Ephraim Sneh
Haaretz (Opinion)
December 2, 2011 - 1:00am

During my visit to Jordan this week, I spoke to several people who said King Abdullah's comments about Syrian President Bashar Assad - "If I were in his shoes, I would step down" - were a reflection of the Jordanian ruler's style of governing.

King Abdullah, according to the Jordanians with whom I conversed, does not belong to the culture of former Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi, former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Assad: He would never order his soldiers to open fire on his people. If the disquiet in his kingdom turned into violent rioting, he would simply get up and leave.

The king's exit would remove the only element capable of balancing Jordan's opposing forces. The results could be civil war, prolonged chaos and a civil government controlled by Islamists.

The bottom line would be a strategic nightmare for Israel. To our east there would be a continuum of Islamic extremism, from the Allenby Bridge to the mountains of Afghanistan. The Kingdom of Jordan, which has maintained 17 years of peaceful relations with us - which have been disappointing from its point of view - will no longer serve as a barrier between us and the wild east. The long border with Jordan, from the Gulf of Eilat to Hamat Gader, will no longer be secure. This will also have grave budgetary repercussions, like those necessitated by the change in Egypt.

Before it withdraws from Iraq, the United States has not bothered to strengthen Jordan sufficiently vis-a-vis the strategic vacuum created in Iraq.

The increasing Iranian involvement in Iraq and the attendant jihadist terror would have an easier time spilling into Jordan in the absence of a responsible regime in Amman. During the past decade the governments of Israel have looked on with equanimity every time the extremists overcame the moderates around us. One might have thought we didn't care who came out on top.

But possible regime change in Jordan, because of its grave and immediate security implications, demands that Israel do something now. Israel, recognizing its limitations, must do everything it can to help prevent the deterioration of the domestic situation in Jordan. This of course does not mean intervention in the complexities of Jordanian politics. However, Israel can offer practical solutions for two of the country's major shortages: water and energy.

Jordan is among the four "thirstiest" countries in the world. Two projects were supposed to have eased the water shortage there: desalination near Aqaba on the Red Sea and exploitation of saline groundwater near the Saudi border. But these two projects are still far from implementation. The geographical distance between them and Amman is nearly three times the distance between Amman and the Mediterranean Sea, as the crow flies.

A desalination facility on the shore of Israel that was planned to provide water for the Palestinian Authority and subsequently canceled could ensure a supply of water to Jordan more rapidly than the other projects and at a lower cost.

In the area of energy, too, it is the geographical distance that dictates the solution. The gas coming into Jordan from Egypt is becoming more expensive, and even when the supply is not interrupted by attacks on the pipeline in Sinai, the quantity is not sufficient.

There is no source of gas that is closer to Jordan than Israel's own deposits in the Mediterranean Sea. The distance between the already existing endpoint of the Israeli gas pipeline and the Jordanian border is less than 30 kilometers, a negligible distance in terms of other gas projects, such as the planned line from the Caspian Sea to southern Europe.

A gas supply from the shores of Israel would enable Jordan to lower the price of electricity, giving its citizens important economic relief.

However, the most urgent and important move Israel should make is on the emotionally charged issue of Jerusalem. Jordan has a role in overseeing the holy places there, which is enshrined in the peace agreement and the Washington declaration by former U.S. President Bill Clinton, the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and the late King Hussein. Ignoring Amman's place at the table is causing serious damage to Israeli-Jordanian relations.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's decision to postpone the demolition of the Mughrabi Bridge in the Old City is a wise decision. This decision should be extended and reinforced. Having Jordan participate in every action taken in the Temple Mount compound - when it comes to decision-making and actual physical implementation - might well bolster our ties and justify the king's sticking to the peace agreement.

We have too much to lose if we let our relations with Jordan end up in the hands of extremists.

The writer is chairman of the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Strategic Dialogue at Netanya Academic College and a former minister in Israeli governments.


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