenched discrimination, they seldom resort to violence.

Israeli security officials say a few dozen Arab citizens have left to fight with Islamic State in Syria, usually traveling through Turkey or Jordan.

Last year, an Israeli-Arab who spent three months fighting with Islamic State in Syria before quitting the group and returning home, was sentenced to a 22 month jail term.

Israel approves extending fortified fence on its Jordan border

Israel's security cabinet has approved extending the fortified fence along its Egyptian border into a section of the frontier with neighboring Jordan, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday.

Jordan and Israel closely coordinate security for their 240 km (150 mile)-long border as well as for the strategic 95 km (60 mile )-long Jordan Valley within the West Bank, where Palestinians seek statehood.

But the Netanyahu government worries that African immigrants and armed jihadi infiltrators might try to reach Israel via Jordan after the Egyptian Sinai border was fenced off with a 5 meter (16 foot)-high razor-wire barrier in 2013.

That fence runs from the Gaza Strip to the southern Red Sea resort of Eilat. Briefing Israeli lawmakers, Netanyahu said his security cabinet on Sunday gave the green light for a new 30 km (18 mile) stretch of fence that will run northward from Eilat along a now often porous Jordanian border.

He said the fence would help protect an Israeli airport due to open next year at Timna, 19 km (12 miles) from Eilat, and which has been billed as a wartime alternative should Tel Aviv's Ben-Gurion airport come under rocket attack.

“This is an important matter. It is part of our national security,” Netanyahu said.

The fence, he said would go up in Israeli territory, “without in any way harming the sovereignty or national interests of the Hashemite kingdom of Jordan”.

Israel signed a peace treaty with Jordan in 1994 and one with Egypt in 1979.

The country has already built hi-tech fences in the north on the Lebanon border and along the Golan Heights boundary with Syria. Much of the West Bank is also divided by a network of fences, barriers and walls, while the Gaza Strip is closed off behind high fences and walls.

A fence along the Jordan frontier would leave Israel surrounded by a steel and concrete ring.

Egypt may import natural gas from Israel

Egypt might import natural gas from Israel, according to a senior Egyptian government official.

Egypt would import the natural gas, drilled in the Mediterranean Sea off of Israel’s coast, if its price is low enough, and if one of the drilling companies drops a legal action against the Egyptian government, according to the Wall Street Journal.

“We would approve the gas deal if it will meet domestic demand, offer high value for the Egyptian economy and if the international arbitration with one of the companies is resolved,” Egyptian Oil Minister Sherif Ismail told the Journal.

The legal action was brought by a joint Italian-Spanish gas venture, which has filed an international complaint against Egypt over breach of contract. The venture, Union Fenosa Gas, signed a 15-year contract last May to sell Egypt 2.5 billion cubic feet of gas from Israel’s offshore field. British energy company BG Group has also signed a 15-year contract to send 7 billion cubic feet of Israel’s gas to Egypt.

Jordan has also signed a $15 billion 15-year letter of intent to import Israeli natural gas.

At UCLA, the power of negative emotions

For several years now, a nasty anti-Israel group called Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) has bludgeoned Israel’s image on college campuses. They take no prisoners. They have little interest in polite and civil debate. They are lethal at manipulating the college bureaucracy to win Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) votes against Israel. They invite speakers linked to terrorists groups. They don’t even hide the fact that their beef with Israel goes much deeper than Israel’s disputed occupation of the West Bank.

It’s all of Israel they have a problem with.

When SJP talks about justice for Palestinians, they don’t mean justice for the millions of Palestinians living in misery in refugee camps in Jordan and Lebanon. They’re only interested in Palestinians that are connected to Israel– those living in the West Bank and Gaza—because only those Palestinians can accommodate SJP’s agenda to bash the Zionist enemy. Their contempt for Israel knows no bound. I challenge anyone to visit their Web sites, attend their demonstrations or read their literature and find one genuine gesture of recognition for Israel’s side of the story.

Meanwhile, if you’re a typical Jewish student on campus who hangs out at Hillel and loves Israel, you’re encouraged to be respectful in how you defend and support the Jewish state. You’re encouraged to stay civil, understand the other side, and recognize Israel’s faults. You’re encouraged to try to build bridges and find opportunities to engage in respectful debate.

The net result is an often pathetic spectacle of haters versus debaters. On one side you have a contemptuous group of hypocrites pretending to defend Palestinians while single-mindedly undermining the Jewish state, while on the other you have a group of disillusioned Jewish students dizzy and battered by an enemy that has no interest in civil debate.

It’s not a fair fight. One side embodies the unfettered release of negative emotions, while the other constantly tries to contain its own negative emotions. SJP is the human volcano spewing its vile anti-Israel lava on pro-Israel Jews who don’t know what hit them.

SJP is the human volcano spewing its vile anti-Israel lava on pro-Israel Jews who don’t know what hit them

This imbalance is so ingrained that when a pro-Israel group tries to spew lava of its own, the mainstream Jewish groups immediately disassociate themselves from the “radicals” and even apologize for them.

Last week’s poster brouhaha at UCLA is a perfect example of this phenomenon. David Horowitz’s Freedom Center decided to take the gloves off and launch a poster campaign accusing SJP of being a hate group. The posters showed images of terrorist acts from groups like Hamas that SJP rarely, if ever, condemns. By blowing up the word “Justice” in the headline “Students for Justice in Palestine,” the poster tried to convey hypocrisy, while including the accusatory hashtag #Jewhaters.

Now, you can argue that the posters went too far and were too graphic. Mainstream pro-Israel groups were strongly opposed and even offered to take them down. Personally, I would have added a couple of questions to the posters, such as: “Why won’t SJP condemn Hamas?” and “Why do they invite terrorists to speak?”

In any event, regardless of what you think of the posters, SJP got a dose of its own medicine.

How do we explain this explosion of negative emotion from the pro-Israel side? And does it have any redeeming value?

A fascinating essay by Mathew Hutson in this month’s Psychology Today, titled, “The Upside of Negative Emotions,” suggests that the pro-Israel camp shouldn’t be too hard on itself for the anti-SJP posters.

“We have the wrong idea about emotions,” Hutson writes. “They’re very rational; they’re means to help us achieve goals important to us, tools carved by eons of human experience that work beyond conscious awareness to direct us where we need to go.”

Even an emotion as explosive as anger can be productive. “Anger motivates an individual to take action,” writes Hutson. “Anger boosts confidence, optimism and risk-taking, necessary when the alternative is losing something important to you. Anger has reputational value, too: it signals to others that you have strength of resources and resolve. In fact, those who display anger are seen as higher in status, more competent, and more credible.”

I’m not suggesting that all pro-Israel students should start getting angry. What I’m suggesting is that when a pro-Israel group decides to display its anger, even if that display makes many people squirm, let’s give them a little space. They’re playing their own instrument, and who’s to say there’s no proper role for that instrument? After all, you can’t bring a ping-pong racket to a knife fight and hope to make any progress.

And while we're at it, here's a new instrument that is just begging to be played on college campuses and that would surely drive SJP nuts– a new organization called Students for Justice in the Middle East. This is an activist group that would fight for justice for all the oppressed peoples of the Middle East, not just those in the West Bank and Gaza. It would target dictators and oppressors who make Israel look like Cinderella. And it would drive SJP nuts because it would expand the debate beyond Israel.

How did I think of the idea? I got angry.

David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at

Israeli minister urges West to give more arms to Kurds, Jordan

Western states should provide more weapons to Jordan, Egypt, Kurdish forces and certain opposition forces in Syria, Israel's Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz said on the sidelines of the Munich Security conference on Friday.

Israeli officials had previously stopped short of making such explicit calls, citing concern that such groups would face added hostility by being publicly associated with Israel.

Kurdish regional forces are battling Islamic State militants on Syrian and Iraqi territory where IS has submitted whole towns to strict Islamic rule. Egypt is trying to defeat jihadists operating in the Sinai Peninsula, bordering Israel.

When asked what the Western-led alliance conducting air strikes against IS strongholds could do better, Steinitz said:

“More support with weapons and also financial support to more moderate groups, Islamic forces, like for example the Kurds, like the Free Syrian Army and like moderate Arab states, like Jordan, like Egypt.”

The Free Syrian Army is an array of mainly Western-backed armed opposition groups that have little or no central coordination in fighting President Bashar al-Assad in a civil war that began with peaceful anti-government protests in 2011.

Thousands rallied in Jordan on Friday three days after Islamic State released a video purporting to show a Jordanian fighter pilot being burned alive in a cage as masked militants in camouflage uniforms looked on.

Many Jordanians have opposed their country's involvement in U.S.-led air campaign against Islamic State, fearing retaliation. But the killing of the recently married pilot, who was from an influential Jordanian tribe, has increased support for the military push.

Yuval said he saw no immediate threat to Jordan's sovereignty from Islamic State: “If there will be such a threat, I believe the world and even if necessary Israel will interfere,” he said.

Jordan to send ambassador back to Israel as tensions ease

Jordan will return its ambassador to Israel, the government said on Monday, three months after withdrawing the envoy in protest at Israeli restrictions on access to Jerusalem's Al Aqsa mosque.

For the first time since making peace with its neighbor in 1994, Jordan announced in November it was pulling its envoy out ofIsrael following growing tensions over the sacred compound housing Al Aqsa mosque – the third holiest site in Islam.

Government spokesman Mohammad al–Momani said that since then, Israel had taken significant steps to ease the friction and was allowing many more Muslims to access the site, which is also the holiest place in Judaism.

“We noticed in the last period a significant improvement in Haram al-Sharif with numbers of worshippers reaching unprecedented levels,” Momani said. Haram al-Sharif, known in Judaism as Temple Mount, is where the mosque is located.

Israel welcomed the move.

“This is an important decision that reflects the shared interests ofIsrael and Jordan, chief among them being stability, security and peace,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said in a statement.

Israel shut the Al Aqsa compound for one day last November after a far-right Israeli-American activist, who had spoken out against a ban on Jews praying at the ancient compound, was shot and seriously wounded in Jerusalem.

Jordanian officials said the mosque complex was swiftly reopened after the personal intervention of King Abdullah, whose custodianship of the holy site was recognized in the 1994 peace treaty with Israel.

The compound, which also houses the Dome of the Rock, the gold-plated shrine from where the Prophet Mohammad is said to have ascended to heaven, is run by several hundred Jordanian government employees.

Momani said the ambassador would be returning to Israel later on Monday, adding that the government hoped the relative calm around the holy site would continue.

Jordan blamed Israel for the tensions, saying it had not moved to restrain Israeli far-right nationalists who sought to overturn the Jewish prayer ban.

“The message was delivered and reached the Israelis and on this basis we have asked our ambassador to go back to his work in the embassy this evening,” Momani said.

Jordan is one of only two Arab states to have made peace with Israel. But this has never won much domestic favor, given Israel's continued occupation of the neighboring West Bank.

Israeli scribes restore 200-year-old Iraqi scroll

Israeli scribes restored a 200-year old Iraqi Torah scroll that arrived in Israel under mysterious circumstances.

The Associated Press reported Thursday that the scroll, written in northern Iraq by two scribes using pomegranate ink, was delivered, water-damaged, to the Israeli embassy in Jordan in 2007, and was transferred to Israel in 2011 when riots were sweeping the Arab world.

Otherwise, its provenance is unclear, although The Associated Press quotes Foreign Ministry officials as saying that it now the property of the Jewish state.

The scroll was restored by a group of scribes in Jerusalem led by Akiva Garber, AP reported, and dedicated at a ceremony Thursday at the Foreign Ministry.

U.S. troops uncovered a trove of Iraqi Jewish relics in the Iraqi secret service headquarters in Baghdad in 2003, much of it waterlogged.

The U.S. National Archive restored much of what has become known as the Iraqi Jewish Archive, and it remains for the time being in the United States, although Iraq claims it as property.

Much of Iraq’s 2,500-year-old Jewish community emigrated to Israel after riots before and during Israel’s 1948 War of Independence. The remainder fled after persecutions led by Saddam Hussein in 1968 and 1969.


Oil spill floods into Israeli nature reserve

Millions of litres of crude oil have gushed out of a pipeline to flood 200 acres of a desert nature reserve in southern Israel, officials said on Thursday.

Israel Radio reported that the breach happened by accident during maintenance work on Wednesday night on the Eilat-Ashkelon pipeline, some 12 miles north of the Red Sea resort of Eilat.

Doron Nissim of Israel's Nature and Parks Authority said the black slick had run and pooled in ravines, but appeared to have spared the 4,250-acre Evrona reserve's rare deer and douma palms.

In the absence of heavy rainfall, there was little chance of the oil sluicing to Eilat and endangering Red Sea marine life, but there was “no doubt that insects and other crawling animals have been harmed,” he said.

Three people were taken to hospital after inhaling oil fumes, police said.

The leak was stopped before the torrent of oil could cross the nearby Jordanian border, Israel's Environment Ministry said. Civil defence officials in Amman said several Jordanians had gone to hospital as a precaution after smelling the fumes, but had not required treatment.

Environment Ministry official Guy Samet estimated the spillage at millions of litres, telling Israel Radio: “Rehabilitation will take months, if not years.”

Nissim said pools of oil would probably be drained with suction equipment, and contaminated earth might also be removed.

The main road leading to Eilat from central Israel was closed intermittently. The Environment Ministry advised the town to cancel a triathlon that was due to take athletes through the contaminated area.

Writing by Dan Williams and Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Kevin Liffey

Analysis: Why the Temple Mount is at the heart of Jerusalem strife

The murders of four rabbis on Nov. 18 during morning prayers at a Jerusalem synagogue — a police officer also died of his injuries — could throw a wrench into the results of the Nov.13 summit in Amman that brought together Secretary of State John Kerry, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Jordan’s King Abdullah to discuss arrangements for visitors and worshipers on the Temple Mount. The summit, as least in the immediate, resulted in an easing of Israeli restrictions on Muslim access to the Al-Aqsa mosque, permitting thousands of younger Palestinians to participate in Friday prayers at the Noble Sanctuary, or Haram Al-Sharif in Arabic, for the first time in months.

There is a long history of Jordanian oversight of the Temple Mount, and by allowing Muslim men under 50 to attend prayers at Al-Aqsa, Israel had hoped to reassure King Abdullah that there was no change in the status quo affirmed by the 1994 peace treaty between Israel and its eastern neighbor that Jordan, and not the Palestinians, is the legally binding administrative authority over the Temple Mount.

“I think that when King Abdullah of Jordan says he was happy with what he heard from Netanyahu, that is not only passed down as general news to the public but also gets conveyed as an instruction to the waqf [the Muslim religious endowment],” a Foreign Ministry official in Jerusalem told the Jewish Journal.

“To some extent, the waqf officials can turn on and off the clashes which have occurred there.”

However, soon after the news of the Jerusalem attack on Tuesday, Israel’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement linking the latest incidents to the Temple Mount strife: 

“Palestinian incitement is continuing despite the Nov. 13 talks in Jordan with Kerry, King Abdullah, Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas and Netanyahu. The parties were supposed to act to calm the situation in Jerusalem. Israel did; Abbas most certainly did not. While Israel acted to restore calm and reaffirmed its commitment to the status quo on the Temple Mount, the Palestinians incited to terrorism and carried out murders. Israel ended the temporary security restriction on younger Muslims praying on the Temple Mount on Nov. 14. The PA’s official media called for a ‘Day of Rage’ on Friday. Instead of calming the situation, Abbas exploited Sunday’s suicide to inflame it.”

Public tensions between Israel and Jordan have mounted since October, when Jordanian officials went public with their finding that Israel was restricting Haram Al-Sharif access for Muslims, even as religious Jews were increasing politically motivated visits to the Temple Mount. In a speech to his parliament, Abdullah equated “extremist Zionism “ to the Islamic State movement and called on “stakeholders to acknowledge there is extremism in all camps.”

Tensions between Jordan and Israel reached a crisis point on Oct. 30  after Israeli police ordered a complete closure of the Temple Mount, following the assassination attempt in Jerusalem of right-wing activist Yehuda Glick. 

Glick was shot minutes after concluding a seminar, “Return to the Temple Mount,” at the capital’s Menachem Begin Heritage Center.  Several members of Netanyahu’s governing coalition were in attendance. 

“I am always leaving my phone on, so that if they inform me that we have permission to build on the Temple Mount, I will leave immediately, so I really apologize in advance,” Glick told the seminar, as recorded in a video. In the shooting, Glick sustained multiple gunshot wounds and is recovering at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem; the pro-settler Arutz Sheva website reported Nov. 17 that he has been removed from the intensive care unit. The alleged shooter, 32-year-old Islamic Jihad member Moataz Hejazi, was killed after exchanging gunfire with Israeli police outside his home in the religiously mixed Abu Tor neighborhood in South Jerusalem. 

After the assassination attempt, Deputy Knesset Speaker Moshe Feiglin went to the Temple Mount, ignoring Netanyahu’s call for restraint and vowing to “change the reality” of a ban on Jewish prayer at the site. Feiglin’s previous attempts to enter the Dome of the Rock had resulted in a warning from the Jerusalem Police that the MKs actions could provoke Muslim rioting at the Haram Al-Sharif.

Feiglin, the leader of the ultranationalist Jewish Leadership caucus inside the Likud Party, has repeatedly slammed Netanyahu for “transferring the sovereignty on the Temple Mount to Jordan in practice” after the government failed to replace the Mughrabi Bridge used by non-Muslims to enter the Al-Aqsa compound from the Western Wall plaza. 

Jordanian concerns

Jordan’s royal family, the Hashemites, first became guardians of Al-Aqsa, the Dome of the Rock and other Jerusalem Islamic institutions in 1919, after the retreat of the Ottoman Turks. As a result, Wasfi Kailani, director of the Hashemite Fund for the Restoration of Al-Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock, said in an interview prior to last week’s summit, “Jordan is more provoked than any other party in the Muslim world because of his majesty’s custodianship of the mosque. 

“If something bad happens to the mosque, his majesty will be held responsible. Jordan is responsible for the site even more than the Palestinian Authority or any other Muslim nation,” said Kailani, who studied contemporary Jewish temple movements while attaining his doctorate in sociology and anthropology from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.   

Kailani believes Israel and Jordan have different understandings of what defines the religious status quo at the site. “For Jordan, status quo is the pre-occupation, pre-1967 status quo at Al-Aqsa. For Israel, status quo is something ongoing, something dynamic, and this is unacceptable to Jordan and the Muslims.”

Proposals to allocate Jewish ritual space and devotional time periods, similar to arrangements at the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron, pose ongoing concern to officials of the Jerusalem waqf, which reports directly to the Ministry of Awqaf and Religious Affairs in Jordan’s capital of Amman. 

“It’s clear that Israeli society has changed because of the extremist influence; they dominate the cabinet, and I think it is the most powerful group now in Israeli politics,” said Kailani, who worries that Temple Mount activists will escalate their demands from intermittent “prayer access” to an ongoing presence at the Haram Al-Sharif.

“[The temple movements] were encouraged to frankly speak of crazy ideas, such as altering the shape of the mosque, and there were many calls by ministers, by Knesset members, to change the status quo, to make a space and temporal division to this structure of the mosque, and these plans are now articulated in the media and are no longer in the closed circles of the Jewish denominations,” Kailani said.

“For Israel, I think it should be easy, more than for any time, to understand that it is better not to go too far in ideological goals of speeding up the messiah and God’s will on Earth because this is not different actually from the thinking of Da’ash [the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State movement],” Kailani added. 

ISIS and challenges to Muslim religious triumphalism

Mordechai Kedar of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University sees the rise of ISIS, not the temple movements, as the formative factor in Jordan’s urgent rhetoric about the status quo at the Haram Al-Sharif.

“The Hashemites today are under immense pressure because of [ISIS] in Iraq and Syria, which threatens the entire kingdom,” Kedar said.

“They are afraid that some Islamists in Jordan will use the issue of Jerusalem in order to incite against the Jordanian Hashemite kingdom, and they charge that the king does not do anything in order to save Jerusalem from the Zionists.”

Kedar notes that pro-ISIS demonstrators recently staged a protest in the town of Maa’n —  just 30 miles southeast of Petra — Jordan’s most significant tourist attraction. 

“People are demonstrating there without any cover on their faces, which means they are not afraid of the Mukhabarat” — the secret state intelligence service — said Kedar, who dismisses the significance of the Temple Mount movements. 

“I know Yehuda Glick — he’s one of a handful of lunatics who represent nobody but themselves,” Kedar said.

By contrast, Kedar claims PA President Mahmoud Abbas has engineered the unrest in Jerusalem, citing a condolence letter the Palestinian president sent to the would-be  Glilck assassin’s family.

A PA spokesman last week confirmed the text of the note, which reads in part, “[Your] son Mu’taz Ibrahim Khalil Hijazi will go to heaven as a martyr defending the rights of our people and its holy places.”

 “The Temple Mount activists are not violent,” Kedar said. “They are not going to kill anybody … unlike those thugs. They just work on the Jewish right to pray at the Temple Mount. Did Yehuda Glick attack somebody?”

Kedar said Muslims see Israel as a religious challenge to Islam, whose doctrine teaches it came into the world to replace both Judaism and Christianity. 

“This is why Jerusalem, as the pinnacle of Jewish revivalism, is something that hurts [Muslims] religiously, before anything connected to national, political, legal or territorial issues,” Kedar said.

Empowered messianic religious Zionism 

Mordechai Inbari, an Israeli expert on Jewish fundamentalism, sees attempts to assert worship rights on the Temple Mount as a risky trend powered by fear among settlers and their supporters that the Jewish state has embarked on a journey of territorial compromise that endangers their messianic vision. 

“Temple Mount activists are saying that since the State of Israel is leading the Jewish redemption astray by returning territory, signing peace accords, [being] willing to compromise, this would mean that their dreams would never be able to be fulfilled,” said Inbari, an assistant professor of religion at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke. 

“Therefore, action is required by the people who believe in this scenario, and they need to go straight to the Temple Mount and push to put the messianic project back on track. “

The Machon HaMikdash, or Temple Institute, focused on establishing the Third Temple, has completed reconstruction of all 93 sacred vessels required for halachically kosher resumption of the sacrificial rites in Jerusalem with a golden menorah displayed alongside one of the most the highly trafficked lanes in the Jewish Quarter. 

Inbari holds that the campaign led by Glick and others at organizations such as the Temple Institute have made inroads in the larger populace in Israel by shifting from messianic arguments to making a case for religious equality at the Temple Mount.

According to the Jerusalem pluralism group Ir Amim, Temple Mount movements have benefited from direct funding by the state, receiving support from the education and culture ministries, an average equivalent of $108,000 per year. 

Inbari believes Netanyahu is attempting to balance the value of a solid security and diplomatic relationship with Jordan against substantial pressures from the messianic Zionists and the religious West Bank settler communities. 

“When you consider that all the commentators believe that Israel is going to elections soon, Netanyahu needs to strengthen his base from the right,” Inbari said.

 “Maybe he allows things to happen that were not part of the plan, but now he needs Feiglin supporters in his own political party — so they are allowing things to take place.”

Inbari noted that advocates of a Third Temple recently posted a video on Facebook and YouTube that uses computer-generated graphics to illustrate a reconstructed shrine on the Temple Mount. 

The video then links to an Indiegogo crowd funding campaign that has generated more than $100,000 toward the construction of the temple, without directly saying that it is the messianic people who are running the campaign, Inbari said.

 “Since the activists for the Third Temple were able to convince more and more religious leaders of the legitimacy of their demand to go on the Temple Mount, to pray there, the next step will be to build a synagogue. That is the second stage of their plan.  And the third stage will be to build a temple,” Inbari said.

“You don’t see any mosques on the Mount” in the video — perhaps the most ominous aspect — he added. 

“The clip suggests that the temple replaces the mosques on the Mount. This can explain why Muslims are nervous.”

Israel, Palestinians agree to steps to calm Jerusalem tensions, Kerry says

Israel and the Palestinians have pledged to take concrete steps to calm tensions around Jerusalem's holiest site, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Thursday after talks in the Jordanian capital.

Violence has flared in recent weeks over the compound where their biblical temples once stood.

Clashes between Israeli police and Palestinians have raised fears they could trigger a new Palestinian uprising.

All parties had agreed to “specific and practical actions that both sides can take to restore calm,” said Kerry, declining to say what those actions were.

“Today, we are working to smother the sparks of immediate tension so that they don’t become a fire that is absolutely out of control,” Kerry added, flanked by Jordanian Foreign Minister Naser Judeh. Jordan has custody over the sites.

He spoke after an unusual, nearly three-hour meeting with Jordan's King Abdullah and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi joined in over the phone and promised to encourage resumption of collapsed Palestinian-Israeli talks, Kerry added.

Kerry met earlier in the day with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. But Abbas did not attend the three-way meeting with Netanyahu, a sign of deep distrust between Israel and the Palestinians.

Ultra-nationalists in Israel are challenging a decades-long ban on Jews praying at the Temple Mount. But Judeh said Netanyahu had showed “commitment” to maintaining the status quo at the site and respecting the Jordanian monarchy's custodianship of holy sites.

Judeh said Jordan would not return its ambassador to Tel Aviv, whom it recalled last week in protest against Israeli actions, until it saw concrete evidence of measures to defuse tensions.

“Israel has to remove all the elements of instability that we are seeing. We have to wait and see if this is done,” he said.

Earlier, Abdullah accused Israel of “repeated attacks” on holy sites in Jerusalem and said they must stop. Jordanian religious officials who administer the Muslim sites have said there has been an unprecedented number of raids by ultra nationalists inside the mosque this year. Netanyahu has accused Palestinians in the West Bank of fomenting violence.

Jordanian officials fear wider unrest in the West Bank could spill over into their own country, where a majority of the population are descendents of Palestinians who fled across the river Jordan following the creation of Israel in 1948.

Additional reporting by Dan Williams in Jerusalem, Editing by Angus MacSwan and Andrew Heavens

Jerusalem tension leaves Jordan more exposed to Mideast turmoil

As Jordan joins a military campaign against Islamic State militants in Syria, tensions in Jerusalem pose a potentially bigger risk to a nation only slightly scathed by the turmoil sweeping the Middle East.

The U.S. ally has been alarmed and angered by recent Israeli actions at the sacred al-Aqsa compound in Jerusalem, where tensions are raising the prospect of a new Palestinian uprising that would add to the crises at Jordan's borders and may even spill into the kingdom.

For Jordanian King Abdullah, a majority of whose 7 million subjects are Palestinian, a one-day closure of al-Aqsa last week amounted to a personal affront: his Hashemite dynasty derives part of its legitimacy from its custodianship of the holy site.

“One of the major things that angers the Jordanian state and people is the Israeli behaviour in Jerusalem. On the one hand we are trying to combat terrorism and extremism, and on the other hand we are confronted with this reckless behaviour,” said Mohammad Al-Momani, minister of state and government spokesman.

While Israel says it is sensitive to Jordan's views and blames extremists for stirring up trouble at the site, Amman is responding in unusually tough terms. It has even suggested the crisis could imperil the countries' 1994 peace treaty – an idea not heard from Amman during much bloodier Israeli-Palestinian flare-ups such as the July-August Gaza war.

This underlines just how seriously King Abdullah views a crisis that complicates his bid to keep his kingdom free from the type of turmoil that has toppled other Arab leaders and produced numerous civil wars in the region since 2011.

The timing could not be worse for Jordan, less than two months after it joined the air strikes on Syria that radical Islamists – including some in Jordan – are portraying as an attack on Islam rather than the Islamic State group.

Some Jordanians are not convinced by the logic of joining that U.S.-led war, fearing it could draw retaliation from Islamic militants in Jordan where – like elsewhere in the Muslim world – Islamic State is finding sympathisers and recruits.

The Jerusalem situation will provide King Abdullah's Islamist opponents, who range from jihadists to the mainstream Muslim Brotherhood, with new grounds to criticise the Western-backed leader unless he is seen to take a tough stance.

Jordan on Wednesday recalled its ambassador to Israel in protest, the first time it has done so since they made peace in 1994 though the post was also vacant for two periods since then.


Jordanian stewardship of the al-Aqsa compound was recognised in the 1994 peace treaty with Israel but dates back to 1924 when Palestinian leaders in Jerusalem granted custodianship to King Abdullah's great grandfather, Sharif Hussein.

The custodianship was reaffirmed in an agreement signed last year between the Palestinian Authority and King Abdullah. The area, which is also home to the Dome of the Rock, is known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as the Temple Mount.

A tinder-box for Israeli-Palestian conflict, it is the third holiest site in Islam and the holiest in Judaism. Several hundred Jordanian civil servants run the site. They allow Jews to visit, but not to pray there.

Israel closed the site last Thursday in response to the shooting of an Israeli-American far-right religious activist who has led a campaign for Jews to be allowed to pray there. It was reopened the next day after what Jordanian officials have described as a personal intervention by King Abdullah.

It was the first such closure at the site since 2000 – the year a visit to the site by the then Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon helped to ignite the second Palestinian Intifada.

King Abdullah has used unusually harsh language in recent criticism of Israel. He recently likened Islamic extremists to Zionist extremists.

In a speech this week, he said Jerusalem's soil was “watered by the blood and sacrifices of our martyrs” – a reference to Jordanian soldiers killed there fighting Israeli forces in the 1948 war that resulted in the establishment of Israel.

Jordan, which governed the West Bank including East Jerusalem from 1948 to 1967, would confront “through all available means, Israeli unilateral policies and measures in Jerusalem and preserve its Muslim and Christian holy sites”.

“He's very annoyed and worried … Jerusalem is everything,” said a diplomat in Amman. “You can't overstate how important it is. It's the last thing they need. There's enough going on in Syria and Iraq and Jordan is impacted by both,” he said.

“Whenever we have a big bout of extremism in the region then Jordan feels that wind blowing. That's cause for worry but not cause for thinking there will be short-term instability.”


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said the status quo of the al-Aqsa compound agreed with Jordan after the 1967 war will not be altered. But he is under pressure, even from within his own Likud Party. A far-right Likud member defied Netanyahu's calls for restraint by visiting the site on Sunday.

Netanyahu again assured King Abdullah in a phone call on Thursday that Israel did not intend to change the status, an Israeli statement said. The royal palace quoted King Abdullah as telling Netanyahu in the conversation he rejected any attempt to tamper with the “sanctity of Al Aqsa Mosque, or measures that would endanger it or change the existing status quo.”

Israel says it wants stability in Jordan and is sensitive to its position. “Our greatest fear nowadays is that someone is trying to create disturbances on the Temple Mount in order to ignite the region, in order to harm both Jordan and Israel,” Daniel Nevo, Israel's ambassador to Jordan told Israel Radio in an interview aired on Wednesday.

For Jordan, the spectre of another big flare-up of the conflict between Israel and Palestinians brings risks unlike those arising from the expansion of Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. Jordan has received waves of Palestinian refugees in the 1948 and 1967 Middle East wars, and restive Palestinian nationalism has been a source of concern for decades.

Add to that socioeconomic malaise – unemployment is running at 11.4 percent but unofficial figures put it at twice that level – and slow pace of political reform, and Jordan faces the same combustible mix that set off the Arab uprisings in 2011.

On a clear night, the lights of Jerusalem can be seen from the Amman outskirts, proximity that also sets the Israeli-Palestinian conflict apart from the wars in Syria and Iraq.

Some of Amman's poorer districts are actually Palestinian refugee camps that with time have become permanent residential areas, home to the descendents of Palestinians forced to flee by wars in 1948 and 1967. Jerusalem means much more to these Palestinian Jordanians than the war against Islamic State.

“In Syria, people are facing injustice and want to be free from injustice. But Palestine and Jerusalem are occupied and usurped land,” said Thaer Dawood, 46, an Amman shopkeeper whose family hail from a village near Ramallah in the West Bank.

“You don't quite know what is going to happen because you have a lot people from the West Bank here. Nobody here will consent to what is happening in Palestine,” he said, speaking at a coffee shop in a mostly Palestinian district of Amman.

Jordan managed to navigate the last two Palestinian uprisings without major instability.

“We are doing a good job in maintaining peace and security,” Momani, the minister, said. “More and more Jordanians are subscribing to the idea that stability and security is the oil of this country. That is why we protect it dearly.”

But combined with Jordan's internal challenges -unemployment, poverty and a lack of political inclusiveness – conflict in Jerusalem will only make it easier for groups like Islamic State to recruit.

“The public protests (over Jerusalem) will be strong, but the frustrations inside individuals will be much stronger,” said Taher al-Masry, a former Jordanian prime minister from a prominent Palestinian family.

“The danger from Daesh (Islamic State) is not from it coming over the borders, but from feelings or frustrations concerning the deteriorating economic conditions.”

Netanyahu, Abdullah met in Amman over Jerusalem violence

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Jordanian King Abdullah II reportedly met in Amman to discuss tension in Jerusalem and on the Temple Mount.

The secret meeting took place Saturday, the Kuwaiti Arabic-language daily Al-Jarida reported Monday, citing “well-informed sources.”

The leaders pledged to work together to ease the tensions in Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, according to the report, which also said that Netanyahu’s calls over the weekend for calm and the continuation of the status quo on the Temple Mount were a direct result of the meeting with Abdullah.

Neither Israel nor Jordan has confirmed or denied the report. The newspaper has been used in recent years as a way to leak information from the Prime Minister’s Office, Haaretz reported.

Abdullah has publicly criticized Israel in recent weeks over the treatment of Palestinians in Jerusalem and the West Bank, and has called for protecting Muslim holy sites in the city.

The king also told reporters over the weekend that “Jordan will continue to confront, through all available means, Israeli unilateral policies and measures in Jerusalem, and preserve its Muslim and Christian holy sites until peace is restored to the land of peace.”

Meanwhile, restrictions remained Monday on entrance to the Temple Mount, with men under the age of 40 being prevented from visiting.

Israeli lawmaker Shuli Moalem-Refaeli of the Jewish Home party visited the Temple Mount on Monday and said she was attacked by an Arab woman at the site who yelled at her and then shoved her.  The Muslim woman was arrested.

Several Arab women are seen in a video shouting “Allah Akbar,” or “God is great,” and being chased away from a group of tourists by police.



Amid regional turmoil, Israel looks to its firm bond with Jordan

If there were a heat map showing instability in the Middle East, the area around most of Israel's borders would have turned a steadily deeper shade of red over the past few years.

With attacks by Hezbollah from Lebanon, the threat from Islamic State and the Nusra Front in Syria and growing unrest in Egypt's Sinai, the north and south are on edge. By comparison, the eastern frontier with Jordan looks like an oasis of calm.

Yet the Hashemite kingdom, wedged between Iraq, Syria and Saudi Arabia as well as Israel and the West Bank, is tackling an array of destabilizing problems that its allies – in particular Israel – are watching warily.

Around 2,000 Jordanians have gone to join militant groups in Syria, one of the largest contingents of foreign fighters, with concerns that at least some will return home radicalized. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who sowed chaos in Iraq and inspired the emergence of Islamic State, came from Zarqa in northern Jordan.

As well as poor tribal communities, the kingdom is home to an estimated 3-4 million Palestinians, more than half its total population. Most have been registered as refugees for 65 years, share family ties with the 2.6 million Palestinians in the West Bank and yearn for a return to what was Palestine.

It has also taken in more than one million people displaced by the wars in Iraq and Syria, putting huge strain on resources and government finances, to the frustration of many Jordanians.

And the Muslim Brotherhood, which shares its Islamist ideology with Hamas, the dominant force in Gaza and a growing presence in the West Bank, is the largest political party in the kingdom, even if its popularity looks to have peaked.

No one is predicting serious trouble in Jordan, with its well-trained military, skilled intelligence agency, financial support from the United States and a Sunni Muslim monarch who balances internal security with a degree of political freedom.

But as the neighbors prepare to mark the 20th anniversary of their landmark peace agreement on Oct. 26, Israel is keener than ever to ensure Jordan's delicate situation is shored up and that the security each provides to the other is maintained.

“The concern is that if a change in the regime in Jordan takes place, then we have the longest border to Israel with Jordan and we may lose one of the two pillars of our Middle East strategy, which is peace with Jordan and Egypt,” said Amos Yadlin, director of the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv and a former head of Israeli military intelligence.

Yadlin sees only a slim chance – 10 to 15 percent – of Jordan becoming more hostile, and he still regards Iran's nuclear program as the greatest threat to Israel. But he sees a strong Jordan as critical to his country's security.

“The rules of the game are that we don't want to get into what we have seen in Iraq and what we are seeing in Syria or in Lebanon,” he said, referring to authoritarian policies that have fueled conflict there and how Jordan has been restrained.

“(The Jordanians) prefer to have a more moderate way of behavior to keep stability in Jordan.”


While Israel's peace with Egypt came first – in 1979 – the accord signed with Jordan in 1994 has delivered far deeper cooperation on intelligence and security and become a firm backbone for relations, analysts and officials say.

On the economic front, trade has picked up and Israel recently agreed to supply Jordan with natural gas in a deal estimated at $15 billion, although Jordanian businessmen say a lack of progress on peace between Israel and the Palestinians has held back commercial ties.

“Jordan wants its relationship with Israel, it just doesn't want to talk about its relationship with Israel,” is how one Israeli diplomat put it.

Jordanian officials were not immediately available for comment. They often express strident criticism of Israel, citing the high civilian death toll during the war against Hamas in Gaza as an example of action they say fuels the very extremism the Israeli government fears.

“If we as a Jordanian state in cooperation with an Arab and Islamic coalition are fighting extremism within Islam, and the Israelis are killing our people in Gaza and Jerusalem every five minutes, then this is a problem,” King Abdullah said on Monday.

Israel says it shares intelligence it gathers on militant activity in southern Syria with Jordan and that there is close monitoring of Islamist factions in both Jordan and the West Bank to ensure coordination and that neither side is surprised.

“It is a very important relationship for Israel,” said Nathan Thrall, a Middle East analyst with the International Crisis Group. “It's keeping Israel safe on its eastern border, there is very intense intelligence cooperation and Jordan has probably the best intelligence service in the region.”

A U.S. general has even proposed that Israel upgrade its anti-missile systems to include Jordan under its umbrella, while there are reports of Israel quietly transferring military equipment it no longer uses to its neighbor.

“There's a concern in Jordan that Islamist power in the West Bank, or Hamas coming to power in the West Bank, could have very negative repercussions in Jordan,” said Thrall.

“If you talk to Israeli defense officials, what they will say quite bluntly is that Jordan is acutely aware that its security is essentially guaranteed by Israel right now,” he said, referring to the threat from Palestinian militancy.

Speaking ahead of the anniversary of the peace accord, Israel's ambassador to Jordan, Daniel Nevo, indicated just how important strategic relations were while being coy about them.

“We share a long border, there is cooperation I will not speak about and with which I am not fully familiar, which I also do not want to know about,” he told Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper.

“Jordan is an Israeli interest and vice-versa, even if that is uncomfortable for some people.”


The strongest demonstration of Israel's willingness to come to Jordan's defense came in 1970, during what is known as Black September, when the Palestine Liberation Organisation in Jordan rose up against King Hussein and hundreds were killed.

Syria sent troops and tanks into Jordan in support of the Palestinians, at which point Israel made clear its readiness to defend the kingdom and together with the Jordanian air force swiftly repelled the advancing Syrian brigade.

The principles that guided Israel's actions 44 years ago are the same now, said Yadlin, the former intelligence chief.

But rather than an invading army or Islamic State trying to take over the country, the threat is more about the risk of internal destabilization caused by Islamist cells or agitation within the refugee population – in particular Palestinians in urban camps – that is then exacerbated by economic factors.

Israel also worries that if faltering peace talks were eventually to lead to the creation of an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, Jordan's vast Palestinian population might try to extend it.

Jordan, on the other hand, says an independent Palestine would be a force for stability and has repeatedly pressed Israel to grant Palestinian refugees in Jordan the right of return.

“Privately, Israeli officials will tell you that they are more worried about Jordan than anything,” said Thrall. “It's less of an assessment of impending doom and more of a comment on how essential Israel sees the survival of the Hashemite regime.”

The key to its survival in the long run may have as much to do with economics as defense and security. Jordan's budget is under strain, it imports virtually all its energy requirements and it is having to cope with a draining humanitarian crisis.

While Israel may have Jordan's back and it is a bulwark on Israel's flank, dollars may be its greatest need.

The United States already provides around $1 billion a year and a further $1 billion in loan guarantees is possible. Given the conflagration in the region, the pressure on its borders and the domestic situation, further help may be necessary.

“The main things Israel can do to help Jordan are to lobby for it to be bolstered financially by the United States and for the U.S. in turn to lobby various Arab states to help Jordan financially,” said Thrall, highlighting the threat of economic problems exacerbating the threat from the Syrian refugee crisis.

Israel’s Leviathan in talks on $15 billion gas supply deal to Jordan

Israel is in advanced negotiations to supply natural gas from its vast Leviathan field to Arab peace partner Jordan under a 15-year, $15 billion agreement, the Israeli government, gas operators and industry officials said on Wednesday.

The deal would involve the supply of 1.6 trillion cubic feet (tcf, 45 billion cubic metres) of gas over the course of the agreement to Jordan's National Electric Power Co., Texas-based Noble Energy, a partner in Leviathan, said.

While a memorandum of understanding has been signed between the parties, negotiations over the price, regulatory approval and other details are only expected to be finalised by the end of the year, officials said.

Officials in Jordan were not immediately available to comment.

“We now have over 60 percent of Leviathan's initial capacity and 80 percent of targeted initial sales volumes secured,” said Keith Elliott, Noble's senior vice president for the Eastern Mediterranean, underlining the field's viability.

It is the second international contract to be signed by Leviathan – jointly owned and operated by Noble and two units of Israeli energy group Delek – following a deal with BG last year, estimated to be worth $30 billion over 15 years. That deal will involve providing gas to an LNG plant in Egypt.

Under the Jordan deal, the gas would be transferred directly across the border between the two countries following the completion of a pipeline. While the price is still being negotiated, it is likely to be linked to Brent oil prices.

Leviathan, discovered in 2010 off Israel's Mediterranean coast, is the world's largest offshore gas find in the past decade and is expected to provide the country with greater energy independence. Tax revenue will also help Israel's budget.

Its reserves, expected to come online by 2018, are estimated at nearly 22 tcf – enough to meet Europe's gas needs for a year. Israel also has a smaller gas field called Tamar, which agreed to a supply deal with Jordan earlier this year.

After a lengthy and heated debate, the government last year decided to allow 40 percent of its natural gas reserves for export. It is using gas as an opportunity to improve relations with neighbours, including Jordan, with whom Israel signed a peace agreement in 1994.

It is also thought Israel could ultimately sell gas to Turkey, although ties between the two countries have been frosty over the last few years. Israel's only peace agreements in the Arab world are with Jordan and Egypt.


Jordan is hungry for gas amid numerous attacks on a pipeline in the Sinai peninsula that has halted supplies from Egypt.

In February, Tamar which is close to Leviathan and started production in 2013, signed a deal to sell at least $500 million of gas over 15 years to two Jordanian companies.

Tamar will supply 66 billion cubic feet to Arab Potash and its unit, Jordan Bromine – a joint venture with U.S. Albemarle – at their facilities near the Dead Sea.

Tamar, discovered in 2009 and also controlled by Noble and Delek, is estimated to hold more than 280 billion cubic metres of gas.

Leviathan in January signed a 20-year, $1.2 billion deal to supply gas to planned a Palestinian power plant once Leviathan starts production.

Noble's partners in Leviathan are two units of the Delek Group – Delek Drilling and Avner Oil – as well as Ratio Oil. Delek and Avner shares were up 2.7 percent at 1300 GMT.

Editing by David Evans

Where is Obama on Hamas?

I can understand why President Barack Obama would be reluctant to blindly support Israel at times when Israel’s neighbors have major grievances against the Jewish state. It serves no one’s interest for America to appear overly biased toward Israel. Better to appear fair and reasonable.

What I can’t understand, though, is why Obama has not jumped at the opportunity to rally behind Israel when neighbors such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority (PA) are clearly on the side of Israel on one major issue: the disarming of Hamas.

This is not a parlor game of “Who won the war?” It’s more serious than that.

Disarming Hamas is about the rehabilitation of Gaza after major devastation. It’s about rebuilding the infrastructure, building better schools and hospitals, opening up trade, creating jobs and an economy, and giving the Gazan people hope for a better future.

It’s about ending the terror of rockets and mortars raining down on Israel, and ending the fear of Israeli children living near the Gaza border that a Hamas terrorist may one day dig a tunnel under their bedrooms.

It’s about improving relations between Israel and the Palestinians by having the PA control the Gaza strip and coordinate security with the Israel Defense Forces — as they’ve done so successfully in the West Bank. No matter how suspicious you may be of Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah, they’re still far better than religious fanatics who believe that murdering Jews is doing God’s work. 

It’s about nurturing a closer relationship between Israel and powerful players such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia in the hope of creating an anti-terror coalition that can contain the violent Islamist extremism now sweeping the region.

It’s about showing the nuclear mullahs in Iran that we will stand up to their proxy wars against Israel via the likes of Hezbollah and Hamas.

It’s about America making a statement to the world that despite all the complexities of geopolitics, there should be no confusion when it comes to calling out evil. A Hamas charter that promotes the murder of Jews is exactly that — evil.

In short, this is about a unique chance for President Obama to fight the evil of Hamas by bringing together the more moderate forces in the Middle East. You would think, then, that the president would be all over this. You’d think, for example, that he’d be using all this “Arab leverage” to push for a United Nations Security Council resolution to disarm Hamas as a precondition for rebuilding the Gaza Strip. 

After all, this isn’t one of those risky or unpopular ideas — like putting American boots on the ground or being the lone defender of Israel against a hostile world. This is about Obama doing something very popular with plenty of important allies.

In fairness, the Obama administration has repeatedly expressed its support for the demilitarization of Gaza. But words, even the right words repeated often, are not enough. It’s time for real action. It’s time to go to the U.N. Security Council. 

We can only hope that the president has this idea up his sleeve, and that he will act aggressively on this issue. But it was disheartening to read a report on JPost this past weekend, in which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told associates that demilitarization of the Gaza Strip “doesn’t appear to be attainable in either the short term or the long term.”

Let’s acknowledge that the United Nations is never a picnic for Israel. As Haviv Rettig Gur writes in the Times of Israel, “The U.N. drafting process — much of it driven by Israel’s enemies … would see language and assertions added to the resolution that run counter to Israel’s interests.”

The only party that can ensure the move doesn’t backfire on Israel, he writes, is America: “Through its veto and its alliances, the U.S. would find it far easier than Israel to shepherd a disarmament resolution through the Security Council that Israel could stomach.”

At a time of unusual darkness in the Middle East, what a ray of sunshine this would be: The United States shepherds a U.N. resolution that fights extremism and helps its allies in the Middle East.

The American-Jewish community, including AIPAC and J Street, must seize the moment and rally behind this one unifying cause: “Disarm Hamas and rebuild Gaza.”

How often do we get a chance to promote a cause that is supported by both the Jews and the Palestinians?

David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at

Islamic State’s appeal presents Jordan with new test

He had a good job and a loving family, but it wasn't enough for a 25-year old Jordanian who abandoned his life of privilege in Amman to join the Islamic State group that has seized swathes of neighboring Iraq and Syria.

Handsome, courteous and highly regarded in his profession as a radiologist, the man, whose name has been withheld for security reasons, disappeared in early August after the Muslim Eid holiday. He did not tell his family where he was going.

He later called his parents from an undisclosed location to say he had “forsaken his life for the glory of Islam”, said a relative. “His father is heartbroken, and his mother is in hospital from shock,” he said.

He is among the first known cases of Jordanians joining Islamic State since the group declared a “caliphate” in June after dramatic territorial gains in Iraq and Syria.

His story points to the widening support for Islamic State among Jordanian Islamist fundamentalists inspired by its recent advances in countries that border Jordan to the east and north. With that support come new risks for a U.S. ally mostly unscathed by the Middle Eastern turmoil of recent years.

Jordan's powerful intelligence services appear to be deploying their full range of tools to counter the threat. King Abdullah has said the country has never been better prepared to face the radical threat sweeping the region.

Islamic State's gains have sparked a fierce debate among Jordanian Islamists from the ultra-orthodox Salafist movement on whether to back the group, whose brutality has been criticized even within radical Islamist circles.

But buoyed by territorial gains, Islamic State’s sympathizers appear to be winning the argument.

“Many youths have changed their distorted view of the Islamic State after they saw their actions on the ground, their achievements, and how the West has ganged up against it,” a well-known Jordanian militant told Reuters under the assumed name Ghareeb al-Akhwan al-Urduni.


Since the civil war erupted in neighboring Syria in 2011, hundreds of Jordanians have joined a Sunni Islamist-led insurgency against President Bashar Assad. More than 2,000 men, ranging from underprivileged youths to doctors and – in one case – an air force captain, have abandoned Jordan for jihad in Syria, according to Islamists close to the subject.

At least 250 of them have been killed there.

But the Islamic State's recent accomplishments are helping to galvanize support like never before among radical Islamists who dream of erasing borders across the Muslim world to establish a pan-Islamic nation.

It raises the prospect of yet more Jordanians crossing the border to fight, but also the risk of Islamic State sympathizers striking in Jordan itself – a country that has suffered Islamist militancy before, notably bomb attacks on Amman hotels by al Qaeda-linked militants during the U.S. occupation of Iraq.

The appearance of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self-declared “caliph”, calling for the support of Muslims in the pulpit of a mosque in the Iraqi city of Mosul last June acted like a magnet for young Jordanian Islamists.

“Their dream was setting up the caliphate, and now they see it being achieved. This made people consider very seriously joining, especially since the Islamic State had officially invited them,” said Bassam Nasser, a Jordanian Islamist scholar.

The roots of Islamic State can, in one sense, be traced to Jordan. It was Abu Musab al Zarqawi, a Jordanian, who founded the Iraqi arm of al Qaeda that would eventually mutate into Islamic State. Al Qaeda has now disavowed the group.

In the impoverished Jordanian town of Zarqa, Zarqawi's birthplace and a traditional stronghold of Islamist fundamentalists, support for Islamic State was on full display during Eid prayers that marked the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan in late July.

Scores of men dressed in the kind of Afghan-style clothing often worn by radical Islamists waved Islamic State's black flag as they gathered in an open field to listen to Jordanian Islamist Sheikh Amer Khalalyeh praise the group.

“Oh Baghdadi, you who has spread terror in the hearts of our enemies, enlist me as a martyr,” chanted the sheikh over a microphone. The footage was captured in a video posted on YouTube.


In the assessment of one senior regional security official, speaking on condition of anonymity, Jordan could be home to “hundreds if not thousands of potential sympathizers” who could turn into “potential sleeper cells and time bombs”.

The roots of radicalisation in Jordan mirror those commonly cited as its primary cause across the Middle East and include a lack of political liberty and economic opportunity.

King Abdullah, a steadfast U.S. ally who has safeguarded his country's peace treaty with Israel, is seeking to ease concerns in Jordan about the threat posed by Islamic State.

“I am satisfied with the preparations of the armed forces and security agencies. We had planned for surprises several months ago and we were ahead of others. I can assure you -politically, securitywise and militarily our position today is stronger than in the past,” he told politicians.

In an indirect reference to Islamic State, he warned Jordanians not to fall prey to outside parties seeking to exploit their grievances.

In recent weeks, the Jordanian intelligence services have tightened security around sensitive government areas, stepped up surveillance of Islamist fundamentalists and arrested activists seen as a threat, diplomats and officials say.

At least a dozen people have been arrested for expressing support for Islamic State on social media.

It is a new test for the Jordanian security services, which have been a major U.S. partner in fighting radical Islamists.

Jordan's approach to confronting the risk has set it apart from some other Arab states. Its dependence on sophisticated intelligence gathering rather than arbitrary arrests have been credited for sparing Jordan the kind of vendetta-fueled Islamist insurrections seen in states such as Egypt and Syria.

The authorities last month released a prominent Islamist scholar, an influential figure in militant circles, who is one of the leading Islamist opponents of Islamic State.

Sheikh Abu Mohammad al Maqdisi's release has added an influential voice to the debate, but also revealed divisions among Jordan's previously cohesive hardline Islamist community of ultra-orthodox Salafist Muslims.

Maqdisi has mocked Baghdadi's caliphate and expressed outrage at the brutality unleashed by Islamic State.

“It is giving our jihad a bloody texture that we cannot accept. These images of decapitations are painful. This is something we cannot accept, nor Allah (God). Mercy with the infidels dominated during the spread of Islam,” he said this month in an audio message.

That has triggered an avalanche of attacks by Islamic State supporters who have shown none of the deference usually reserved for senior scholars such as Maqdisi. They say he was released not because he had served out his five-year jail term, but with a specific remit to attack Islamic State.

The row has sparked verbal and physical conflict. Two radical Islamists who spoke out against Islamic State's decapitations and indiscriminate killings of Shi'ite Muslims were recently physically beaten by the group's supporters.

Islamic State's black flag was also raised in June by supporters in the historically volatile city of Maan, a tribal stronghold of over 50,000 people about 250 km (156 miles) south of the capital.

Here, crosscurrents of crime, smuggling and tribal disaffection are a combustible mix for the government, which is resented for neglecting the area's development. That has provided fertile ground for Islamist recruitment.

But Mohammad Shalabi, a militant Salafist from Maan who has encouraged Islamists to go to Syria to fight, said Jordan was not a target for Islamic State.

“The Islamic State … have no interest in targeting Jordan. When I have not consolidated my presence firmly enough in Iraq and Syria I cannot move to Jordan,” said Shalabi, also known as Abu Sayyaf. He spent 10 years in prison for militancy including a plot to attack U.S. troops in Jordan.

Shalabi, a respected figure by locals in the city who mediates with tribal chiefs in disputes with the authorities, said his followers had no interest in destabilizing Jordan, unless the government provoked them. “If we felt, God forbid, that injustice is going to befall us or that the circle of injustice is expanding, we will not sit with our hands tied.”

Editing by Tom Perry and Will Waterman

Arab rifts may complicate search for Gaza truce

The push for a Gaza ceasefire risks becoming mired in a regional tussle for influence between conservative Arab states and Islamist-friendly governments, with rival powers competing to take credit for a truce, analysts and some officials say.

The main protagonists are Arab heavyweight Egypt and the tiny Gulf state of Qatar, on opposite sides of a regional standoff over Hamas, the Islamist group that controls the Gaza Strip, and its ideological patron the Muslim Brotherhood.

Both camps suggest the other is motivated as much by a desire to polish diplomatic prestige and crush political adversaries as by the humanitarian goal of protecting Palestinian lives from the Israeli military.

“Gaza has turned very suddenly into the theater in which this new alignment within the Arab world is being expressed,” said UK-based analyst Ghanem Nusseibeh.

“Gaza is the first test for these new alliances, and this has affected the possibility of reaching a ceasefire there.”

He was referring to Qatar, Turkey, Sudan and non-Arab Iran, the main members of a loose grouping of states which believe Islamists represent the future of Middle East politics.

That camp stands in increasingly overt competition with a conservative, pro-Western group led by Egypt, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, most of whom are intent on crushing the Brotherhood and see it as a threat.

That cleavage is now apparent in the diplomacy over Gaza.


Qatar bankrolled the elected Muslim Brotherhood government of Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi, who was overthrown by the military a year ago. Saudi Arabia and the UAE have since poured in money to support strongman Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who led the takeover and has since been elected president after outlawing and suppressing the Brotherhood.

Under his rule, Egypt has tightened its stranglehold on the southern end of the Gaza Strip, closing tunnels to try to block supplies of weapons and prevent militants crossing.

Egyptian officials suspect Qatar encouraged Hamas to reject a ceasefire plan Cairo put forward last week to try to end an Israeli assault that has now killed more than 500 Palestinians as well as 18 Israeli soldiers and two Israeli civilians.

Palestinian officials said the proposal contained little more than Israeli and U.S. terms for a truce. Hamas has its own demands for stopping rocket fire into Israel, including the release of prisoners and the lifting of an economic blockade.

With Egypt's initiative sidelined, all eyes turned to Doha, where visiting Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Monday met Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, who lives in the Qatari capital, a senior Qatari source told Reuters.

An official in Cairo said the Gaza battle “is part of a regional conflict between Qatar, Egypt and Turkey.

“Hamas … ran to Qatar, which Egypt hates most, to ask it for intervention, and at the end we are sure Hamas will eventually settle with an agreement that is so similar to a proposal that Egypt had offered, but with Doha's signature.”

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, due in Cairo late on Monday, is likely to have to mediate between Egypt and Qatar in a bid to end the fighting in Gaza.

“The dilemma is now to get Egypt and Qatar to agree. It is obvious that Hamas had delegated Qatar to be its spokesman in the talks,” said an Egyptian diplomat. “Kerry is here to try to mediate between Qatar and Egypt to agree on a deal that Hamas would approve.”

Another foreign ministry source said: “Egypt will be asked by Kerry to add in Hamas' conditions and then Kerry will go to Qatar and ask it to ask Hamas to approve the amended deal.”

For reasons of history and geography, Egypt has always seen itself as the most effective mediator in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in neighboring Gaza.

But critics say Egypt's strongly anti-Islamist government is trying to pressure Hamas into accepting a truce offering few concessions for the group. Its aim, they say, is to weaken the movement and allied Islamist forces in Egypt.

Hamas leaders said they were not consulted on the Egyptian move, and it did not address their demands.

With peace efforts delicately poised, Gaza now appears to be a test of strength in a regional struggle for power.


Emirati political scientist Abdulkhaleq Abdulla said Gaza mediation had seen “a lot of political interference”.

“Qatar was unhappy with the Egyptian ceasefire (plan). They are very uncomfortable that it came from Egypt. The Qataris are trying to undermine Egypt politically, and the victim is the ceasefire that Egypt has proposed.

“The terms of the problem is — who will present the ceasefire? Who will win the first political match between those two new camps within the Arab world?” Abdulla said.

At the root of the rift are opposing attitudes to the Muslim Brotherhood, which helped sweep Hosni Mubarak from power in Egypt in 2011 only to be ousted itself last year.

Its ideology challenges the principle of conservative dynastic rule long dominant in the Gulf: Some of its leading members are based in Qatar and broadcast their views via the country's media, angering other Gulf Arab states

Qatar is accused of using its alliance with Hamas to elbow its way into efforts to mediate between the movement and Israel.

Critics suspect Qatar wants to repair an international image clouded by months of allegations of poor labor rights, alleged corruption over the 2022 World Cup and political tensions with its Gulf Arab neighbors.

But Western governments see Qatar, maverick though it be, as a potentially significant regional mediator because of its links to Islamist movements in Egypt, Syria and elsewhere.

Qatar denies any ulterior motive and notes that Washington has openly asked it to talk to Hamas. Foreign Minister Khaled al-Attiyah said on Sunday Qatar’s role was just to facilitate communication.


A source familiar with the matter said Qatar will not press Hamas to change or reduce its demands.

In Saudi Arabia, where suspicion of Hamas is particularly strong, as an ally of the Brotherhood and of Iran, Riyadh's main regional adversaries, newspapers have abandoned a tradition of blaming Israel alone to also attack the Palestinian group.

“The Hamas leadership, from Egyptian blood to Palestinian blood,” was the headline of an opinion article by Fadi Ibrahim al-Dhahabi in the daily al-Jazeera newspaper on Sunday.

He argued that Hamas was stoking the war in Gaza not for the sake of Palestinian liberation, but as part of a wider Muslim Brotherhood campaign against Egypt's government and to win favour with Iran.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, part of a recently formed national unity government intended to overcome rivalry between Hamas and the more secular Fatah nationalist movement, told Reuters he had seen no tug-of-war among Arab states.

“This is not the case. There is no competition between Arab countries, they all want to stop the bloodshed,” he said.

“All Arab countries want to bring an end to this fountain of blood in Gaza, Turkey, Qatar and Egypt are all in agreement. And the leaders of these country's have put their differences aside and all agree that the bloodshed needs to stop”.

Israel ready to help Jordan fend off Iraq insurgents if asked

Israel is ready to meet any Jordanian request to help fight off Islamist insurgents who have overrun part of neighboring Iraq, an Israeli official said on Friday, although he believed Jordan was capable of defending itself.

Jordan is one of two Arab countries – along with Egypt – to have full peace treaties with Israel and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday praised Amman's stability while echoing Western powers in pledging support to safeguard it.

Asked to elaborate on the statement, Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz said potential Israeli assistance could include sending troops or arms, though he saw that as unlikely.

“We have an interest in ensuring that Jordan does not fall to, or be penetrated by, groups like al Qaeda or Hamas or ISIS,” he told Reuters.

“If, God forbid, there is a need, if such a request comes, if there is an emergency situation, then of course Israel will extend all help required. “Israel will not allow groups like ISIS to take over Jordan.”

ISIS, or ISIL as it also known, are radical Sunni Islamist insurgents who have seized much of northern and western Iraq, which has borders with Syria and Jordan.

Steinitz drew a comparison with Israel's willingness to intervene during 1970 border skirmishes between Syria and Jordan as Amman cracked down on Palestinian guerrillas on its turf.

“Israel said it would take action against the Syrian tank brigades that invaded Jordan, but what happened is exactly what I assess would happen now, too – the Jordanian army managed on its own to to halt the Syrian advance and destroy dozens of Syrian tanks and the Syrian army withdrew.”

Today's Jordanian military similarly did not require help, Steinitz said, “as they are sufficiently professional and determined”.

Following in Egypt's footsteps, the Hashemite kingdom made peace with Israel in 1994. But the countries had maintained discreet security ties since the early 1970s, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said in a Feb. 19 speech in Jerusalem.

Jordan's embassy in Israel declined comment on possible security coordination with the Netanyahu government.

Truck by truck, Israel builds trade gateway to Arab world

The hydraulic ramp of a Turkish freighter taps down on the eastern Mediterranean port of Haifa and, under a full moon, 37 trucks roll off onto an otherwise empty pier.

In a convoy that stretches hundreds of meters, the trucks travel east across northern Israel, bringing goods from Europe to customers in Jordan and beyond.

Until three years ago the cargo these trucks carry – fruits, cheese, raw material for the textile industry, spare parts, and second-hand trucks – would have come through Syria. But civil war has made that journey too perilous.

“Too much problems, too much guns, too much fighting,” said Ismail Hamad, a 58-year-old Romanian driver. Hamad has driven through Syria for three decades, he said; now, only Israel.

Three years after Syria plunged into violence, Israel is reaping an unlikely economic benefit. The number of trucks crossing between Israel and Jordan has jumped some 300 percent since 2011, to 10,589 trucks a year, according to the Israel Airports Authority. In particular, exports from Turkey – food, steel, machinery and medicine – have begun to flow through Israel and across the Sheikh Hussein Bridge to Jordan and a few Arab neighbors. Turkey’s Directorate General of Merchant Marine, part of that country’s transport ministry, said that transit containers shipped to Israel for passage on to other countries increased to 77,337 tonnes in 2013 from 17,882 tonnes in 2010.

The trade, though still small, is growing enough to encourage long-held Israeli hopes that the Jewish state can become a commercial gateway to the Arab world. Israel plans to invest at least 6 billion shekels ($1.7 billion) in infrastructure over the next six years to improve the trade route. In the past, some Israeli businessmen and diplomats have lamented the way politics have hurt economic opportunities; others have kept any trade with their Arab neighbors quiet so as not to upset them. Now they see a chance to boost economic and political relations.

“Israel is returning to its historic role, as a transit country, as a bridge between continents, where historic trade routes passed through,” said Yael Ravia-Zadok, head of the Middle Eastern Economic Affairs Bureau in Israel’s Foreign Ministry. She leads a group of Israeli government and security officials trying to figure out how best to encourage trade.

The logic is simple: Goods from Europe and elsewhere destined for the wider Middle East are usually unloaded in Egypt before they make the several-hour drive to a Red Sea port, where they are loaded onto new vessels and shipped to their final destination. The routes from Haifa in Israel to Jordan, Iraq and even Saudi Arabia – used by the Ottoman and British empires up until Israel’s founding – are potentially much quicker and cheaper, shaving days, if not more, off a trip between Turkey and Baghdad, for instance. Costs could be cut in half.

But opening up routes will not be easy. Politics and generations of enmity are difficult to overcome. Iraq itself is on the brink of civil war. Jordanian trade figures show a sharp rise in trans-shipments through Israel in 2012, but a fall in 2013. Jordanian officials say that Israel is overstating its role in the trade and point out that the vast bulk of re-directed goods still goes via Egypt.

But Israel’s gain, small though it may be, is far more surprising because countries such as Saudi Arabia and Iraq spurn official relations with Israel.

“A lot of secrecy still surrounds the topic and it is probably premature to speak of a blossoming and fast-growing trade route,” said Coline Schep, Middle East analyst with consultancy Control Risks. She nevertheless described the traffic through the Haifa-Jordan River Crossing trade corridor over the past two years as “almost unprecedented.”


David Behrisch, managing partner at Tiran Shipping, an Israeli shipping agency, says business sprang to life in 2011 when organizers of the Jordan Rally found they couldn’t bring race cars in from Italy through Syria.

“Somehow we put our hands on (them),” he says. “We handled 37 trucks we had to move to Jordan and then back.” Behrisch would not go into details. “Somehow, somebody connected us. You know how things happen.”

As the number of motor vehicles crossing from Turkey into Syria plummeted – by close to 50 percent, from 106,750 in 2010 to 55,701 in 2013, according to Turkey's International Transporters Association – most of the trade was diverted to Egypt. But thanks to a new Turkish route by sea to Haifa, some shipments also began crossing through Israel.

“The reason this Haifa route has opened is entirely due to the war in Syria,” said an official at the Turkish company U.N. Ro-Ro that runs the new line.

Tiran Shipping now runs 40-50 trucks a week to Jordan and moves 2,500 containers, or roughly 37,000 tonnes.

Though the amount Tiran carries is only a tiny sliver of the $35.6 billion worth of goods Turkey exported to the region in 2013, it is up from zero a few years ago.

Israel has “not even begun to scratch at the potential,” the Foreign Ministry’s Ravia-Zadok told a recent economic conference.


Plenty of political and practical obstacles remain.

The port in Haifa is state-owned and has limited capacity, a history of labor unrest and cumbersome security.

Freighters in Haifa bay are typically forced to wait hours to dock. Trucks and containers have to pass through Israel’s lengthy security checks and scanners. The drivers, carrying international permits, meet passport agents onboard. Only after that can they take to the roads.

An hour later the freight reaches the Sheikh Hussein Bridge and passes into Jordan. Normally, Jordanian law requires containers to be unloaded in the country's Red Sea port of Aqaba, but that doesn’t apply to those passing through Jordan in transit or those that are stripped and moved onto Jordanian trucks at the border.

According to numerous international businessmen who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity, goods continue from there into Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

Documentation often shows the origin of goods but not their transit route, so the receiving authorities either don't know about or ignore Israel’s role, according to Shlomi Fogel, owner of the Haifa-based Israel Shipyards. One example: steel from Ukraine, which is shipped to Iraq through Israel with Ukrainian documentation.

Return cargoes from the Arab world into Israel are inspected with even greater scrutiny. This is perhaps the weakest link in the trade route. Merchants say they could easily sell more from the Arab world through Israel were it not for Israel’s security procedures. Only 90 or so trucks from Jordan can cross the Sheikh Hussein Bridge each day and they routinely wait all day while Israeli officials check their contents.

Fogel is working to ease that strain. He wants to expand a free trade zone called the Jordan Gateway, which sits 6 km (4 miles) south of the Sheikh Hussein Bridge and straddles the Israel-Jordan border.

One afternoon a few months ago, he stood on a hilltop above a rundown Jordanian army barracks and gazed at the 300 acre (121 hectare) park. The sluggish Jordan River that marks the border snaked through the green valley below.

“Up here we will build a cafe and people from around the world will come and do business,” he said.

Working with the family of late international financier Bruce Rappaport in Switzerland and with the wealthy Dajani and Kawar families in Jordan, Fogel wants to create a customs-free zone, where cargo can be dropped off or picked up from either side 24-hours a day, companies can build factories, and everything, including security, is managed privately. Already it is one of five such zones in the country from which goods manufactured in collaboration with Israel can be sold to the United States without tariff or quota restrictions.

Seven factories are up and running on the Jordanian side of the zone, an increase from just four factories at the start of this year, the park's Jordanian general manager Qasem al-Tbaishi said. The planned industrial park will bring a boost to Jordanians nearby who depend on farming and are much poorer than the Israelis across the river.

Israel has given approval and budgeted 60 million shekels ($17 million) to build a bridge directly into the trade zone. The gateway group hopes Jordan will approve the plan within months.

Israel's Zoko Enterprises moved its car filter plant to the Jordanian side of the zone three years ago to save on labor costs and gain access to Arab markets. Gilad Hadassi, general manager at Zoko's Israeli subsidiary Gur Filter, says companies from countries like Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which don't have diplomatic relationships with Israel, are willing to buy from a Jordanian company.

“Customers from all over the world, a lot of customers from Iraq and other Middle East countries at exhibitions come to our booths to talk business. They don’t care about politics.”


Israel plans to build two $1 billion ports to be run by foreign operators – one in Haifa, the other 80 km (50 miles) south in Ashdod. The new Haifa port will have a capacity for 1.5 million containers a year, roughly doubling current levels.

A railway from Haifa to Beit Shean, not far from the Jordan border, will be completed this year, and a final leg is being planned, so that by 2017 a steady flow of containers could travel by train all the way to the border.

“We can be an alternative for an individual producer, but for the big picture we won't replace the Suez Canal, which is something huge,” said the CEO of the Jordan Gateway, Yuval Yacobi.

The most ambitious plan is a $400 million, 400-megawatt power station run on Israeli natural gas to generate electricity for both countries. Spearheading that proposal is Shimon Shapira, a former military secretary to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who together with Fogel has been meeting Jordanian officials. “Jordan today suffers from blackouts and has a big shortage of electricity,” Shapira said. “They are paying about 12 cents per kilowatt, and we will be able to provide it to them for a lot less.”

The developers hope for approval from Amman this year. The project would take up to five years to build. Some analysts remain skeptical that Jordan will agree to use Israeli gas. But in February the partners in Israel's huge Tamar field signed a 15-year deal with two Amman-based companies to supply $500 million worth of gas.