I’m sitting in an observation post above the Jordan valley, part of a semi-abandoned military compound that has seen better days. Below the post, a 50-meter sheer drop ends at a rusty fence running north to south for hundreds of kilometers on the border between Jordan and Israel. The actual border runs precisely in the middle of the Jordan River, approximately 300 meters east beyond the fence.
It’s a beautiful time of year in the Jordan Valley. Green grass and flowers in a variety of colors cover the usually dismal-looking hills sloping down towards the western and eastern river embankments. The area between the fence and the river varies in width, in some areas reaching almost two kilometers, creating virgin wild-life reservations, disturbed only by the army jeeps patrolling the area. Looking through an old pair of long-range binoculars, I observe the Jordanian farmers working the lands straddling their side of the river.
The quiet border almost certainly guarantees an uneventful reserve duty service for me and my unit. The downside of this is that the army lists this border low on its never-ending list of priorities, reflected in supplies, equipment and personnel. The current shifts and turns taking place in the Middle-East will most likely change this tranquil border, as occurred on the border with Syria and Egypt.
Though relatively untouched by the Arab Spring, and far from open rebellion, Jordan also stands on an unstable precipice. Up until now, King Hussein has managed to deal quite well with the spillover from the events taking place in Syria, and further away, in the North African Arab countries. Once Assad falls, however, Jordan will increasingly have to face growing turmoil in Syria, and a real power vacuum that will most likely be filled by unemployed Jihadists looking to pick a fight. Likewise, newly arrived Syrian and Palestinian refugees, together with older Iraqi refugees from the Iraqi sectarian fighting, are a potential source of dissension and unrest.
The danger for Israel of course, is if Hussein loses control. In such a case, the border with Jordan will immediately become a focal point for any terrorist element in the area, not to mention the Palestinians in Jordan, who constitute over 70% of the Jordanian population, and whom will suddenly find themselves freed from Hussein’s tight grip.
As Hussein attempts to cope with the spillover from the Syrian civil war, alongside gradual political reform, the last thing he needs is an eruption of violence in the Palestinian refugee camps. Looking forward to the not-so-far future, Israel should keep this in mind as the West Bank begins to stir, and Assad’s days seem numbered. Likewise, Israel would do well to prepare for this outcome by lifting this border from the depths of its priority list to a higher position.