With attention focused on the flare-up of violence in Gaza following the assassination of Islamic Jihad commander Baha Abu Al-Ata, a seemingly innocuous speech made by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slipped quietly under the radar. Commemorating 25 years of Israeli-Jordanian relations, the prime minister made clear his belief that continuing ties between the two countries stemmed primarily from military and diplomatic considerations, and little else. That this statement occurred in the shadow of a recent return of the Naharayim and Tzofar enclaves to the Hashemite Kingdom should hardly be seen as coincidental. The relationship has come under a great deal of strain over the last few years, and the Jordanians’ inability and unwillingness to renew the areas’ land leases due to mounting public pressure is directly connected to the deterioration of ties between the two countries.

On the one hand, Netanyahu’s focus on shared interests rather than warm ties is likely colored by his ongoing attempts to court the Gulf States without having to make any real concessions regarding the Palestinian issue. Despite proclamations over the last few years by various Likud members pointing to a dawning of a new era of Arab-Israeli relations, many on the Israeli right are likely aware that there are limits to what can be achieved without any movement on the peace process, and view any willingness on the part of these states to talk to Israel as a simple product of realpolitik in mutually staving off Iranian ambitions. Furthermore, these statements are well in line with the prime minister’s Jabotinskyite worldview that sees Israeli survival dependent on projecting its military and diplomatic strength as a means of sending a message to its neighbors that the country is here to stay. 

Nor can it be ignored that Netanyahu is simply stating the obvious here—namely that, relations between Israel and its neighbors were never based on any feelings of camaraderie, and have remained cold on most matters excluding security. It should be noted that this state of affairs is not solely due to Israeli intransigence. Indeed, sentiment in both Egyptian and Jordanian societies from top to bottom has remained largely hostile to Israel, even invoking conspiracy theories at times that go well beyond legitimate grievances concerning the Palestinians. In the case of Egypt, such hostility has routinely been employed by the country’s leadership over the years as a way to distract its citizenry from the regime’s shortcomings. 

Nonetheless, even if Israeli leaders in the past refrained from sugarcoating the situation and remained frustrated by the status of these relationships, there was at least an aspiration to see them improve and a belief that things could get better. Relations with both Egypt and Jordan were far from ideal, but the situation was still significantly preferable to the status quo ante in which Israel was surrounded by hostile entities (some of whom received military backing by an equally hostile superpower) sworn to its destruction. That a country like Egypt could, within less than a decade, go from Israel’s arch-nemesis to the first Arab state with which it signed a peace treaty should have sent a powerful message that nothing was outside the realm of possibility and that the future with other regional states would be brighter. 

But these relations have remained publicly cold and no other peace treaties have followed, and Netanyahu’s comments should not simply be dismissed as a cavalier one-off. He is not merely stating what is, but telegraphing his lack of interest in transforming the situation for the better. Since returning to the premiership over a decade ago, his foreign policy vis-à-vis Jordan has been one that has simultaneously maintained excellent relations in the realm of security while eroding the status quo in sensitive areas like the Temple Mount. Incidents like the prime minister’s embrace of a security guard at Amman’s Israel embassy accused of shooting two Jordanians, and the incarceration of two Jordanians held without charges for months (and only recently released) have further exacerbated an already tense situation. Yet most troubling has been his various pronouncements over the last year regarding his willingness to annex parts of the West Bank should he be reelected, a statement received with anger by the Jordanian monarchy, and not simply because of the dire ramifications that a hypothetical annexation would have on Palestinians under Israeli control. Already reeling from the enormous burden of caring for over a million Syrian refugees, any change to the West Bank’s status would ultimately lead to some form of destabilization, placing Hashemite control of the country at even further risk.

Worrying as they are, the prime minister’s attitude towards Israel’s neighbors is only one sign in a larger pattern of myopic actions, including undermining relations with Western European allies in favor of populist leaders with authoritarian bents and shattering the bipartisan consensus on Israel in the United States. But dangerous as developments outside of the Middle East may be, they pale in comparison to the short-term dangers that are likely to follow if Israel is to make good on its promises of annexation. More than anything else, they reflect Netanyahu’s decision over the last few years to slaughter multiple geopolitical sacred cows in the face of both a pliant American administration and the desperate need to entrench his position in Israeli politics. 

Netanyahu has always pushed a narrative that foresees Israel living or dying by the sword in the hope of reinforcing his base’s siege mentality, keeping such comments concerning Jordan at least ostensibly well within character. But, lachrymose worldview aside, his behavior over the last few years has also called into question his judgment and highlighted his willingness to throw all caution to the wind on matters of state for which there had always been a broad consensus. It is yet another display of his compromised nature, largely influenced by his present legal predicaments, that point to the fact he may no longer be fit for office.