The gamble of three Arab countries when protecting Israel against Iran
Israel's anti-missile system was activated at dawn on April 14 to prevent a raid from Iran. Photo: Reuters

The three Arab countries participating in the defense of Israel are at risk of criticism if Tel Aviv decides to strongly respond to Tehran’s attack, causing the crisis to continue to escalate.

After Iran’s retaliatory attack on Israel was averted over the weekend thanks to support from the US and its Western and Middle Eastern allies, President Joe Biden’s administration hailed a “coalition”. solidity has helped prevent conflicts from spreading throughout the region.

The three participating Arab countries are Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Their presence is notable because of tensions between Arabs and Israelis that have existed for decades over the Palestinian issue. According to analysts, Israel’s upcoming response will test the sustainability of the “alliance”, as their cooperation with Tel Aviv has recently begun to create waves of protest in the country.

“Those Arab countries are in a very sensitive situation,” said Oraib Al Rantawi, director of the Al Quds Center for Political Studies, headquartered in Amman, Jordan. “For geopolitical reasons, the current context is not easy for them, especially for Jordan, as they are stuck between two sources of trouble, Israel and Iran.”

After the Iranian raid, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby called the coordination between the US and its allies to protect Israel against more than 300 missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) “an extraordinary military success” and sent “a strong message about Israel’s position in the region relative to Iran”.

However, there were no such joyful messages from America’s partners in the Middle East. The Jordanian government quickly explained to the people in the country that helping Israel was actually to protect itself. “Several objects that entered our airspace last night were intercepted because they posed a threat to our people and populated areas,” the government said in a statement.

On April 15, Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said on television that the country will defend itself against any threat to its sovereignty and airspace, including from Israel.

Of the three Arab countries participating in the effort to help Tel Aviv, Jordan is the only country that shares a border with Israel and is the only country participating in the air campaign to destroy Iranian UAVs. Saudi Arabia and the UAE only played a role in sharing with US intelligence about Iran’s plans after they received notification from Tehran, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The UAE normalized diplomatic relations with Israel four years ago, but Saudi Arabia has not. The two countries were on track to achieve this goal before negotiations were derailed by the Israel-Hamas war.

According to Tahani Mustafa, senior analyst at the International Crisis Group, a Belgium-based think tank, both wealthy Gulf states are “heavily dependent on Western countries.” Saudi Arabia wants to have a security treaty with the US. Until that alliance is stable, they will try to do everything they can to please America.”

Jordan’s participation in the coalition came as a surprise to observers because the country has continuously criticized Israel’s six-month campaign in the Gaza Strip. Jordan was also the first country to withdraw its ambassador from Israel, repeatedly called for a ceasefire, and took the lead in efforts to provide aid to Gaza.

Rantawi from the Al Quds Center for Political Research assessed that Jordan’s participation in the campaign was not a sign that they had better feelings towards their neighbor. In fact, this is proof of how dependent they are on the economic and diplomatic support of the US and Israel.

Although half its population are Palestinian refugees, Jordan became the second Arab country to recognize Israel in 1994. Its dependence on the West runs even deeper. American, French, and British military bases are scattered throughout the country and the economy is largely sustained by humanitarian and military aid from the West.

The Jordanian government signed a defense agreement in 2021 that essentially gives the US military free use of land and airspace.

“I don’t think they have much choice but to go wherever the tide takes them,” said Mustafa from the International Crisis Group. “After all, they can’t decide for themselves.”

Jordan also wishes to brush off calls from right-wing Israeli lawmakers urging it to accept more Palestinian refugees, part of Tel Aviv’s long-standing effort “to turn Jordan into a Palestinian state”, she added.

But Jordan’s participation in the US-led coalition could complicate efforts to close the gap between public policy and public opinion, Rantawi said, referring to the relentless public criticism. Jordan to what Tel Aviv does in Gaza.

Tensions between Sunni-majority Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and the UAE, on the one hand, and Shiite-majority Iran, on the other, have gripped the Middle East for decades.

“For years, there has been a perception in the region that Iran is trying to destabilize Jordan,” said Ghaith al-Omari, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Institute for Near East Policy.

With the three Arab countries having to balance their interests, political stability, and international alliances, Omari said that if Israel retaliates fiercely against Iran, it will put its partners in a difficult position by angering them. public opinion within these countries. “Things could get very complicated if the Israelis try to retaliate through Jordanian airspace,” he emphasized.

Masoud Mostajabi, deputy director of the Middle East Program at the US-based Atlantic Council, shares a similar view. “For regional players, they can already argue that they are legitimately defending their airspace. However, if the attack escalates into a broader Israel-Iran conflict, The side defending Israel will be pulled into a vortex.”

“With those factors, leaders in the region will make efforts to take action to help the two sides end this confrontation,” he concluded.