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Could U.S. strikes on Iraq spur Jordan’s homegrown ISIS?

Jordan has paid a heavy price for its strategic alliance with the U.S., especially in the war against terror

Raed Omari

Published: Updated:

Being one of the U.S.'s closest allies in the region, Jordan, home to thousands of Salafist Jihadists, must be concerned now with America's military campaign in Iraq targeting the radical Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

In addition to its long northeastern borders with Syria and Iraq, extending to more than 500 kilometers, the fact that there are nearly 2000 Jordanians fighting alongside ISIS has prompted fears in the security-concerned kingdom.

There is also concern over a homegrown ISIS in Jordan. With the radical group declaring its caliphate in June, many Jordanians – mostly young militants or former ISIS fighters – took to the streets in the cities of Maan and Zarqa, praising Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and his group's victories.

In anticipation of a prolonged Syrian crisis and the accompanying upsurge of radical groups, Jordan has adopted a set of measures to counter any security spillover from the northern and eastern terrorism-fertile Syria and Iraq. In addition to the deployment of heavily-armed security guards on the borders Syria and Iraq, Jordan’s parliament has endorsed an amended version of the anti-corruption law, broadening the definition of “terrorist acts” to include “joining or attempting to join,” the “direct and indirect funding” and “attempts at recruitment” for “any armed group or terrorist organization within the kingdom and abroad.

But things have changed now for Jordan after the U.S.’s bombardments of ISIS targets in Iraq, especially with America’s jetfighters expected to drop their 500-pound bombs on the group’s posts in Syria. In order for President Obama’s pledge to “turn the tide against ISIS” to be fulfilled, the U.S. cannot help but attack the radical group in Syria.

Jordan is also concerned about ISIS or Nusra fighters fleeing from Syria and Iraq into its nearby territories. To deal with such a long-anticipated possibility, Jordan has installed highly visible surveillance cameras alongside its borders with Iraq and Syria. I was once told by a senior Jordanian army officer, “Even a cat trying to cross the borders will be seen with these cameras installed.”

Good news for Jordan

No doubt that the U.S.’s long-awaited decisiveness on ISIS is good news for Jordan; it can be at the same time of unpleasant outcomes, in the long run if not now. Jordan has paid a heavy price for its strategic alliance with the U.S., especially in the war against terror. In just two years following the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, Jordan was the target of three bloody terrorist attack claimed by al-Qaeda in Iraq. Three hotels in Amman were bombed in November 2005, killing at least 56 people and leaving hundreds critically wounded.

Jordan has paid a heavy price for its strategic alliance with the U.S., especially in the war against terror

Raed Omari

At the time, al-Qaeda justified its attack on Jordan for Amman’s military and intelligence cooperation with Washington. There is a fear in Jordan now, though not overtly expressed, of a similar terrorist attack possibly launched by ISIS on Jordanian soil in vengeance for Amman’s cooperation with the U.S.

But Jordan needs not anticipate any of ISIS’ future plans. The radical group’s leaders have already identified Jordan as their enemy long before the U.S. bombardments of their military commands.

Plus, Jordan' military and intelligence cooperation with the U.S. is no secret. In any emerging U.S. decisiveness on any issue of mutual concern, Jordan has always showed eagerness to cooperate and offer logistic, military and intelligence assistance.

It is also not a secret that Jordan was of great help to the Americans in Iraq during the post-Saddam Hussein era, offering intelligence tips.

All in all, many in Jordan, myself included, see ISIS as posing no serious threat to Jordan from a strategic view. ISIS has made victory after victory in Syria and Iraq due to the deteriorating situation and the state of statelessness in both war-torn countries. It can be said that ISIS has never been challenged by an organized and disciplined army like that of Jordan.

Delivering a lecture recently, Jordan’s former prime minister Marouf al-Bakhit, believed to be the architect of the kingdom’s policy on Syria, has minimized ISIS’ danger on Jordan, citing, in addition to the group’s weak military capabilities compared with Jordan’s, the open topography of the northern and eastern borders with Syria and Iraq.

It is not in the interest of ISIS to open a new front with Jordan. The radical group is fully aware of the risks of such an uncalculated move, not only due to Jordan’s military capabilities but with regard to Amman’s alliance with Washington.

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Raed Omari is a Jordanian journalist, political analyst, parliamentary affairs expert, and commentator on local and regional political affairs. His writing focuses on the Arab Spring, press freedoms, Islamist groups, emerging economies, climate change, natural disasters, agriculture, the environment and social media. He is a writer for The Jordan Times, and contributes to Al Arabiya English. He can be reached via raed_omari1977@yahoo.com, or on Twitter @RaedAlOmari2

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.