AMMAN // With their country bordering two nations - Iraq and Israel - where upheaval has been a regular occurrence lately, Jordanians frequently lament the fact that they pay a "geographical tax". They paid it again yesterday when a rocket struck the Jordanian port of Aqaba, killing a 51-year-old taxi driver outside the Intercontinental Hotel and wounding four others. Three rockets fell into the Red Sea, while two others hit an open area in the nearby Israeli town of Eilat, according to Israeli media.
It was not immediately certain where the rockets were aimed, since there was no claim of responsibility. Still, Eilat, which stands at the southern tip of Israel between Egypt and Jordan, was the best guess at the intended target, since it is a thriving Israeli tourist hub that has been a target of similar attacks in the past. Nor was it immediately certain where the rockets came from, though speculation in Israel immediately centred on Egypt's Sinai peninsula, which borders Eilat. Militant groups have been known to operate in the Sinai with a large degree of impunity. Egyptian authorities denied the rocket barrage originated on Egyptian soil.
Jordanian officials did not speculate about whether their country was the target. They simply described how it was affected by an attack apparently not aimed at it, the second since April. "One Grad rocket was fired from outside Jordanian territory on a main street in front of the Intercontinental Hotel in Aqaba. Two cars were also burned," Ali Ayed, Minister of State for Media Affairs, told Petra, the state-run news agency. "Jordan condemns this criminal and terrorist attack which is a useless act that serves only suspicious agendas."
Muhammad Abu Rumma, an analyst with Alghad daily newspaper, was confident he knew the attack's origin and intended target. "It is evident that the main target is Israel, though the operation was not accurate. Initial information indicates that the rockets were launched from Egyptian territory and that they were targeting Israel," Mr Rumma said. The ability of militant groups to operate freely and carry out the attack was worrisome, particular for the Egyptian government, Mr Rumma said.
"Lately, there is a real security problem between the Egyptian authorities and the tribes in Sinai, and there are elements from al Qa'eda and militant groups infiltrating into that area," he said. "Al Qa'eda is trying to make political gains and promote itself in the media through announcing operations against Israeli targets. This means that the Palestinian issue is on its agenda." Although it appears the rockets were fired at Israel from Egypt, some analysts said Jordan could well be within the sights of militant groups such as al Qa'eda, although the group's threat to Jordan is widely believed to have diminished since Abu Musab al Zarqawi, a Jordanian militant, was killed in 2006 in Iraq.
Still, the Jordanian government acknowledged in January that it had a counter-terrorism role in Afghanistan. One of its security agents was killed in a suicide bombing that also killed seven agents of the US Central Intelligence Agency. Jordan is a moderate country that signed a peace treaty with Israel and has close ties with the United States. "The attacks are a message to the US and its allies, and they come at a time when the US is escalating action against Iran and pressuring the Palestinians to get into direct negotiations" with Israel, said Marwan Shehadeh, an Amman-based expert on Islamist movements.
"My interpretation is that the perpetrators are Palestinian groups that carry the ideology of the Salafi Jihadi movements but have no organizational links with al Qa'eda." @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org