Israel, Jordan discreetly foster ties amid chaos

Updated 22 June 2015

Israel, Jordan discreetly foster ties amid chaos

AMMAN: A new Jordanian think tank that focuses on Israel is tucked away on the seventh floor of a glass-fronted Amman office building, without a sign announcing the presence of the Center for Israel Studies.
It’s the sort of discretion still customary in Jordan when it comes to anything concerning Israel. Broad segments of Jordanian society, where a majority have Palestinian roots, oppose “normalization” with Israel even 21 years after the two countries signed a peace deal.
Yet ties have grown stronger between the governments since the regional rise of militancy unleashed by the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings. Israel and Jordan have signed deals on natural gas and water desalination in recent months and Israeli officials say security cooperation is closer than ever.
Israel needs Jordan as a security buffer on its eastern flank, and is putting a premium on helping to ensure the stability of the pro-Western kingdom, which faces potential threats from Daesh militants.
Jordan, chronically short on water and energy, needs Israel as a supplier to diversify imports and prevent further shocks to its fragile economy. Israel, meanwhile, is considering hiring workers from Jordan’s troubled tourism sector in its Red Sea port of Eilat.
“The relations have indeed become closer,” said Emmanuel Nahshon, the Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman. “We see Jordan as a strategic partner, and have every intention of assisting and cooperating.”
Jordanian officials are more guarded.
“Jordan’s relations with Israel are subject to Jordan’s national interests,” government spokesman Mohammed Momani said. “The government does not force any Jordanian to engage in relations with Israel, but those who do are not breaking any laws.”
The Center for Israel Studies quietly began operations, setting up a website this year that publishes Arabic translations of Israeli articles about Israel and its views of the Arab world. The Amman center also produces its own studies about Israel.
Director Abdullah Sawalha said he is trying to provide more accurate information about Israel, arguing that Jordanians know little or have been misinformed.
“Israel exists in this region,” he said, adding that “many, many people (in Jordan) have an interest in this subject, but they don’t talk about it.”
Sawalha, a former employee in Jordan’s government spokesman’s office, said his center is independent, but declined to reveal sources of funding.
Sawalha said he tries to show Israel in a realistic light, but doesn’t hide his politics: He supports the establishment of a Palestinian state in the lands Israel occupied in 1967 and opposes violence.
For the time being, it’s “not useful” to advertise the center’s location by putting a sign on the door, he said, referring to the prevailing mood in Jordan. The center might adopt a higher profile in coming months, said Sawalha, who has been interviewed by the Jordanian media.
He asked not to disclose the location of 10 Hebrew translators who are based in another Arab country, suggesting they could otherwise face problems.
Another key figure at the study center is Yehiyeh Matalka, who oversees translations from Amman. Matalka said he learned Hebrew by accident, starting in 1993, when Baghdad University mistakenly signed him up for the language instead of German and refused to change the registration.
Sawalha and Matalka, who have both visited Israel, displayed detailed knowledge of Israeli politics and the country’s social problems, such as the recent anti-discrimination protests by Jews of Ethiopian origin and the deep divide between secular and religious Jewish Israelis.
The two said they were struck by Israel’s robust democracy, but noted that freedom does not extend to Palestinians under Israeli occupation.


The Middle East implements measures to combat deadly coronavirus

Updated 31 min 51 sec ago

The Middle East implements measures to combat deadly coronavirus

  • Bahrain’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it has started an evacuation plan for Bahraini nationals in Iran

DUBAI: Coronavirus has been widely spreading in the Middle East during the past week with Iran recording the highest number of infections and deaths in the region.

Countries in the Middle East are currently taking extraordinary steps to prevent the growing coronavirus outbreak.

00:51 – Bahrain’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it has started an evacuation plan for Bahraini nationals in Iran including screening and quarantine procedures. The Ministry called on all Bahrainis to register their details by calling: +97317227555

(Developing)