x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Israel sends home diplomats in Amman after protests outside its embassy

Attack on Cairo embassy and Jordan rally are latest signs of Israel's deteriorating relations with its Middle East allies.

Jordanian anti-riot police vehicles near the Israeli embassy in Amman yesterday. Nader Daoud / AP Photo
Jordanian anti-riot police vehicles near the Israeli embassy in Amman yesterday. Nader Daoud / AP Photo

TEL AVIV AND AMMAN // Israel evacuated the senior staff from its embassy in Amman yesterday amid concern over possible violence that could erupt from anti-Israeli demonstrations in front of the embassy.

Daniel Nevo, the ambassador, and the embassy employees and their families, who usually return to Israel on Thursdays for the weekend, were ordered to travel home a day earlier, a foreign ministry spokeswoman who spoke on condition of anonymity, said. She said it was still undecided if they would come back to Jordan on Sunday as they usually do, and that a duty representative would remain in the embassy in the meantime.

The Israeli decision comes almost a week after Egyptian protesters stormed Israel's embassy in Cairo in a 13-hour rampage in which they replaced the Israeli flag with that of Egypt, threw embassy documents out the window to a cheering crowd and forced the embassy's evacuation.

In Amman, at least 1,000 demonstrators including the Islamic Action Front, labour unions and opposition parties have protested in front of a mosque near the Israeli embassy. The groups demanded the Israeli mission's closure, the expulsion of the ambassador and the cancellation of Jordan's 1994 peace treaty with Israel. They chanted anti-Israeli slogans, but remained peaceful.

Murad Adayleh, a member of the Islamic Action Front, Jordan's main opposition party, said the demonstration had been inspired by the anti-Israeli riots in Cairo a week earlier. "We hope [the Israelis] will not return to Jordan … we hope the government will adopt a political decision to end ties with the Zionists," he said. The removal of diplomats from the embassy in Jordan appears to be the latest signal of deteriorating relations between Israel and its only two Arab peace partners - Egypt and Jordan. Both countries have had a rising tide of anti-Israeli protests in recent months and also experienced mass pro-democracy rallies.

Israel has also faced growing hostility from Turkey, a formerly close regional partner, which has cut off all diplomatic and trade ties with Israel after the Jewish state refused to apologise for an army raid on a Turkish-flagged, Gaza-bound aid ship last year in which nine activists were killed.

Fahed Kheitan, the editor-in-chief of Arab Alyawm, an independent Arabic newspaper in Amman, said that the Arab pro-democracy protests in Jordan and Egypt are also giving rise to anger over the countries' relations with Israel. The Israeli evacuation of the embassy is "indicative of how ties between Israel and countries with which it had signed peace treaties have reached rock bottom," he said.

"Israel is going through its worst-ever historical moment. This shows that the Arab Spring is not only concerned with issues of democracy but also that the Arab public is against Israel."

A Jordanian foreign ministry spokesman said the government had not been informed of the Israeli decision to vacate the diplomats ahead of the demonstration. He added that the evacuation was "an internal Israeli matter" but that security had already been beefed up in and around the embassy since last week.

In Jordan, nearly half of the six million inhabitants are of Palestinian descent, many of them refugees from the 1948 war that created Israel and from the Arab-Israeli 1967 war in which Israel occupied the West Bank and other territories.

Bitterness over Israel's approach towards the Palestinians has grown in Jordan as peace talks over a Palestinian state stall. The deadlock has spurred concern that Israel may attempt to have Jordan serve as the state for the Palestinians instead of an independent state established in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, as the Palestinian leadership has long planned.