On Jordan’s true role in the anti-ISIS alliance
There are an estimated 1,800 - 2,000 Jordanians fighting alongside ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra
Abandoning diplomatic caution, Jordan is now a member of the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. Amman has traditionally avoided referring to the jihadist group by name, instead alluding to it within the broad context of radicalism and terrorism.
There are an estimated 1,800 - 2,000 Jordanians fighting alongside ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra, Al-Qaeda’s Syrian wing. Jordan also has a long border with Syria and Iraq, extending to more than 500 kilometers. These considerations, along with the fear of “sleeper cells” within the 1.5 million Syrian refugees in the kingdom, contribute to Jordan’s careful wording over ISIS.
Similarly, although Jordan has placed itself within the camp opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, it has refrained from explicitly criticizing his regime for fear of retaliation from Damascus.
An internal war
King Abdullah of Jordan was among Arab leaders at the Sept. 4-5 Nato summit in Wales, during which the anti-ISIS alliance was formed. After Baghdad, Amman was the second destination of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s regional tour to garner support for the war on ISIS. Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh was among the high-ranking Arab officials to attend a recent meeting on ISIS with U.S. officials in the Saudi city of Jeddah.
King Abdullah has made clear that Jordan will not put boots on the ground in Iraq and Syria, but has reiterated his country’s readiness to offer help in tackling radicalism. Jordanians, already impacted by regional turbulence, would not want to go to war beyond their country’s borders.
Plus it is an established principle for the Jordanian army to not get involved in external affairs unless there is a danger from outside. So if ISIS comes closer to the Jordanian borders with Iraq and Syria, the army will act. Jordanian tribes have also vowed to fight ISIS if it poses a threat to their country’s stability and sovereignty.
For now, Jordan’s role in the U.S.-led war on the group remains within the levels of intelligence and logistics cooperation. Jordan has strong connections with the Arab Sunnis in Anbar and other western Iraqi provinces who are fighting ISIS. With several Iraqi Sunni leaders already residing in Amman, Jordan can extend valuable intelligence help to the anti-ISIS alliance.
Jordan has already embarked on an “internal war” against the group by cracking down on its supporters and arresting imams promoting its ideology and hailing its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Jordanian authorities recently arrested Salafists who took part in a pro-ISIS rally. Raids on hardliners are expected to increase as the war on the group intensifies. In a bid to counter the radical ideologies of ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra, Jordan has also embarked on a campaign to promote the moderation of Islam.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @RaedAlOmari2