Israel greater threat to Jordan than IS

Israel greater threat to Jordan than IS
Israeli police officers stand guard on the compound known to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount in Jerusalem's Old City November 5, 2014.

AMMAN, Jordan - As Jordan joins a military campaign against Islamic State militants in Syria, tensions in Jerusalem pose a potentially bigger risk to a nation only slightly scathed by the turmoil sweeping the Middle East.

The US ally has been alarmed and angered by recent Israeli actions at the sacred al-Aqsa compound in Jerusalem, where tensions are raising the prospect of a new Palestinian uprising that would add to the crises at Jordan's borders and may even spill into the kingdom.

For Jordanian King Abdullah, a majority of whose 7 million subjects are Palestinian, a one-day closure of al-Aqsa last week amounted to a personal affront: his Hashemite dynasty derives part of its legitimacy from its custodianship of the holy site.

"One of the major things that angers the Jordanian state and people is the Israeli behaviour in Jerusalem. On the one hand we are trying to combat terrorism and extremism, and on the other hand we are confronted with this reckless behaviour," said Mohammad Al-Momani, minister of state and government spokesman.

While Israel says it is sensitive to Jordan's views and blames extremists for stirring up trouble at the site, Amman is responding in unusually tough terms. It has even suggested the crisis could imperil the countries' 1994 peace treaty - an idea not heard from Amman during much bloodier Israeli-Palestinian flare-ups such as the July-August Gaza war.

This underlines just how seriously King Abdullah views a crisis that complicates his bid to keep his kingdom free from the type of turmoil that has toppled other Arab leaders and produced numerous civil wars in the region since 2011.

The timing could not be worse for Jordan, less than two months after it joined the air strikes on Syria that radical Islamists - including some in Jordan - are portraying as an attack on Islam rather than the Islamic State group.

Some Jordanians are not convinced by the logic of joining that US-led war, fearing it could draw retaliation from Islamic militants in Jordan where - like elsewhere in the Muslim world - Islamic State is finding sympathisers and recruits.

The Jerusalem situation will provide King Abdullah's Islamist opponents, who range from jihadists to the mainstream Muslim Brotherhood, with new grounds to criticise the Western-backed leader unless he is seen to take a tough stance.

Jordan on Wednesday recalled its ambassador to Israel in protest, the first time it has done so since they made peace in 1994 though the post was also vacant for two periods since then.

"Watered" with Jordanian blood

Jordanian stewardship of the al-Aqsa compound was recognised in the 1994 peace treaty with Israel but dates back to 1924 when Palestinian leaders in Jerusalem granted custodianship to King Abdullah's great grandfather, Sharif Hussein.

The custodianship was reaffirmed in an agreement signed last year between the Palestinian Authority and King Abdullah. The area, which is also home to the Dome of the Rock, is known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as the Temple Mount.

A tinder-box for Israeli-Palestian conflict, it is the third holiest site in Islam and the holiest in Judaism. Several hundred Jordanian civil servants run the site. They allow Jews to visit, but not to pray there.

Israel closed the site last Thursday in response to the shooting of an Israeli-American far-right religious activist who has led a campaign for Jews to be allowed to pray there. It was reopened the next day after what Jordanian officials have described as a personal intervention by King Abdullah.

It was the first such closure at the site since 2000 - the year a visit to the site by the then Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon helped to ignite the second Palestinian Intifada.

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