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Hidden tensions: Change of rules of the game between Amman and Riyadh

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By  Eng. Saleem Al-Batayneh


Surprisingly enough, why bashfulness of repeated denials about Amman-Riyadh strained relations! Certainly, bilateral relations are not at its best as there is a kind of vibrant inharmoniousness in viewpoints, which had led to dissonance and cacophony on key issues, most of which are regional.

The Jordanian polities is still keen not to develop taciturnity and coldness in the relationship with Riyadh, even if Amman and Riyadh have officially succeeded to hide such tension without covering them in public by the media; however, anxiety lies in the broadening, deepening and complicating the circle of obstinacy with the passage of days as time becomes an essential element that aggravates these ties whereby time factor fuels this dilemma.

The crisis which is hidden under the sands as fires under ashes has been inveterate with many signs for a while. At present, it is no longer unnoticed. Thanks to leaked information and other indicators that have been leaked, some of which have been translated into an economic context. It was clear that there has been a qualitative alteration in the media and political discourse and a change in the lexis used between both sides.

The crisis reveals that the relation between the two capitals has become more pragmatic than strategic, it has become more difficult to predict the future of such ties and whether they will exacerbate, or standstill at this point in order to preserve the common ground between them to confront some files of concern that force the two parties not to widen the gap between them, especially in light of the major global tensions.

An officer in the CIA (Bruce Riedel), who is currently working with the Brookings Institution for Strategic Studies, believes that Riyadh sent several years ago signals to Amman indicating strained relations with its northern neighbor, including Jordan’s refusal to send troops to participate in the Yemen war, Jordan’s objection to the blockade of Qatar, and the file of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan, which Amman believes does not put the region into risk.

The other issue that was of utmost importance is the visit of the Saudi Foreign Minister, the Director of Saudi Intelligence and the Director of the Office of the Saudi Crown Prince to Amman to release Basem Awadallah. At Davos Summit, Saudi Minister of Finance stated on January 18, 2023 Riyadh’s financial aid strategies and basis. He tacitly set and alluded his country’s conditions to provide Saudi aid at the recent Davos conference (January 18, 2023).

Riedel emphasized that Riyadh wants peace with Tel Aviv that is different from the Abrahamic Accords per se. in other words, Saudi Arabia is not looking for a swift and low-cost peace, and that the United States, along with Israel, are trying, through the Deal of the Century, to boost Saudi influence in Jerusalem. This regional competition for increasing influence in the Holy City takes multiple dimensions, including what is religious and what is political, closely related to the state of regional polarization taking place in the region between opposing countries and axes.  Furthermore, other successive events have increased the level of disagreement between Jordan and Saudi Arabia over new files, including Asadullah’s case. For its part, Jordan has voiced its intent to find a legal, political and humane way out for his release.

Amman realizes through His Majesty King Abdullah II’s statements and those of other concerned officials that Riyadh is the strategic depth and is one of the most important players in the region and that destabilizing Jordan, Saudi Arabia’s regional ally, is not in the interest of Riyadh.

The crisis between the two capitals did not reach the point of estrangement, schism and rupture because that would be impossible. Such crisis may witness a kind of escalation or decline according to regional and international developments. The two countries had identical positions in many crises that ravaged the region, especially in the second half of the twentieth century (in Kuwait 1961 and after the Yemeni crisis in 1962).

Saudi Arabia embraces more than 450,000 Jordanian workers. It is the only Arab country that fulfilled its obligations towards Jordan, starting in 1957 after the end of the British-Jordanian Treaty (the signing of the Arab Aid Agreement) until present through the wave of the Arab Spring.

An analysis of the current tension of the crisis between Amman and Riyadh shows that there are economic, political and security factors with geopolitical dimensions besides changes in the structure of the global system in terms of the arrangement of players, which led to impulsive abrupt vicissitudes and vagaries in the roles of regional powers.

Practically, relations between Amman and Riyadh have not witnessed this much tension for a long time despite both countries’ commitment to the language of diplomacy for fear of sliding into deep calamities, and the zest of both parties to keep the schism at a certain level with minimum understandings and not to escalate the dispute further.

We alone in Jordan live in a world of assumptions! We must learn from the lessons of the past without letting them constrain us. Whenever a crisis erupts, raged, passed or stabilized and branched out, the question that cannot be ignored arises: Are we up to the incident or not? The answer lies in the level of national interests for a clear political alleyway whose features and directions are delineated by the ability of political decision-makers to contain the mishap. We often prepared to confront the crises of the past, and perhaps the only thing we know for sure is that there will be other calamities and disputes that will differ from those we are currently witnessing currently.


Former Jordanian Parliament Member