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Arab states helped to defend Israel from Iran. Their resolve may be tested.

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Since Iran’s unprecedented retaliatory attack on Israel was thwarted over the weekend with help from the United States and its Middle East allies, the Biden administration has touted that the “coalition” had avoided a regional war.

An Israeli response, however, would test the durability of an informal coalition made up of awkward partners, including Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates, whose recent cooperation against Iran could be damaging on the domestic front , estimate analysts.

“These Arab countries are in a very critical situation,” said Oraib Al Rantawi, director of the Al Quds Center for Policy Studies, a think tank based in the Jordanian capital Amman. “There is no easy position for everyone to take, especially for Jordan which, for geopolitical reasons, has found itself caught between two troublemakers: Iran and Israel. »

After Iran’s barrage of more than 300 missiles and drones caused limited damage, with many shot down by American, British, Israeli and Jordanian forces, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Monday that the coordinated operation was “an extraordinary military success” that sent “a strong message about Israel’s position in the region versus Israel’s position ‘Iran in the region, which is increasingly isolated.’

Onlookers and security guards stand around the debris of a missile intercepted by Jordanian forces above Amman.Ahmad Shoura / AFP – Getty Images

But America’s partners in the Middle East have had no such boasting, where even acknowledgment of the weekend’s events has been muted.

An example of their tough national message came on Monday, when Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi told state television that the country would defend itself against any threats to its sovereignty and airspace, including from the part of Israel.

The comments, echoed in interviews with foreign media, are among the rare public statements made by Jordanian officials about the country’s role.

Iran said the salvo was retaliation for an attack on the Iranian consular building in the Syrian capital, Damascus, that killed two senior commanders and five advisers to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Israel has not claimed responsibility for this attack, but is widely believed to be responsible.

Israel could test Jordan’s commitment within hours, depending on if and how the Jewish state decides to respond.

Of the three Arab states that participated in the defense of Israel, Jordan is the only one to share a border with Israel and the only one to have participated in the air operation to destroy the drones.

As part of the new Middle East realignment, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates shared intelligence on Iranian plans with the United States after being informed in order to protect their airspace, as reported for the first time Monday the Wall Street Journal.

King Abdullah of Jordan speaking alongside President Biden at the White House in February.Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

While the United Arab Emirates normalized diplomatic relations with Israel four years ago, Saudi Arabia was on the verge of doing so before negotiations were derailed by the October 7 Hamas attacks, which according to Israeli officials, cost the lives of 1,200 people.

The two wealthy Gulf monarchies are “heavily dependent on Western states,” according to Tahani Mustafa, a senior analyst at the International Crisis Group, a Belgium-based think tank. Saudi Arabia “wants an American security pact,” he said. “Until this alliance is somehow solidified, Saudi Arabia will try to do everything in its power to stay in the good graces of the United States.”

Jordan’s participation marked something of an about-face for a state that has been outspoken in its criticism of Israel’s six-month military campaign in the Gaza Strip. The country was the first to withdraw its ambassador from Israel, repeatedly called for a ceasefire and took the lead in delivering aid to the besieged enclave.

Rather than signaling new affection for its neighbor, Jordan’s participation in the operation shows its complete dependence on American and Israeli diplomatic and economic support, said Rantawi of the Al Quds Center for Policy Studies .

Protesters march through the streets of Amman, the Jordanian capital, in support of Palestinians in Gaza.Alaa Al Sukhni / Reuters

Although about half the population is Palestinian refugees, Jordan became the second Arab country to recognize Israel in 1994. Its dependence on the West runs even deeper: Jordan’s landscape is dotted with American, French and British military bases, and its economy is largely supported by humanitarian and military aid.

The Jordanian government also signed a defense agreement in 2021 that essentially gives the U.S. military free use of the country’s territory and airspace.

“I don’t think they will have any choice but to go where the tide takes them,” said Mustafa, of the International Crisis Group. “At the end of the day, it’s not up to them.”

Jordan is also eager to respond to calls from right-wing Israeli lawmakers to welcome more Palestinian refugees – part of a long-running campaign to effectively turn Jordan into a de facto Palestinian state, she said. declared.

But Jordan’s participation in the US “coalition” could still hinder the government’s desire to bridge the yawning gap between public policy and public opinion, Rantawi said, citing Jordanians’ relentless criticism of Israel’s war in Gaza.

So far, the message appears to be working in all three countries. Tensions between Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates on one side and Shiite-majority Iran on the other have dominated the Middle East for decades.

“There have been stories for years that Iran has been trying to destabilize Jordan,” said Ghaith al-Omari, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and a former Palestinian Authority official.

The ball is now in Israel’s court. If Israel launched a tit-for-tat attack on Iran, it would risk further alienating public opinion from its hard-won partners in the Middle East, Omari said.

“Things can get very complicated if the Israelis try to retaliate in Jordanian airspace,” al-Omari said.

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