Iran’s conflict with Israel puts US ally Jordan on edge

Iran’s unprecedented attack on Israel and the prospect of escalating hostilities has threatened to embroil Jordan, a key Western ally and a country regarded by Gulf states as pivotal to their own security.
When the Islamic Republic fired a barrage of missiles and drones at Israel on Saturday night, Jordan helped shoot down some that flew over its capital Amman, with Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi saying the kingdom saw the projectiles as posing “a real danger” to its territory.
While he was quick to say the country would do the same if Israel were to use Jordanian airspace to attack Iran, the move led to a torrent of online abuse in the Islamic Republic. State media reposted a missive on social-media site X calling Jordanian King Abdullah II “a traitor” and pro-Tehran accounts shared memes of the king dressed in an Israel Defense Forces uniform.
It was all too much for Jordanian authorities, which summoned the Iranian ambassador to demand an end to the insults.
Jordan had already seen weeks of protests in Amman in support of Hamas, the Iran-backed militia that Israel has been fighting in Gaza since October, and the Palestinians who have died or had their lives upended by the conflict. Chants and slogans like ‘all of Jordan is Hamas’ and ‘Jordanian day of rage’ alarmed security officials and led to multiple arrests. Authorities have also been on high alert after Iran-backed Iraqi militia leader Abu Ali Al-Askary vowed to flood Jordan with enough weapons for 12,000 fighters to march on Israel.
All of this has raised concerns about Jordan’s stability in both Abu Dhabi and Riyadh, and both Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman and United Arab Emirates President Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed have offered their support to King Abdullah.
“For Saudi Arabia, Jordan is a bulwark against further Iranian expansion” in the Levant, said Ali Shihabi, a Saudi commentator close to the royal court.
It all adds up to a conundrum for Jordan, a kingdom of some 11 million people, many of them descendants of Palestinian refugees, sandwiched between Iraq, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Syria and the Palestinian territory of the West Bank. Jordanian officials feel caught between an Israeli government which they openly describe as a threat to regional peace and security, and a confrontational Iranian regime eager to leverage the increasingly unpopular war in Gaza to expand its influence and reach.
Jordan’s not the only Arab country trying to balance countering Iran with rising pro-Palestinian sentiment. Saudi Arabia has downplayed reports it also shot down some of the projectiles fired by Iran. The country and the UAE said they were both deeply concerned about the regional political situation following Saturday’s attack, but neither of them explicitly condemned Iran.
Tough words
“Our message to Iran is that your problem is with Israel and any attempt to insult Jordan is unacceptable and categorically rejected,” Safadi told the state-owned Mamlaka (Kingdom) TV on Sunday.
But he had equally tough words for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who he accused of attacking Iran’s consulate in Syria on April 1 to provoke confrontation with Tehran, distract the world and alleviate the pressure he’s come under from Washington to end the war in Gaza.
“The root cause of tension in the region is Israel’s aggression in Gaza and the measures it has taken to kill the chances for peace,” he said.
Speaking to US President Joe Biden on Sunday, King Abdullah warned that any Israeli retaliation to Iran’s missile and drone attacks will expand the conflict in the region. “Jordan will not allow for a regional war to unfold on its land,” the king said in a statement.
Gaza war
Amman’s balancing act has grown increasingly precarious as the war in Gaza has entered its seventh month. Authorities have allowed almost daily protests outside the Israeli Embassy and have not permitted the Israeli ambassador to return since November, but have resisted popular demands that it sever ties with Israel completely.
Jordan is dependent on billions of dollars of aid from the US and the European Union and enjoys longstanding and deep military and security cooperation with the West, limiting its ability to distance itself from the Jewish state.
“Jordan’s economy runs on life support from external donors,” said Ziad Daoud, Chief Emerging Markets Economist at Bloomberg Economics. In addition to almost continuous aid from the International Monetary Fund since 1989 and $1.45 billion a year in US assistance, the country is the third-largest recipient of support from oil-rich Gulf states.
Jordan faces a similar dilemma when it comes to Iran. While the kingdom was one of the first Arab countries to warn about what it called Iran’s expansionist agenda in the aftermath of the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, it has tried to maintain diplomatic ties with the Islamic Republic.
But the growing power of Iran-backed militias in Iraq and Syria and their involvement in the smuggling drugs and weapons to and through Jordan prompted the king to declare in July that his country was “confronting systematic attacks at its borders” by these groups.
And now several current and former Jordanian officials fear Iran and its allies, including Hamas, considered a terrorist organization by the US and European Union, are using the war in Gaza to destabilize Jordan and further their agendas.
“The ongoing war in Gaza has been an opportunity for different attempts to infiltrate the Jordanian space,” said Samih al-Mayateh, Jordan’s former information minister.

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