With plans to build a 550 kilometre wall on its border with Jordan under way, Israel’s security decision is well timed. As the Iraqi cities of Kirkuk, Mosul, and Tikrit fall into the hands of Al Qaeda-influenced jihadists, it is Jordan, nestled between Israel’s eastern side and Iraq’s western area, that will serve as a crucial buffer from the terrorist movements that threaten to spill over into Israel.
The arrangement between Israel and Jordan follows exhortations from former Al-Qaeda affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS)’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, to extend ISIS control beyond pockets of Syria and Iraq. Al-Baghdadi recently revealed his desire to invade Jordan, which shares a long boundary with Syria and Iraq, and to extend his control to Israel and Egypt. Currently, ISIS holds three border posts between Syria and Turkey, and several more on Syria’s border with Iraq. With ISIS troops encroaching on Baghdad, the threat of political instability further afield is becoming a disturbing possibility.
As a result of al-Baghdadi’s assertions, the relationship between Israel and Jordan is likely to change. In the past, ISIS and its rival faction, Al Nusra, used Jordanian territory to recruit and send militants into battle. Currently, 2,200 Jordanians are fighting under the banner of Al Nusra and ISIS, a number that is growing at a rate of 50 new Jordanian fighters per week. For many of them, joining jihadist ranks is seen as a "religious duty".
The responsibility of monitoring and combating this jihadist threat puts tremendous pressure on an already stressed Jordan. Israel’s fears, that Jordan will fail to protect its boundaries against the prospect of infiltration, have been compounded by the situation in Iraq. Following ISIS’ recent attack, the Hashemite Kingdom will be expected to shelter more Iraqi refugees, on top of the further 600,000 Syrian refugees it already hosts. Coupled with extreme economic strain, is the potential for sectarianism and radicalism amongst refugees in Jordan, a phenomenon notoriously difficult to track. For Jordan, the resulting situation of political instability is a worrying one. For Israel, this means that the need for a physical demarcation is seen as a necessary precaution.
In the past, Jordan’s Minister of Interior Hussein Al-Majali stated that Jordan "is doing the work of two countries" in manning its border with Syria. The Jordanian Armed Forces regularly clashes with infiltrators. The exchange of fire between border guards and drivers that try to illegally enter the Hashemite Kingdom is a common occurrence. And approximately 30 fighters return to Jordan from Syria each week, making it difficult for Jordan to oversee their movements. Now Israel is worried that Jordan will have trouble monitoring its border with Iraq, as well as with Syria. But Jordan has promised to take "various measures" to preserve the security and the safety of its country, its borders, and its citizens. To achieve this, it may need Israel’s help.
Because of this, it is very likely that Jordan and Israel’s relationship will strengthen in the future. Roughly 6,000 US troops took part in this year’s "Eager Lion" military exercise in Jordan, and the United States, Jordan, and Israel already share military intelligence. Obama’s recent decision to create a counter-terrorism partnership fund of $5 billion will certainly benefit Jordan. Obama, stating that today’s security threat comes from "decentralized Al-Qaeda affiliates and extremists", armed with agendas focused in the countries where they operate, intends to use the money for new strategies to diffuse terrorist threats, without sending ground forces or stirring up "local resentments".
The counter-terrorism partnership fund will allow the United States to train, build capacity, and facilitate partner countries on the frontlines. If implemented successfully, the security training would greatly benefit Jordan in combating ISIS and Al Nusra jihadist fighters who are trying to make a base in Jordan.
On a local level, Jordan’s lower house of parliament recently passed amendments to its 2006 anti-terror bill, providing the state the power to detain and try citizens suspected of affiliation with terrorist groups. This law aims to target suspected members of Syrian militias likely to settle in Jordan. It is hoped that the new bill will aid the work of Jordanian military and intelligence agencies. These efforts would also aid in promoting regional stability.
Others, however, are worried that the support from the United States is not enough. After all, Iraq’s million-strong army was trained by the United States, at a cost of more than $20 million. Despite these costs, the Iraqi army is fraught with low morale and corruption. Iran’s President Rouhani recently went so far as to denounce the western and Arab governments for backing rebels fighting Syrian president Assad, an ally of Iran, and stating that the jihadist surge in Iraq is a spillover from that endorsement.
Until the United States makes a decision on utilizing air strikes operations to quell the jihadist threat in Iraq, Israel’s focus will be on a high security alert for protecting its own borders. In the long term, both Jordan and Israel will structure their partnership to be one that is devoid of any possible moral hazard.
In the meantime, however, Israel will continue to put more bricks in its wall to deter the spread of a potential ISIS threat.