Middle East on Fire: Jordan’s military operations not without risk


The Jordanian government placed these banners across the country, which read “Lift your head up, you’re Jordanian.”

Often heralded as a staunch U.S. ally in the War on Terror, Jordan is currently participating in three of the Middle East’s major military operations in Syria, Iraq and Yemen. Jordan has been relatively free of the terror threats its neighbors face and may continue to be; at the same time, their participation in such conflicts carries risks, the chief ones being attacks from terror groups and the overstretch of Jordan’s military.

Jordan’s participation in Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve opens up the possibility of revenge attacks from ISIS. Echoes of the 2005 Amman bombings spring to mind, when ISIS’s forefather Al-Qaeda in Iraq bombed three hotels frequented by westerners. This attack was “in response to Jordan’s involvement with the 2003 US invasion of Iraq,” according to Tara Beeny, a research assistant at the American Enterprise Institute. “The execution of Jordanian pilot Muath al-Kasasbeh was a direct response to Jordan’s participation in the anti-ISIS coalition,” she adds. However, Beeny further claims “…in general the current efforts against ISIS are far less controversial than the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, which was widely seen as illegitimate.” Thus far, no major attacks on Jordanian targets have occurred since the pilot’s burning.

That being said, Jordan is certainly on ISIS’s mind. On Twitter, ISIS accounts ridicule Jordan’s military interventions against the group. For example, in response to a fatwa from Jordan banning people from joining ISIS, @F_16_00 tweeted “laugh with mules, Jordan.” The account has over 1,200 followers. ISIS also released a video shortly after the Jordanian pilots death which defended their decision to burn the “apostate” Jordan’s pilot alive in a cage.

The group has a presence in the country as well, although it is limited. “There is some support for ISIS and also for Al Qaeda among some (but not all) in Jordan’s growing Salafi communities,” says Curtis Ryan, a professor of political science at Appalachian State University and an authority on Jordan. He points to pro-ISIS demonstrations in the recent past. Relatedly, Jordanian security forces imprisoned six people for raising the infamous black flag of ISIS in mid-April. Ryan notes the security forces’ moves against the group as well. However, according to professor Ryan, their support is “not as large as the more traditional Islamist movement, the Muslim Brotherhood.”

So ISIS is present, but not a major player in Jordanian society. Ryan also argues that the domestic opposition to Jordan’s attacks on ISIS is largely political, as opposed to violent: “Many on the nationalist right think these are not Jordan’s wars and it shouldn’t be involved at all. Many on the more democratic left argue from a human rights perspective that the Yemen intervention especially is a GCC error that Jordan shouldn’t be a part of.”

In terms of attacks on Jordan from the militant-held territory elsewhere, ISIS has tried to move into Jordan numerous times. Dr. Hassan al-Momani, a conflict management specialist and professor at the University of Jordan points out that “ISIS has tried so many times to penetrate the Jordanian border.” This claim can be corroborated by media reports.

On the other hand, Jordan has been a significant participant in regional military operations for some time, while being simultaneously immune to some of the security problems of its neighbors. “Since 2001 Jordan has always been engaged with its allies in efforts of counter-terrorism,” says Dr. al-Momani. He additionally points to Jordan’s pre-9/11 participation in U.N. peacekeeping operations throughout the 1990s.

The possibility of Jordan overstretching its military exists as well. Dr. al-Momani believes this constitutes a risk, and has thus “called on our allies to strategically help us.” He adds “at the end of the day, we are a small country with limited resources.” Professor Ryan holds a similar view on the matter: “Jordan needs all the support it can get to shore up its borders with Syria and Iraq especially (with ISIS threats in mind).” Actually, Jordan is in part being so active in the conflict because of their concerns of overstretch, not in spite of them. Ryan links Jordan’s dependence on aid to its military involvement, saying “Jordan is a resource-poor and aid-dependent state, so it tries not to alienate allies that are its main sources of aid, investment, and even oil.” This is in reference to the aid Jordan receives from Gulf states. Saudi Arabia, for example, has taken the lead on the 2015 military intervention in Yemen, and has brought Jordan along for the ride. Perhaps this constitutes a form of payback.

On the other hand, it’s important to note that Jordan does not have a very active role in Yemen, as opposed to Syria and Iraq. “Jordan’s participation in Yemen will likely remain largely symbolic,” as Beeny points out. She holds that the country is focusing on Syria and Iraq, understandably so.

Threats to Jordanian security stemming from its participation in foreign conflicts are thus present, but not pressing. The threat of ISIS, coupled with the possibility of an overstretch of the kingdom’s military and resources means that it behooves those concerned with the Hashemite Kingdom’s security to keep a close eye on the situation.

Adam Lucente is a freelance journalist from Rockland County, currently living in Amman, Jordan