More than Half-Way but Not Full Friends: Israel and Jordan


ephraim_sneh.jpgThis morning I received an email from former Israel Labor Party Deputy Leader and former Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh. It started “To my Muslim friends – Ramadan Karim”.
Sneh maintains a friends mailing list for his thoughts and articles, and I’m honored to be included — and appreciate very much that in a time that the United States is twisting itself in moral knots over the false debate about a mosque near the World Trade Center site in New York that Sneh — a leading Jewish Israeli statesman — is reaching out to his Muslim friends.
He sets a better example of intellectual and cultural openness than many US political leaders (with a blind spot or two).
Although some of Sneh’s views are divergent from my own, particularly on Iran — which he thinks is an irrational nation to its core bent on the annihilation of Israel, I always read him and take him seriously. He was one of those whose comments recently appeared in Jeffrey Goldberg’s important Atlantic Monthly article “The Point of No Return.” (My response to Goldberg appears here.)
But it is not about Iran that Sneh writes today; it is about “Israel and Jordan.” (unfortunately the link to the article is not yet up on the Haaretz website. I will post as soon as available.)
After remarking about how Israeli concerns about a dangerous “Eastern Front” buffering Jordan and Israel had been transformed to one of quite and stability, Sneh writes:

In the sixteen years that have passed since that ceremony in the Arava valley, Jordan has carefully ensured that its border with Israel remains quiet and safe. The efforts of the Jordanian army and Jordanian intelligence have prevented terrorist penetrations from the eastern side of the border. The effort is impressive and so are its results. We have never publicly expressed our thanks to the Kingdom of Jordan; I hope that by other channels we did so.
Of late, official spokesmen are again mentioning the “Eastern Front”. It’s not as though we are short of security worries; on the other hand, this is not an entirely groundless concern. The military vacuum that will be formed after the exit of most of the US forces from Iraq, and the growing Iranian hold and influence on Iraq, give a certain justification for these fears, though the threat is neither tangible nor immediate.
Yet those who are truly worried–and the statements I have mentioned come from sources inside the government–have work to do. The thing most needed now, even without summoning up the “Eastern Front” from our strategic memories, is to strengthen Jordan, militarily and politically.

This is enlightened thinking from a former senior Israeli politician. Sneh calls for Israel to remove its opposition to Jordan developing its uranium resources for civilian use and also suggests that Israel support Jordan’s efforts to refurbish an oil pipeline from Mosul to Haifa, moving Iraqi oil through Jordan to the Mediterranean. In what was news to me, the US is also allegedly helping to finance and construct a security wall between Jordan and Syria — which Sneh thinks should be extended to the border between Jordan and Iraq.
And Sneh concludes:

And finally a point of morality. It would be best if for once we did not act ungratefully toward one of our few allies in the Middle East.

I want to commend Ephraim Sneh for his tone — and to tell those who have given up thinking and listening in the US for bluster and screaming — that there is something important when an Israeli leader can reach out and Americans, particularly Republican leaders at the moment — but I’ll add Senator Harry Reid to the mix — can’t manage a similarly enlightened posture.
The one missing hole in Sneh’s article is that while he recognizes that Israel can do a lot to change the temperature in Jordan, the biggest help would come in doing more to resolve the Israel-Palestine standoff and to pull the plug on the ongoing expansion, military protection, and tax subsidization of illegal settlements in occupied territories.
I know that Sneh is actually a strong proponent of a two state outcome resulting in a secure Israel and viable, contiguous Palestinian state. But this is not something to leave out of the equation when it comes to helping Jordan achieve greater security and normalcy.
Until the toxic Palestinian situation is resolved, Jordan and Israel may be better than half-way friends but can’t ever be full friends.
— Steve Clemons


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