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What is known about Jordan's role in downing Iranian drones

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Over the weekend, Iran launched an unprecedented attack on Israel, launching hundreds of drones and missiles. Iran, which says it was retaliating for an attack by Israel on its embassy in Syria, says it gave plenty of notice, even to the U.S., about these strikes. Israeli officials say 99% of the strikes were intercepted by Israel, the U.S., France and, surprisingly to some, the Arab country of Jordan. NPR's Jane Arraf joins us from Amman to tell us what's behind Jordan's participation. Hi, Jane.

JANE ARRAF, BYLINE: Hi.

CHANG: So the thing is Jordan has been one of the biggest critics of Israel's war in Gaza - right? - which I suppose isn't surprising because I understand something like 60% of Jordan's population is of Palestinian origin. So why did the country help intercept Iranian missiles?

ARRAF: Well, you're right. It was a potentially risky move, as Iran specifically threatened Jordan, saying that if it acted against Iran, the country would be next on its target list. But we have to remember that Jordan is also a major security ally and one of only two Arab countries to have a peace deal with Israel, its neighbor. And those two countries - Israel and the U.S. - are much more powerful than Jordan, and it needs their protection more than it needs to curry favor with Iran.

CHANG: Right. Well, meanwhile, other countries have been congratulating themselves for intercepting the Iranian attack. But we haven't heard a lot from Jordan. Is that deliberate, you think?

ARRAF: It does seem to be. Israel also didn't publicly mention Jordan's help. Jordan did eventually say its military had intercepted some of the attacks and made clear it was in self-defense. This is Prime Minister Bisher Khasawneh after an emergency cabinet meeting Sunday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRIME MINISTER BISHER KHASAWNEH: (Through interpreter) Yesterday we dealt with some flying objects that entered our airspace and were endangering the safety of our citizens and populated residential areas.

ARRAF: The implication being that Jordan acted to protect its own citizens rather than Israelis. Shots of downed missile parts have shown up on social media, including one floating in the Dead Sea.

CHANG: Well, you have reported on some pretty significant anti-Israel protests in Jordan. I'm just curious. How has Jordan's interception of these Iranian missiles gone down with Jordanians?

ARRAF: There's been quite a bit of public criticism. As you mentioned, the majority of Jordanians are of Palestinian origin, and many other Jordanians also deeply identify with Palestinians in Gaza. Night after night, they watch images of children being killed there by Israeli air strikes. And there's a lot of anger here, so much so that Jordanian security forces have stepped up arrests of protesters. And at some demonstrations, they've even banned the Palestinian flag. But the thing to remember is that for most Jordanians, the most important thing is that Jordan remains stable. It's a poor country surrounded by turmoil. Its neighbors include Syria, Iraq, the West Bank and Israel. So under King Abdullah, it's managed to remain stable in a hostile region. And for many Jordanians, by far the most important thing is to keep it that way.

CHANG: Well, given that so many Jordanians care about what's happening in Gaza, what is Jordan doing to help Palestinians there?

ARRAF: Well, they've been sending aid by road and dropping it from the air. And Jordanian leaders have been very vocal about the death and destruction in Gaza. There are essentially no diplomatic relations with Israel at the moment. Protesters, though, at nightly demonstrations are demanding that Jordan go further and cancel its peace treaty. But to do that would leave the kingdom isolated and even more impoverished. It's a big recipient of U.S. financial aid, and that isn't something being contemplated. Jordan, though, has been saying for many years that this region will remain unstable as long as there are millions of displaced Palestinians without a state.

CHANG: That is NPR's Jane Arraf in Amman, Jordan. Thank you so much, Jane.

ARRAF: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF NAV SONG, "ONE TIME (WITH DON TOLIVER FEATURING FUTURE)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Jane Arraf covers Egypt, Iraq, and other parts of the Middle East for NPR News.