JERUSALEM (Aug. 14)
The Persian Gulf crisis, which erupted with an invasion hundreds of miles from Israel’s borders, now looms threateningly close, just across the narrow Jordan River.
It threatens the status of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, which, though technically at war with Israel, has for years provided it with a strategic buffer and barrier against terrorist infiltration from the east.
King Hussein, reportedly despondent and disillusioned with the West, is one of the few Arab leaders who has refused to join the American-led crusade to punish Iraqi President Saddam Hussein for his Aug. 2 invasion of Kuwait.
The Jordanian monarch, who is no relation to the Iraqi leader, was en route to the United to the Iraqi leader, was en route to the United States to discuss the Gulf crisis Thursday with President Bush.
But until now, Jordan has refused to cooperate with the embargo and unofficial blockade of Iraq launched by the Western nations in cooperation with most of the other Arab League states.
The consequences are unpredictable and understandably make Israel nervous. Its friendly enemy in Amman has aligned himself with one of Israel’s most dangerous, implacable foes.
Warned by the United States to keep a low profile while Washington tries to rally Arab support for its actions against Iraq, Israel seemed content to stand behind its “red line,” watch events unfold and possibly take advantage of the diplomatic and public relations opportunities accruing from the spectacle of Arab fighting Arab in the Middle East.
Israel’s “red line,” announced to a supportive Knesset by Defense Minister Moshe Arens, was in Jordan. Should Iraqi forces step on Jordanian soil by invitation or aggression, Israel would regard it as an act of war and react accordingly, Arens said.
A WARNING ON USE OF TERRITORY
The director general of the Prime Minister’s Office, Yossi Ben-Aharon, added a vague but ominous warning Tuesday that the use of Jordanian territory by Iraq for “any military purposes is something that we cannot acquiesce in.”
Arens, for his part, noting that King Hussein has made mistakes in the past, expressed hope he would not repeat them in the present situation.
His mistake in 1967 was to ignore Israel’s warning to stay out of its war with Egypt and Syria. It cost Jordan the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Now Hussein’s very throne could be in jeopardy, Arens said. “In times of tension like this, dangers of instability are created in many countries,” the Israeli defense minister observed.
“I suppose there are some destabilizing factors in Jordan, as well,” he said. “I hope Hussein will be able to overcome them.”
Arens’ hope is undoubtedly genuine, though there are some right-wing Israelis who would like nothing better than to see Jordan become a Palestinian state.
Periodically over his long rein there have been times of anxiety in Israel over the stability of the Hashemite regime, a creation of the British colonial era, and the staying power of its ruler.
Hussein is now the longest-surviving chief of state in the world, due in no small measure to Israel.
Israel forestalled a Palestine Liberation Organization coup in Amman and a Syrian invasion of Jordan by threatening military intervention during the “Black September” of 1970.
Israel has seen fit to prop up the Jordanian monarch, not just out of strategic considerations. Hussein until now has enjoyed the sympathy of the U.S. government and public opinion. His wife is American.
He is also held in high regard in Britain.
KING IS ‘WALKING A TIGHTROPE’
Despite their technical state of belligerency, Israel and Jordan have found ways to establish permanent and efficient communications and to manage peaceably the myriad problems that arise along their lengthy border.
Jordan has taken great care since 1970 to tightly seal its frontier against Palestinian terrorists seeking to infiltrate Israel.
Occasionally, a few get through, with bloody consequences. But mostly the Israel Defense Force has had the active cooperation of the Jordanian army in keeping the border closed to marauders.
Jordan benefits from this tacit relationship by the free flow of goods and people across the Allenby Bridge, enabling Jordan to maintain its ties with the West Bank and Gaza Strip and to serve as a link between the administered territories and the Arab world outside.
That relationship is threatened now by the repercussions of the Gulf crisis. Although King Hussein has said he had no intention of allowing the Iraqis or anyone else to enter his territory, he is “walking a tightrope” according to Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy.
Levy, who only recently praised the king for his sagacity and responsibility, chastised him this week for “support of the Iraqi aggression.”