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Overview of Israel-Jordan Cooperation

by Mitchell Bard

 King Abdullah meets with Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz on January 5, 2022 (Photo courtesy of Royal Court)

Bilateral Cooperation Grows
Temple Mount Tensions
The Embassy Incident
Tension with Abdullah
Tourism & Trade
Relations Thaw


The peace treaty between Jordan and Israel, signed at the Aqaba-Eilat border crossing (October 1994), was preceded by a meeting of King Hussein and Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in Washington three months earlier when the two leaders proclaimed an end to the state of war between their countries.

Although de facto at war with each other for 46 years, Israel and Jordan had maintained secret contacts and concluded mutually beneficial agreements throughout that entire period. The 1991 Madrid Conference led to public bilateral talks, culminating in a formal treaty (1994) in which both countries have undertaken to refrain from acts of belligerency, to ensure that no threats of violence to the other will originate within their territory, to endeavor to prevent terrorism and act together to achieve security and cooperation in the Middle East by replacing military preparedness with confidence-building measures. Other provisions include agreed allocations from existing water resources, freedom of passage for nationals of both countries, efforts to alleviate the refugee problem, and cooperation in the development of the Jordan Rift Valley. The international boundary delineated in the treaty has replaced the 1949 cease-fire lines and is delimited with reference to the British Mandate boundary (1922-48).

With the ratification of the peace treaty, full diplomatic relations were established, and since then, the relationship between Israel and Jordan has been moving forward steadily.

The basis for the implementation of the Israel-Jordan peace treaty was established with the signing and ratification of 15 bilateral agreements in economic, scientific, and cultural spheres. These treaties are to serve as the foundation of peaceful relations between Israel and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. The most significant expression of peaceful relations is QIZ. (Qualifying Industrial Zones) which enables Jordan, via cooperation with Israel, to export to the U.S. quota-free and tariff-free commodities worth some $200 million. Israel is also cooperating with Jordan in two agricultural projects and in public health.

King Abdullah II, who succeeded his father in March 1999, visited Israel in April 2000. Following the outbreak of Palestinian violence (September 2000) in the territories, relations with Jordan cooled and Jordan recalled its ambassador.

In June 2003, King Abdullah II hosted a summit in Aqaba with President Bush, Prime Minister Sharon, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. In April 2004, King Abdullah II visited Prime Minister Sharon at his residence in the Negev.

Bilateral Cooperation Grows

A joint Israeli-Jordanian exercise to practice responding to pollution in the Red Sea was staged on November 22, 2004, in the Eilat-Aqaba Bay. Israel sent 14 ships, members of the water-pollution unit in Eilat, and workers of the Environment Ministry to participate.

In 2005, bilateral cooperation increased as officials met to discuss a variety of issues, including cooperation in fighting the spread of bird flu. Jordanian exports to Israel grew, and Jordan’s ambassador returned to Israel after a five-year absence to protest Israel’s policies in the territories.

American-based Noble Energy inked a deal with Jordanian National Electric Power Company (NEPCO) in late 2014 to supply Jordan with $15 billion in gas from Israeli oil fields over a 15-year period. Noble Energy owns 39% of the Israeli Leviathan oil field, located off the coast of Israel in the Mediterranean Sea about 80 miles west of Haifa. Jordan will receive the gas through a terminal that will be opened in mid-2015. Jordanian officials are skeptical about relying on foreign sources for so much of their oil needs; according to the chair of the Jordanian Senate Energy Committee, “Jordan should focus on local resources. We should never be dependent on external resources”.

Senior Israeli, Jordanian, and Palestinian representatives signed a $900 million water-sharing agreement in the form of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on December 9, 2013, that was heralded as a milestone of cooperation between all parties involved. The agreement was made official at The World Bank Headquarters and was signed by H.E. Minister Silvan Shalom for Israel, H.E. Minister Hazim El-Naser for Jordan, and H.E. Minister Shaddad Attilifor for the Palestinian Authority. Within the MoU are three major regional water-sharing initiatives that will support the management of scarce water resources in the region and contribute to the development and discovery of new water resources. The agreement includes plans for the construction of a pipeline connecting the Red Sea and the Dead Sea and an 80 million cubic meter seawater desalination plant in Aqaba on the Red Sea to provide water that will be shared between the three represented entities. Israel will buy half of this desalinated water at cost, to be shared with the Palestinians, and the rest will be sent to Jordan. The Red Sea and the Dead Sea will be linked by a pipeline, and water from the Red Sea will be pumped into the Dead Sea because the Dead Sea has been found to be receding at a rate of one meter per year. The agreement also provides for increased sales of water to Jordan from Israel’s Like Tiberias and the Sea of Galilee, beyond the amount specified in the 1994 peace agreement. All parties involved finalized the agreement on February 26, 2015, and in March 2016, it was announced that the pipeline should begin operating in 2017.

Temple Mount Tensions

Following tense weeks of riots in Jerusalem surrounding access to the Temple Mount and the al-Aqsa Mosque, on November 1, 2014, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met in secret with Jordanian King Abdullah II in Jordan’s capital city of Amman. During the meeting, Netanyahu and King Abdullah discussed security at the Temple Mount and the al-Aqsa Mosque: members of the Jordanian Waqf Authority are stationed at the al-Aqsa Mosque and help provide security. The purpose of this meeting was to coordinate security measures at the holy site between the Jordanian Waqf Authority and the IDF. A few days after the meeting, Prime Minister Netanyahu called King Abdullah and assured him that the Jordanian special status at the Temple Mount would not change due to recent developments. Both leaders called for an immediate cessation of late 2014’s violence surrounding access to the Temple Mount. Following this meeting, US Secretary of State John Kerry met with the two leaders in Jordan and stated that everyone involved was interested in de-escalating the situation.

In response to violence at the Temple Mount, Jordan recalled their ambassador from Israel on November 5, 2014, for the first time since Jordan and Israel established diplomatic relations in 1994. The streets of Jordan filled with protestors on November 6 and 7, calling for the government to scrap its peace deal with the Israelis in light of the recent tensions surrounding the al-Aqsa Mosque. Sheikh Hamam, the leader of the government opposition Muslim Brotherhood party, called for the destruction of the Israeli embassy in Jordan “along with everyone in it”. Three months later, in early February 2015, Jordanian officials announced that they would be sending their ambassador back to Israel due to calmed tensions surrounding access to the Temple Mount.

The Islamic State brutally murdered captured Jordanian Pilot Moaz al-Kasasbeh by burning him alive in a cage in January 2015 and released the video footage of the killing in February. Jordan responded with swift justice in the form of air strikes and other displays of their military capabilities, and Israeli officials used the opportunity to forge closer ties with Jordan. The day after the release of the execution video, Prime Minister Netanyahu called Jordanian King Abdullah and expressed his sincere condolences, calling al-Kasabeh’s killing “barbaric cruelty.”

Israel gifted Jordan a fleet of U.S.-supplied Cobra combat helicopters in July 2015 in a sale that was approved and facilitated by the United States. Israeli security officials confirmed that Jordan would receive approximately 16 of the helicopters, primarily to provide border security. These helicopters have been added to Jordan’s fleet of 25 Cobra helicopters currently in service.

In September 2015, Israel announced plans to construct a fence along the Israel-Jordan border, to combat the flow of refugees fleeing Syria and other neighboring countries. Netanyahu stated during a press conference that, “we have seen today what happens when countries lose control of their borders.”

The Israel-Jordan Committee for Security and Transportation met on October 27, 2015, to discuss the beginnings of the “Jordan Gate” project. The project will be a joint industrial zone encompassing factories on the Jordanian side and a logistical and shipping complex on the Israeli side, approximately six kilometers from the Jordan River crossing. In addition to deepening economic collaboration between Israel and Jordan, this project is going to create thousands of job opportunities for residents.

One hundred and seventy-two Jordanians began work in Eilat hotels in November 2015, strengthening economic and tourism ties between the two countries. A cooperation agreement reached between Israel and Jordan in June 2014, after three years of negotiations with 10 Israeli ministries, provided for the hiring of up to 1,500 Jordanians in the Israeli tourism industry who will then return to their homes across the border following their shifts. Five hundred Jordanian workers were crossing the border to work in Eilat hotels by mid-December 2015, and by mid-2016, it is expected that up to 1,300 Jordanians will be employed in the Israeli tourism industry. These workers trek two hours to and from work each day, but higher pay and benefits in Israel compared to Jordan make it worthwhile. It was announced on April 6, 2015, that Israeli authorities would allow an additional 500 Jordanians to cross the border daily and work at Israeli hotels in Eilat.

Pilots from the Royal Jordanian Air Force participated in training with the Israeli Air Force during a “working visit” to Israel in December 2015. The trip was not publicized by either country, and news of the collaboration was only released following the conclusion of the visit. A Jordanian pilot was discharged from the Air Force after he reportedly did not wish to participate in the training and raised a commotion about working with Israelis.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin spoke at Jordan’s 2016 Independence Day Reception, praising the close relations the countries and their leaders have had over the recent years. Rivlin stated that “Jordan has long been a unique example of a strong state, and a moderate state... Israel is proud to be Jordan’s partner and to stand at Jordan’s side, in promoting stability and quiet to our entire region. Over the last year, your kingdom has played a critical role in dealing with the violence in Jerusalem which is holy to all of us. The special role that Jordan carries in Jerusalem will remain strong as it is today, and the state of Israel is fully committed to ensuring this status will not change.”

Work began in late July 2016 on a 30 km. section of the security fence on the Israeli-Jordanian border, stretching from Eilat to the Samar sand dunes. At an estimated cost of $300 million NIS, the project includes roads, observation towers, military operations bunkers, and a special security system for the Ilan Ramon Airport near Timna.

A group of Jordanian Generals secretively visited Israel in September 2016, with the trip being announced only after its conclusion. The delegation of 12 Jordanian Generals met with Israeli military experts and attended a conference at the Netanya Academic College on natural resource preservation.

On the same day that the General’s secret trip was announced, the Jordan Electric Power Company finalized negotiations for Israel’s Leviathan consortium to supply it with $10 billion in natural gas until 2031. Under this deal, Israel will become Jordan’s largest gas supplier, providing the Kingdom with an estimated 45 million cubic meters of gas from the Leviathan field.

Israel began covertly supplying natural gas to Jordanian state-owned companies Arab Potash and Jordan Bromine in January 2017. The natural gas is technically being sold to Jordan through a third-party American company, NBL: Eastern Mediterranean Marketing.

The Embassy Incident

On July 23, 2017, a 17-year-old Palestinian worker named Mohammed al-Juwaida arrived at the Jordanian apartment of an off-duty Israeli Embassy security guard to install the furniture. Al-Juwaida stabbed the security guard in the back with a screwdriver during the furniture installation, and then the victim shot and killed the attacker with his service weapon. The owner of the apartment was injured by stray gunfire and succumbed to his wounds later in a hospital. Immediately following the altercation, the Israeli security guard made his way to the Embassy where he worked and reported the situation. Jordanian security forces were deployed to the area, and all Israeli diplomats were ordered to arrive at the embassy compound to prepare for an urgent evacuation back to Israel.

Less than 12 hours after the incident, all Israeli diplomatic personnel were ready and preparing to head back to their home country, but Jordanian officials did not agree to let them leave until they interrogated the security guard who shot the alleged attacker. The Israelis refused, arguing that the guard was an accredited diplomat, exempt from interrogation and detention under the Vienna Convention. After many back-and-forth calls between Israeli and Jordanian officials without making progress, the evacuation was called off. The diplomats were allowed to return to Israel the following day after Israel agreed to remove controversial metal detectors at the Temple Mount that were opposed by Jordan. The Israeli Embassy in Jordan was closed until further notice.

Six months after the Embassy incident, on January 19, 2018, the Israeli Embassy in Jordan reopened and resumed full activity.

Jordanian, Palestinian, and Israeli emergency service workers participated in a series of joint disaster response drills in Southern Israel in October 2017.

In 2019, a research center opened in Bern, Switzerland, that will be staffed by scientists in a variety of fields, including oceanography, biology, genetics, ecology, and geology, from all the countries bordering the Red Sea. The center will study the effects of climate change, agriculture, urbanization, illegal fishing, and industrial waste on Red Sea corals. This cooperation between Israel, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan is unprecedented.

Tension with Abdullah

In March 2021, a diplomatic crisis occurred when Jordanian Crown Prince Hussein bin Abdullah, the king’s son, canceled a planned visit to the Temple Mount because Israel would not allow him to be accompanied by armed security guards. Haaretz reported the Shin Bet agreed to a compromise but objected to the prince’s plan to visit some churches in the city.

The next day, Jordan refused to allow Prime Minister Netanyahu to fly through its airspace on his first planned official visit to the UAE since signing the Abraham Accords. Netanyahu wanted to ban Jordanian flights through Israeli airspace in retaliation, but the order was rescinded.

Israel regularly transfers water to Jordan it pumps out of the Jordan River as agreed to in the peace treaty. Periodically, Jordan has requested additional water as it did in early 2021. After holding up approval due to the dustup over the aborted visit of the Crown Prince, Netanyahu agreed to the request in April, but it was left for Israel’s new government to fulfill. In July 2021, new Prime Minister Naftali Bennett met secretly with Abdullah and approved the sale of 50 million cubic meters of water to Jordan, to be followed by another 50 million in 2022, in an effort to improve relations with Amman.

Israel supplies Jordan with about 55 million cubic meters of water annually as part of the peace agreement; however, Jordan’s water requirements increased significantly after the influx of about three million refugees from Iraq and Syria. In October 2021, Israel reached an agreement to nearly double the volume of water it sells to Jordan. The new deal increased the amount to 100 million cubic meters, fulfilling 20% of Jordan’s needs.

Israel’s Minister of Infrastructures, Water and Energy Resources Karine Elharrar said that signing the agreement to increase the amount of water is an unequivocal statement that we want good neighborly relations. I am full of hope that this is the first bud in cooperation between Israel and the Kingdom of Jordan that will benefit both people in coping with current challenges.

Tourism & Trade

Since 2009 Israel has seen a dramatic increase in the number and percentage of tourists visiting from Arab countries, signaling a warming of relations between Israel and the moderate Arab world despite the looming possibility of a nuclear Iran. Over 250,000 individuals have come to visit Israel since 2009 from Arab and majority Muslim countries, including 81,000 individuals from Jordan. Other Arab countries that contributed to this increased tourism in Israel are Indonesia (124,000 tourists), Malaysia (23,483), Saudi Arabia (38), The United Arab Emirates (168), and Qatar and Oman (147).

Israel and Jordan have formed a mutually beneficial relationship following 1994’s formal treaty between the two countries. The total trade in 2013 between Israel and Jordan amounted to $366 million, which shows that the relationship is going strong 20 years after the initial treaty.

On October 15, 2020, the Civil Aviation Authority of Israel and its Jordanian counterpart agreed to allow flights originating in several Arab countries to use Israeli airspace and flights from Israel to overfly Jordan en route to and from Europe, the U.S., and other destinations. New routes include flights departing from Iraq, Qatar, Bahrain, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia. The agreement will significantly shorten the length of flights from Israel to the Gulf and East Asia. This will reduce fuel costs and pollution.

The president of the Jordanian Red Crescent, Mohammed Al-Hadid, who personally paved the way for the admission of Magen David Adom to the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement in 2006, said he sent a group of Jordanian students to Israel for training. “IMDA trained them and trained them well,” he said. “Now many of them are working in our center and were instrumental in the covid crisis.”

Relations Thaw

On November 22, 2021, Israel and Jordan signed their largest-ever cooperation agreement with the help of the United Arab Emirates and the facilitation of U.S. climate envoy John Kerry. The agreement will involve the construction of a solar power plant in Jordan by a UAE company. Israel will purchase 600 megawatts of electricity from the plant for a new Israeli desalination plant that will send 200 million cubic meters of Mediterranean water to Jordan.

“The agreement will help address Jordan’s pressing need for water while sending more electricity to Israel in a manner consistent with regional climate change concerns,” noted Ghaith al-Omari and Simon Henderson. They added, “the new trilateral agreement may highlight how Arab parties to the Abraham Accords can facilitate numerous areas of cooperation in Israeli-Jordanian (and Israeli-Egyptian) relations.”

“The benefit of this agreement is not only in the form of green electricity or desalinated water, but also the strengthening of relations with the neighbor that has the longest border with Israel,” Energy Minister Karine Elharrar said.

The thawing of relations was exemplified when the king hosted a senior Israeli official – Defense Minister Benny Gantz – for the first time in four years. “I thank His Majesty for keeping the stability in the region and the improvement of the relations between Israel and Jordan since the new government was formed in Israel,” Gantz said. The king reportedly emphasized the need to maintain calm in the disputed territories and to take steps toward achieving a two-state solution.

On March 10, 2022, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid met King Abdullah II in Amman. After the meeting, Lapid said, “We agreed that we should work together, especially in the run-up to Ramadan and Passover, and worry about the tense security situation in Jerusalem.”

According to the Jordanian press, the king made the usual boilerplate references to the importance of a peace agreement based on a two-state solution.

Following Lapid’s visit, Gantz again met with King Abdullah on March 29 to discuss security challenges in the region. Gantz also hoped the king could help ease tensions ahead of Passover, Ramadan, and Easter, all of which coincide this year. Israel wants to avoid a repetition of 2021’s outbreak of violence in Jerusalem during Ramadan that led to the war in Gaza.

The following day, Israeli President Isaac Herzog arrived in Amman for the first public and official visit by an Israeli president to Jordan. The upcoming holidays were discussed as well as ways to expand bilateral relations.

“We share common values of prosperity and peace, based on our peace agreement, which was carved out by the late King Hussein, your legendary father, as well as by the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin,” said Herzog.

Israeli Prime Minister Lapid met with King Abdullah in July 2022 and “discussed U.S. President Joe Biden’s recent visit to Israel and the region, as well as the possibilities and opportunities the visit brought in its wake including the regional architecture.” The two leaders discussed joint ventures in desalination, energy, food security, transportation, and tourism.

In November 2022, Israel and Jordan signed a declaration of intent at the UN climate conference to conserve and protect the Jordan River. They plan to reduce river pollution by building wastewater treatment facilities and upgrading sewer systems to prevent riverside cities from dumping raw sewage into the waters. They also agreed to promote sustainable agriculture, controlling runoff from farm fields and reducing the use of pesticides. 

“Cleaning up the pollutants and hazards, restoring water flow, and strengthening the natural ecosystems will help us prepare and adapt to the climate crisis,” said Minister of Environmental Protection Tamar Zandberg.

In 2023, smuggling from Jordan became a more serious issue. Amir Bohhot reported: “Sources in the security system pointed out that in the past year, the Israel-Jordan border has become a weak point in everything related to the smuggling of weapons and ammunition from the territory of the Hashemite Kingdom to Palestinian arms dealers in Judea and Samaria. The operational challenge has become complex because of the large sums of money that Hamas invests in the matter and, on the other hand, the fact that there is no indicative fence in the border area.

In April 2023, a Jordanian legislator Imad Al-Adwan was arrested with bags full of more than 200 guns. The Shin Bet said  Al-Adwan carried out 12 separate smuggling attempts since early 2022, using his diplomatic passport. Al-Adwan was sent back to Jordan, where he faced smuggling charges.

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