Jordan remains on the fence during planned IS offensive

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A handout picture released by the Jordanian Royal Palace on August 14, 2014, shows King Abdullah II (L) meeting with Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud in the Red Sea port of Jeddah. (Photo: AFP)

By: Mahmoud Sharaan

Published Thursday, September 11, 2014

Countries that neighbor Syria and Iraq will have the most prominent role to play in the war against the Islamic State (IS) and the pivotal role that Jordan will play is taking shape. While there has been no official position regarding Amman’s expected role, Jordan is likely to play a key part in providing intelligence information.

Amman – Steps are being taken on the international stage to prepare for the prospective war against IS. International actors are working out the roles that different parties will play in this war, especially the logistical and intelligence role by countries that neighbor Syria and Iraq, given their geographical proximity. In this context, a question emerges about the role that Jordan will play in this war, especially since Amman refused to disclose the nature of the talks that King Abdullah II had on the sidelines of the NATO summit last week, during which the creation of an international coalition to fight IS was announced.

Despite its support for the war, Amman has not yet determined the nature of its role in this coalition. Although Jordan provided a military plan to strike IS during the king’s participation in the NATO summit, as a military source told Al-Akhbar, government statements differed on the subject. Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour had said in a statement to the press that his country is not a member in the international coalition, stressing that Jordan “does not wage wars on behalf of anyone.”

Only two days later, government spokesperson Mohammed al-Momani’s statement differed from that of his boss. He said in an interview the day before yesterday that IS targets Jordan in its assets, capabilities and citizens and that his country is working on fortifying itself against terrorism internally and externally. He added that it is in constant coordination and communication with brotherly and friendly nations to confront terrorism and this will be announced in due time.

These contradictory official statements reveal the state of uncertainty within the decision-making circles in Amman. The government has been subject to foreign pressure from members of the coalition, most importantly, the US. But it has been subject to internal pressure as well, best expressed in the parliamentary memorandum signed by 21 MPs asking the government not to take part in any war against the group, to refuse to join any coalition aimed at fighting IS on the grounds that “the war is not Jordan’s war” and not to coordinate with any party in this regard.

MP Jamil al-Nimri, who had asked the government to join the coalition, attacked the memo. He stressed in an interview with Al-Akhbar that “the Islamic State is not a country-specific organization in one of the Arab states so it would not be of concern to us. It is an armed regional power, targeting the region as a whole. And it does not hide that, but rather announces it and publishes maps that include the Arab world, parts of Asia and Africa all the way to Andalusia. And surely, it has supporters in Jordan which multiplies its danger and underscores our duty to confront it.”

Nimri added that IS does not hide the fact that it targets Jordan, as evidenced by the threats it issues against the kingdom. It carries out operations to test the waters such as cross-border breaches and sending infiltrators that are killed or arrested.

He pointed out that if the Islamic State establishes itself on firm grounds and becomes stronger, its next target without a doubt is going to be Jordan, adding: “No two analysts would disagree that the danger besetting Jordan is linked to the future of the war against IS in Syria and Iraq. If the group is defeated there, we will be safe. Sympathy towards it will disappear and its reach here will recede. The opposite, however, is true. In other words, the war to eradicate the Islamic State is everyone’s war. It is definitely our battle before the West and the US.

Between those who support the idea of joining the coalition and those who oppose it, experts on Islamist organizations warned against joining the international coalition. They argue that it would be better for Jordan to stay away from any coalitions that might exacerbate the tension between IS and the kingdom, especially that there are Jordanian groups that support the Islamic State.

Information Minister Mohammed al-Momani told Al-Akhbar that there are “official efforts to confront the Islamic State inside Jordan.” He confirmed that there are people sympathetic to the group inside the kingdom, stressing the need for “a comprehensive national effort by all sectors of society – official and unofficial – to confront this extremist ideology.”

Informed sources told Al-Akhbar that Jordan will indeed play a role by virtue of its geographic location and its adoption of the counter-terror agenda, in addition to its long experience in these matters. But its role is going to be strategic. Amman will support the coalition logistically and through its intelligence, especially since many IS leaders came through the kingdom.

Sources point out that “Amman will stand in the middle or on the fence, as it has done with the Syrian and Iraqi crises, to avoid consequences it does not need. If it is attacked, however, it will assume a public military role.”

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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