As the Islamic State’s threat grows, Israel and Jordan seek security ties
A recent withdrawal of Iraqi forces from Turaibil, the only legal border crossing between Jordan and Iraq, has created a shaky security situation. It is Jordan, on Israel’s east and Iraq’s west, that will serve as a crucial buffer from the terrorist movements that threaten to spillover into Israel.
As supporters of the Islamic State (formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) raise their black flags over the Jordanian city of Ma’an, both Israel and Jordan are increasingly subject to the threat of the caliphate. To respond to this risk, the partnership between Israel and Jordan, co-signers of a peace agreement in 1994, is likely to strengthen in time to come.
Jordanian officials stress that the Islamic State does not pose a threat to the Hashemite Kingdom. Officials have further emphasised that Iraqi Sunni tribesmen, friendly to Jordan, have moved into the Turaibil border area following the withdrawal of Iraqi troops.
Jordanian armed forces have responded by sending tanks, troops and rocket launchers as precautionary measures.
To meet a grassroots risk, Jordan’s lower house of parliament recently passed amendments to its 2006 antiterror bill, providing the state the power to detain and try citizens suspected of affiliation with terrorist groups. These efforts would further assist in promoting regional stability.
But the responsibility of combating this threat puts tremendous pressure on Jordan.
Currently, 2,200 Jordanians are fighting under the banner of Al Nusra and the Islamic State, a number that is said to be growing daily. The Jordanian Armed Forces regularly clash with infiltrators.
Israel, meanwhile, is watching developments in neighbouring Jordan closely.
Amid fears that the Islamic State threat could ultimately spill over to threaten its own security, it has responded with plans to build a 500-kilometre security fence on its border with Jordan.
The announcement follows moves from the Islamic State’s leader, Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi, to extend its control beyond pockets of Syria and Iraq, and establish a “caliphate”.
In response, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has asked the world to “bolster” Jordan as a moderate Arab state.
Israeli National Security Council director, Yaakov Amidror, has clarified that if the Hashemite Kingdom requested Israeli assistance in protecting its border with Iraq, Israel would have “little choice” but to help. Israeli diplomats have also told their US counterparts that Israel would be prepared to take military action to assist Jordan if it came under attack by jihadist militants, according to a report by the Daily Beast.
Jordan is a close ally of the United States, and one of only two Arab nations living in formal peace with Israel.
The Hashemite Kingdom is also home to the United States’ strategic intelligence partner, the General Intelligence Department (GID), Jordan’s intelligence agency. The United States, Jordan and Israel already share military intelligence, with roughly 6,000 US troops taking part in this year’s “Eager Lion” military exercise in Jordan.
As a result, Jordan has an important role to play in the regional fight against terror, one that is likely to intensify in the months to follow.
President Barack Obama, stating that contemporary security threats come from “decentralised Al Qaeda affiliates and extremists”, armed with agendas focused in the countries where they operate, intends to use money from a new counter-terrorism partnership fund of $5 billion (Dh18.4bn) to defuse such threats, without sending ground forces or stirring up “local resentments”.
The counter-terrorism partnership fund will allow the United States to train, build capacity and facilitate partner countries on the front lines. If implemented successfully, the security training would greatly benefit Jordan in combating jihadist fighters who are trying to make a base in Jordan.
In the long term, both Jordan and Israel will structure their partnership to be one that is devoid of any possible peril.
Thomas Sanderson, co-director for transnational threats at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, recently stated that any attack on Jordan by the Islamic State would be viewed by both the United States and Israel as a threat to national security.
Living apart together, Israel and Jordan are two partners that won’t welcome the conflict coming closer to home.
Nikita Malik is a political commentator on the Middle East.
On Twitter: @nixmalik
Updated: July 6, 2014 04:00 AM