The Current Tension in Israel-Jordan Relations:
Strategic Implications and Policy Recommendations

Dr. Michael Milshtein
January, 2023
Photo: Kobi Gideon - GPO

In recent weeks, worrying indications from Jordan have been accumulating, requiring special attention by Israeli decisionmakers. At present, there is a combination between internal turmoil within the Hashemite Kingdom due to longstanding fundamental issues, and renewed tension in the relations between the two countries due, primarily, to Jordan’s concern over steps that the new Israeli government might take in the context of Temple Mount.

Although the internal disquiet is ebbing, and the local regime is not on the brink of collapse, the accumulation of recent events is relatively irregular in its severity, attesting to the kingdom’s chronic instability, and serving as an indication of the strategic implications that could follow should the Hashemite crown be destabilized, let alone toppled, for the international community, Arab world and Israel.

The internal turmoil began about a month ago following the rise in fuel prices, leading to a broad wave of public protest that has turned into grave riots in some regions, particularly in Transjordanian Bedouin communities that have traditionally been avid supporters of the monarchy. Tension peaked several weeks ago when deputy police chief of Ma'an province (a colonel by rank) was killed. Following the fatal shooting, the Jordanian security forces raided the building in which the suspected killer lived, who was allegedly a member of an extreme Islamist cell, and, during the raid, 3 security officials were killed, and 8 suspects arrested for affiliation with the same terror cell.

Jordan has already experienced several acute waves of protest in recent years. The most prominent among them was the teachers’ strike approximately three years ago that disrupted life in the Hashemite Kingdom for several months, and was accompanied by heated demonstrations. King Abdullah was able to resolve such crises using a combination of symbolic political measures (primarily dissolving governments and appointing new ones in their stead), rallying the public around him by presenting shared threats to the collective fabric of life, and obtaining external aid that provided a temporary, limited solution for the difficult problems with which the Jordanian economy is grappling, namely a high unemployment rate and exaggerated bureaucracy, alongside the younger generation's growing frustration as they struggle to develop a promising future for themselves. Meanwhile, great uncertainty is hovering in the background with regard to public sympathy toward the monarchy, as it has been the subject of many rumors involving corruption.

The economic public protest is taking place against the backdrop of tension with Israel, as many in Jordan express their concern over the new government’s actions. The apprehension is twofold, combining fear of a change in status quo on Temple Mount that will project on the ambiance on the streets of Jordan (in light of the monarchy’s special status in the compound), and could cause the riots against the regime to escalate, with fretfulness over the possibility, which is currently only voiced by few in Jordan, that the new Israeli government will attempt to revive past ideas of turning the Hashemite Kingdom into a solution to the Palestinian problem, after these seemed to have all but vanished following the signing of the Israel-Jordan peace accords in 1994.

In this context, King Abdullah stated in an interview given in late December 2022 that Jerusalem and Temple Mount were “a red line” for Jordan. The Hashemite Kingdom also strongly condemned the National Security Minister’s visit to Temple Mount (3 January), which it called “a provocation and violation of the status quo”, summoning the Israeli ambassador in Amman for a reprimand. The visit was later condemned by Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, and the UAE, who is a member of the UN Security Council, and has requested that it convene to discuss the matter of Temple Mount.

The disquiet in Jordan signals the severe strategic implications that a destabilization of its regime could have for the region in general, and Israel in particular. The most immediate threat is extreme Islamist organizations rearing their ugly heads and “thriving” in the event that governing vacuums be formed on Jordanian soil. One extreme scenario is threats being formed that are based on Iranian influence, operating from Syrian soil, and being aided by Hizballah. As part of such a scenario, the relatively quiet border between Israel and Jordan could evolve into a “hot front” and penetrable expanse through which weapons will be smuggled on a large scale to the West Bank (a phenomenon that already poses a grave security threat to Israel).

The worrying indications coming from Jordan should underscore Jordan’s strategic importance to Israel: Both as a buffer for state and non-state security threats that could try to crash Israel’s gates, and as a member of a regional coalition designed to curb Iran’s clout in the area.

The Jordanian regime often poses a political challenge to Israel, expressing defiance and vehemently voicing its criticism against it (for instance, in the harsh statements made by senior Jordanian government officials in Amman against Israel during the escalation that developed during Ramadhan around Temple Mount). However, it is important to remember that the alternatives to the current order in the Hashemite Kingdom could be far worse.

The current state of affairs in Jordan, and the growing sensitivity in its relations with Israel, form yet another “bubbling cauldron” that the new government must recognize, understanding the implications of it bursting, and preempting it by formulating a cautious and wise policy in this regard.

The Hashemite Kingdom is in a volatile and combustible situation, similar to that of the West Bank, and in both cases, Netanyahu’s government would do well – at least in the foreseeable future – to continue with the current policy, instead of embracing a revolutionary approach, that could lead to rapid, dramatic change in Israel’s map of strategic threats, and, most of all, pile obstacles in its path as it focuses on the most important national challenge – Iran.


Concretely, decisionmakers are advised to take the following actions:

  1. Look into the possibility of arranging a conversation or even a meeting in the near future between Prime Minister Netanyahu and the king of Jordan.
  2. Maintain the close relations between the two countries on both security and civil levels.
  3. Avoid “exchanges of blows in the media”, particularly threats to limit economic ties or the provision of water to Jordan, let alone announcements interpreted as challenging the kingdom’s very existence.
  4. Try to help Jordan garner external financial support, primarily from the West and Arab world.
  5. and above all – formulate a cautious policy on Temple Mount, at the heart of which is maintaining the state of affairs that preceded the new government’s entry into office with regard to Jews visiting the compound, and avoiding broadening its scope or taking any steps that could be interpreted as a division of time and space. It is important to note that tension in the context of Temple Mount would not only cast a shadow on Israel’s relations with Jordan, but could also negatively project on the situation in Gaza and the Israeli Arab public, going as far as jeopardizing relations with other countries in the region, primarily those involved in the Abraham Initiatives.