With the Islamic State (formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant or ISIS) knocking at the doorsteps of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, and the Iraqi army withdrawing its troops from the only border crossing between Iraq and Jordan, Israel is beginning to feel the heat generated by the successful campaigns of the Islamic State (IS) in Syria and Iraq. Jordan has hitherto served as a crucial buffer shielding Israel from a spillover of mayhem created by the Sunni-Muslim extremist terrorist group, whose leader has proclaimed the new caliphate.
Al Jazeera reported (June 30, 2014) that ISIS, which controls large areas of Iraq and Syria, has announced the establishment of a “caliphate” straddling the two countries, and urged other groups to pledge their allegiance. In an audio recording released earlier by ISIS, it declared its chief, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, to be “the caliph” and the leader of Muslim believers everywhere.
In the meantime, supporters of ISIS are multiplying in the city of Maan, the capital of the southern region of Jordan. Maan is 104 kilometers (approximately 62 miles) away from Israel’s southern tip of Eilat and about 60 kilometers (36 miles) from the Arava Road (Highway 60) which connects Jerusalem and central Israel with Eilat. The IS appears to have no active presence in this desert town south of the capital, Amman, but its image is growing, its ideology gaining traction, and its appeal extending beyond those who would take up arms and don suicide vests. The people here, especially the many unemployed young men, have celebrated the Islamic State victories.
Across the Arab world, the drive for democratic change has stalled, at least for now, and in its place we have seen a resurgence of strongmen such as Egypt’s Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, and Islamic militants (IS), both selling the promise of stability and order as counterpoints to the tumult that followed the Arab Spring. In the Sunni-Muslim world moreover, the victories of the ISin Iraq against the Shiite-led Iraqi army, and the imagery of a rejuvenated caliphate is a formidable factor.
The threat to the Hashemite Kingdom is not only external, it is internal as well. The city of Maan is a case and point. Unemployment, police repression, and economic neglect have fueled resentment toward King Abdullah and the monarchy and, conversely, growing support for the Islamist IS. The Jordanian army has been deployed on three fronts. On the Jordanian-Syrian border, the Jordanian army is poised to push back a possible incursion of President Bashar Assad’s Syrian army. The Assad regime seeks to stop Jordanian support for Syrian rebels in southern Syria. The other front is the Jordanian-Iraqi border, where the Jordanian army is deployed to prevent the incursion of IS forces.
The third concentration of Jordanian forces is in the capital of Amman itself, where the Jordanian troops ring the city to protect the monarchy and the king. The fear in Amman as well as in Washington and Jerusalem is that support for the IS may spread to other cities across Jordan, and may eventually result in an internal armed uprising, which will necessitate either US or Israeli intervention to save King Abdullah’s pro-Western rule, and the peace between Jordan and Israel.
Precedents for the US and Israel coming to Jordan’s aid already exists. In September 1970, during King Hussein’s rule, the monarchy was in danger of collapsing under pressure from the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) which had built a virtual state within a state. The PLO hijacked several international flights and brought the passengers and planes to Dawson airfield in Jordan. On September 17, 1970, Hussein’s forces successfully suppressed the Palestinians, but it led to a Syrian invasion into northwestern Jordan on September 19, which threatened to reach Amman. Hussein begged for a western bombing campaign against the invading Syrians. The US was, at the time, involved in the Vietnam War and had meager and insufficient forces in the Mediterranean region. The US then turned to Israel for a quick response, and Israel rushed large numbers of forces to the Golan and Beit Shaan Valley. The Israeli move deterred the Syrians from moving forward and they withdrew their forces from Jordan. The Syrians, recalling their defeat by Israel three years earlier, did not want to risk a confrontation with the IDF.
Al-Manar, Hezbollah’s mouthpiece, reported on June 28, 2014 that “The Zionist entityhas said that it would be willing to take military action in neighboring Jordan to protect it from attacks by the so-called ‘Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant terrorist group, dubbed as ISIS, which has been sweeping across northern parts of Iraq and Syria in a violent bid to create its unilaterally-declared own state.” According to the Daily Beast(DB) website (6/27/2014), “Obama administration officials told Senators in a classified briefing this week that the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) also has its eyes on Jordan; in fact, its jihadists are already Tweeting out photos and messages claiming a key southern town (Maan) in Jordan already belongs to them.” The DB added, “The concern was that Jordan could not repel a full assault from ISIS on its own at this point, said one senator, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Another Senate staff member said the US officials who briefed the members responded to the question of what Jordan’s leaders would do if they faced a military onslaught from ISIS by saying: They will ask Israel and the United States for as much help as they can get.”
The US, Jordan and Israel already share military intelligence, and the US has also placed batteries of Patriot missiles as well as squadrons of F-16s in Jordan. Additionally, the US has a contingency force of US troops ready under the command of Brig. General Dennis McKean, also known as Centcom – Forward Jordan. Gen. McKean has been in direct contact with Israel’s Chief-of-Staff, Lt. General Benny Gantz and Israel’s Air Force commander, Gen. Amir Eshel.
Concerned with the gains made by ISIS/IS, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday (June 29, 2014) that Israel would maintain security in the Jordan Valley regardless of peace talks with the Palestinians. Netanyahu also announced that Israel plans to build a security barrier along the Jordanian border that would stretch from Eilat to the Golan Heights. Following a meeting with German Foreign Minister Walter Steinmeier (6/30/2014), Israel’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman declared that “Jordan’s stability is in Israel’s national interest, and Israel is ready to do whatever it takes to defend it.”
Israel’s current military bout with Hamas in Gaza, notwithstanding, the Jewish state is determined to preserve the integrity of King Abdullah’s Jordanian monarchy. Jordan is the one Arab state that is moderate, pro-Western, and has solidly maintained the peace treaty with Israel.
It is clear that having a friendly state on its long and sensitive eastern border is critical for Israel, especially in view of the mounting threats from a resurgent ISIS/IS. Israel will therefore act when necessary to safeguard Jordan.
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