JERUSALEM—Forty-five years after Israeli commandos planted listening devices on Jordanian territory in order to monitor military movements, Israeli experts crossed back into Jordan this week at the invitation of the Jordanian government to uproot the devices and neutralize the explosives attached to them.
At a press conference this week in Amman, the chief of staff of the Jordanian army, Lt. Gen Mashal Mohammad Al-Zaben, said that an Israeli team was currently in Jordan working with the Jordanian army to remove the last of five spying devices installed in 1969, two years after the countries faced each other in the Six Day War.
"The Israelis brought all of the necessary equipment, both the electronic equipment and the equipment needed for digging," said Al-Zaben.
The electronic equipment, which had long since ceased to function, was planted in five locations around the country, presumably all near military installations. The one excavated this week in the city of Ajloun, was connected to communication lines of Jordan’s former Second Division. The devices were two meters below ground level.
The Jordanians became aware of the now defunct surveillance operation last year when a mysterious blast off a road near the city of Mafraq caused damage in a 400-meter radius. At the center were the remains of a large device to which the explosives had been attached. The detonation was apparently caused by vibrations from heavy traffic.
Jordanian officials asked Israeli counterparts if Israel had something to do with the device and explosives. The Israeli officials acknowledged that the device had been planted when the two countries were enemies. They signed a peace agreement in 1994.
At the request of the Jordanians, the Israelis explained how the devices operated. Israel pointed out that there were four other defunct listening posts elsewhere in the country. Most were in open areas and the Jordanians dismantled them themselves although shifts in the terrain over the years made some of them difficult to locate.
One was off the road between Amman and Baghdad, which meant that the commandos who planted them had gone fairly deep into Jordan, presumably at night. The one in Ajloun in the northwest of the country was located beneath a main road in what is now a built-up area close to Ajloun University and other civilian structures. Due to the delicacy of the situation and the large amount of explosives involved, the Jordanians invited Israeli experts to carry out the task under the close supervision of the Jordanian military. The spy equipment was removed and the explosives detonated in a controlled explosion. The explosives were apparently intended to destroy the installations if uncovered.
Sophisticated listening devices presumed to be Israeli have been found in Lebanon over the years. Several have been detonated electronically by drones after they were discovered. One such explosion occurred earlier this month in southern Lebanon as the device was being examined by a Hezbollah expert, who was killed.
The Jordanian press conference was held at the home of Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour and attended by government and military officials. The unusual venue may be connected to the extremely sensitive nature of Jordan’s relations with Israel.
The Jordanian public, mainly of Palestinian origin, is extremely hostile to Israel while government and military officials recognize the strategic importance of relations with a powerful neighbor that enjoys special relations with Washington. Ensour thanked the Israelis for their cooperation but added a clear warning: Should it develop that there are additional listening devices that Israel had not reported, "it could badly impact relations between the two countries."
Israel has at least once before sent experts to Jordan to undo what its agents had earlier done, although in much different circumstances.
In 1997, two Mossad agents in Amman squirted poison into the ear of Khaled Mashaal, political leader of Hamas. Furious at this violation of Jordanian sovereignty just three years after the two countries had signed a peace pact, Jordan’s King Hussein threatened to abrogate the treaty if Mashaal died. Then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu authorized the dispatch to Amman of an antidote that saved Mashaal’s life.