WASHINGTON – Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has designated Jordan as the next target of his caliphate, but Jordan remains split over the anti-ISIS coalition that President Obama is attempting to organize among the Arab states.
The internal dissension, combined with the growing internal support for ISIS from a myriad of jihadist groups and the country’s poor economic conditions may complicate the Hashemite Kingdom’s ability to withstand any ISIS onslaught.
It means that a critical buffer against ISIS access to the rest of the Levant could be in jeopardy, say regional sources.
The sources say Israel would probably send troops into Jordan to protect it from an ISIS attack if necessary, and discussions are under way for the U.S. to set up a forward base in Jordan from which to launch coalition strikes against ISIS positions in neighboring Iraq and Syria.
Evidence of the fierce internal opposition to Jordanian involvement can be seen in a recent video in which Jordanian citizens burn their passports and ISIS threatens to “slaughter” King Abdullah once it invades Jordan.
Conflict at the top
Jordanian Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour appears in conflict with Jordanian King Abdullah, who approved Jordan’s participation in the U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition of Middle East and European countries. Siding with Abdullah is Jordanian Foreign Affairs Minister Nasser Joudeh, who calls ISIS a “direct and immediate threat” to the country’s national security.
Despite announcement of the coalition’s formation at a recent meeting in Jeddah, the roles of the Arab countries, including Jordan’s, have not been detailed.
Turkey, a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, refused to sign the Jeddah communique or join the coalition. Ankara remains a conduit for ISIS fighters and a major avenue of its financing.
Ensour is leading a group of Jordanian parliamentarians – many of whom are Palestinians and sympathetic to ISIS – who question the Jordanian kingdom’s role in the anti-ISIS coalition.
One former government minister who asked not to be named had told the Washington, D.C.-based Middle East media website Al-Monitor that joining the new coalition was a challenge for Jordan.
“On the one hand, the kingdom cannot afford to turn its back on its Arab and Western allies and has no option but to join in the fight against ISIS,” the former minister said. “On the other it is weary of the possibility of becoming a target of Islamist extremists, especially when there are reports that the thousands of Jordanian Salafist jihadists are fighting with the Islamic State.”
In addition to providing a base for the coalition, Jordan sees its role as providing intelligence due to its special ties with Sunni tribes in western Iraq and southern Syria.
Adding to Jordan’s quandary, its parliament’s Lower House of Deputies recently signed a petition warning the government against joining any party against ISIS. The petition said Jordan “has no interest in such a confrontation, especially as many in the region sympathize with ISIS.”
Jordan’s adherence to the West and the security it provides to Israel is so critical that Israel would probably send troops into Jordan to protect it from an ISIS attack if necessary, one Israeli source who did not want to be identified told WND.
Last June, ISIS fighters seized the key border crossing of Turaibi with Jordan from Iraq, prompting the Jordanian military to rush troops to the area. The Turaibi crossing was overrun after ISIS overtook the Iraqi town of Rutba on the highway to Jordan in Iraq’s Sunni-dominated Anbar province. ISIS now controls all of the western-most Iraqi province.
Jordan’s strategic position is so critical that other informed sources say discussions are under way for the U.S. to set up a forward base in Jordan from which to launch coalition strikes against ISIS positions in neighboring Iraq and Syria.
The prospect reportedly came up in discussions between Abdullah and Secretary of State John Kerry at the recent NATO summit in Wales.
However, Jordanian caution regarding the coalition stems from the internal dissension and the volatility of persistent regional conflicts, especially the Palestinian problem endemic to the region and to Jordan in particular.
More than half of Jordan’s population of some 3.2 million people is of Palestinian origin, including Palestinian refugees who migrated to the country from 1947 to 1967. All Palestinians are fully naturalized citizens of Jordan.
The lingering Palestinian issue has made Jordan a “fertile breeding ground for extremists,” one Jordanian source said. Sunni Palestinians appear to be increasingly sympathetic to ISIS, as also seen in Lebanon, where ISIS and the al-Qaida-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra are present.
“Jordan’s little operetta king will do as he’s told,” one Jordanian source said of Abdullah in assuring Kerry that Jordan would be part of the anti-ISIS coalition. “The problem is there are too many people telling him. In the old days, he’d get his salary from the CIA and that was that. Now, everybody and his uncle is paying him and twisting his arm.
The source emphasized that the Middle East’s problems can’t be fixed without solving “the Palestinian problem,”
“Exactly, what is the Palestinian problem? People without a country. What was Palestine originally? Well, most of it was Jordan, wasn’t it?” the source said.
“The Brits promised the Jews a homeland on their Palestine mandate then lopped off most of it and set up a puppet state on it called Transjordan,” he said. “That’s why Jordan is a nation of Palestinians ruled by an imported Bedouin king and imported Bedouin muscle.”
The source was referring to the secret 1916 Sykes-Picot Treaty between Britain and France that divided up the Middle East following World War I. ISIS leader Baghdadi has resolved to eliminate the boundaries created by the treaty with the creation of his caliphate to bring all Muslims under strict Islamic law or kill them.
“So, the solution is obvious,” the source added. “Kick out the Bedouins and give the place to the PA (Palestinian Authority).”
‘Slaughter’ the king
In a recent video featuring Jordanian citizens, ISIS threatened to “slaughter” King Abdullah once it invades Jordan.
The Jordanian demonstrators can be seen ripping up their Jordanian passports and vowing to launch suicide attacks inside the kingdom. ISIS views the Western-backed Abdullah as an enemy of Islam and an “infidel.”
As one sign of the growing concern of ISIS within the country, some 60 individuals with direct ties to ISIS recently were arrested. Increasingly, demonstrations against the government have displayed openly ISIS flags among the protesters.
In addition, the Islamic Front, a major political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan, has rejected any Jordanian participation in the U.S.-led coalition.
In a statement, the Islamic Front said that it decried any “international pressures on the country to force it to become a party or a partner in a war that is not ours” and was “against plans for Jordanian bases to be used by soldiers who are part of an international coalition in the fight against terror.”