WASHINGTON – The gruesome murder of captured Jordanian F-16 pilot Lt. Muath al-Kasabeh by ISIS may have strengthened the resolve of the Jordanian government to launch all-out assaults against the jihadist army as members of the U.S.-led coalition.
But it also could have a boomerang effect as Jordanians question why their country should further engage ISIS, according to Middle East sources.
Meanwhile, the killing also has raised concerns that members of the coalition – Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates – will be emboldened to launch more attacks against ISIS targets in Syria, where their interest has been primarily on overthrowing the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, sources add.
One indication of that concern is that following the capture of the pilot in December, the United Arab Emirates suspended its air operations over Syria as a part of the coalition bombing ISIS targets in Syria.
U.S. officials have confirmed to WND that the UAE has halted its participation because there was no contingency plan to rescue downed aircrew.
One Middle East source told WND that when Kasabeh was downed by ISIS last December, the leader of the squadron of F-16s was Maj. Mariam al-Mansouri, the first UAE female fighter pilot. Reports confirm she was in the squadron, but WND could not independently confirm she was the leader.
Whether the killing of the Jordanian pilot will mean an Arab commitment of boots on the ground by these Arab countries also was questionable as Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Joudeh said the reaction would not be ground troops but a greater commitment to assist the Syrian Kurds and Iraqi Peshmerga Kurds.
However, there were unconfirmed reports out of Jordan Tuesday night that Jordan could send troops to Syria to fight ISIS.
‘Wave of anger and frustration’
Despite the Jordanian government’s hanging of two convicted al-Qaida prisoners and the pledge of an “earth-shaking” response, there is concern that the pilot’s killing actually may increase popular opposition to the coalition efforts against ISIS.
“I think it will be business as usual,” Jeb Babbin, a former under secretary of defense, told Fox News, referring to Arab countries’ reaction to the killing of the Jordanian pilot.
Clare Lopez a former CIA operations officer and current Middle East expert at the Center for Security Policy in Washington, told WND that ISIS “is trying to create chaos to invade Jordan.”
“ISIS has supporters in south of Jordan, (in the) north and (in) Palestinian camps; (and) on more than one occasion demonstrators challenged the regime and declared Amman is the Fallujah (Iraq) of Jordan,” Lopez said. “Palestinians in camps across Jordan are supporters of ISIS. ISIS is desperate for a sea port. A port of Aqaba will give them access to the Red Sea.”
Middle East expert Raymond Ibrahim, Shillman fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center, believes that more “moderate” Muslims ultimately will prevail in the fight against ISIS.
“The burning of the pilot,” Ibrahim said, “will continue to create a “rift among Muslims — from the many who cannot tolerate such acts, cannot tolerate the idea that their religion condones such atrocities, to those who are willing to accept reality, willing to accept that Islamic texts and history are littered with such barbaric behavior — beginning with the prophet of Islam.”
Ibrahim said it’s “interesting to watch the debates now a days between Muslims — the ‘moderates’ are becoming much more vocal and courageous, which does not necessarily translate into anything concrete, but is a start,.”
“The Islamic State has really driven home the true nature of debate — that is, what is Islam and what does it teach, and it’s making many Muslims uncomfortable having to deal with these questions which for long have been ignored but … with every day ISIS brings them to the fore,” Ibrahim said.
“And yes, while once cannot really account for what U.S. leadership will do, I do believe that these continuing atrocities will drive the governments of various Arab countries to work closer together.”
Middle East expert Osama al-Sharif said that the killing of the Jordanian pilot will trigger “a wave of anger and frustration” that could spark a political crisis for Jordanian King Abdullah II. The king cut short a visit with President Obama Tuesday to return to Jordan after ISIS released a 22-minute video purportedly showing the pilot being burned alive.
“It will strengthen the position of those who believe Jordan should withdraw from the fight against ISIS,” Sharif said.
Before knowing the fate of the pilot, his father, who comes from a prominent Jordanian tribe, had told CNN Arabic that the king “had no business with the coalition, and those who had sent my son to fight beyond Jordan’s border must now bring him back.”
Even before the pilot’s capture, Abdullah was under fire internally from the country’s Palestinian population, the Muslim Brotherhood and a growing number of ISIS backers.
Islamist opposition groups had voiced opposition to joining the anti-ISIS coalition when it was first announced.
As Sharif pointed out, Abdullah defended his position and insisted that the war against ISIS was “our war.” This was especially apparent when ISIS fighters moved up to the Jordanian border last year, in Iraq’s Sunni Anbar province, where they have remained.
An ISIS invasion of Jordan could jeopardize a critical buffer against ISIS access to the rest of the Levant.
As WND recently reported, ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has designated Jordan as the next target of his caliphate. The government was split over joining the anti-ISIS coalition, however. The internal dissension comes from growing support for ISIS from a myriad of jihadist groups and the country’s poor economic conditions.
At the time, Jordanians were seen on videos burning their passports. ISIS even threatened to “slaughter” the king after invading Jordan.
“It is ISIS’ objective to destabilize its neighbors,” according to syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer, an expert on the Middle East.
“Jordan is a miracle in the region. It has the most stable regime, yet it’s the weakest, it has no oil and yet since – for the last 70 years it has had only three rulers, but it has huge divisions internally; it’s got a lot of Muslim Brotherhood, it has some ISIS sympathizers, and I think the objective here was to draw Jordan into a war where it was a peripheral player,” Krauthammer said.
“This highlights, I think, the danger we all worship at the shrine of multilateralism, broad coalitions to bring everybody in as a way to restrict American action. Obama’s now involving the UAE, the Saudis and of course the Jordanians and now we see the result.
Krauthammer said Jordan “being drawn into a direct war with ISIS is not a good thing” for the U.S.
“Jordan will not defeat ISIS on its own. It even wouldn’t defeat ISIS even if it had some coalition partners,” he said.
“It’s the United States essentially which is – or Turkey, perhaps – the only partners,” he said. “So, here we are bringing in Jordan for symbolic reasons. Yet, a real pilot is shot down in real time and then executed in this horrible way, causing a reaction in Jordan where the king is now on the spot.
Krauthammer said Abdullah “will have to do something intense, important, punishing and that will draw him in.”
“And he’s got – he’s got refugees from of course Palestine but of course Syria, Iraq. He’s got a lot of internal dissent which we have seen over the years, and this is a way to stir the cauldron in a country that is stable, was stable, but is easily destabilized, and that is what ISIS is after.”
Underscoring the internal dissension and the increasing support for ISIS, the founder of the forerunner to ISIS – Al-Qaida in Iraq – was founded by the Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. A deputy to Zarqawi was Baghdadi, who would go on to create the Islamic State of Iraq, which then morphed into the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS, and then the Islamic State, once he had taken over portions of Syria and Iraq to create the caliphate.
“ISIS sympathizers feel injustice and anger at America and Israel and always felt that Islam was under attack by crusaders,” Murin Khoury, a leading Jordanian pollster, recently told the Guardian newspaper of London. “And now they don’t agree with Jordan being involved in the coalition.”
The killing of the Jordanian pilot, however, also is seen as a means to polarize Jordanian society, especially among the tribes, which Sharif says are often considered the backbone of the support for Abdullah’s government.
ISIS, he said, is conducting psychological war against Jordan.