Israel: the ultimate guarantor of Jordan's security
The growing Islamist threat to its stability and integrity are a source of concern for not only the Hashemite House of Jordan and its elites but also for Israel, the US and the UK. Jordan has always been a loyal ally of the British and the Americans, and even more so since 9/11 and the war on global terrorism.
The CIA, for example, kept detention (black prisons) centers on Jordanian soil and benefited from its strong cooperation with Jordanian intelligence to interrogate terrorists and foil their attacks.
Israel, directly or indirectly via the US and the UK is, de facto, the ultimate guarantor of Jordanian sovereignty. Israeli intelligence has played a major role in protecting the Hashemite rulers from terrorist plots throughout the years.
The earthquake in Iraq is sending shock waves to the desert kingdom. The Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS), which aspires to create an Islamic Caliphate (Emirate) based on 7th century values, recently published a map of its desired borders, which includes Jordan and Palestine (Israel).
During its impressive military campaign and conquest of one third of Iraq, ISIS warriors took over an important crossing point on the Jordanian-Iraqi border. The effective Jordanian military was placed on alert and tightened its control of the border zone.
Yet internal and external threats are not new to the Jordanian monarchy. The Hashemite House has learned to live in their shadow and to overcome them with a little help from its friends – Britain, America and Israel. In that sense, current events echo past ones.
Jordan's location, history and ethnic configuration is unique in the Arab world. Like some other Arab nations – Iraq Lebanon, Kuwait – Jordan was created by colonial powers, which carved out borders with thick pencils on maps. It was given nearly 100 years ago by the British as a gift and compensation to the Hashemite dynasty, which were the guardians of the holy places of Mecca and Medina and lost them and the Arab peninsula to the House of Saud.
For several reasons Jordan has became the most threatened and fragile nation in the Arab world.
It is surrounded on three sides by hostile nations. To the south, Saudi Arabian rivalry is rooted in the old desire for religious hegemony of Sunni Islam. To the east Iraq and to the north Syria, both considered radical national forces angered by Jordan's pro-Western policies. King Hussein, the late father of present-day monarch King Abdullah, was in the 50's and 60's the target of several plots by Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser, who was the great champion of Arab Pan-Arabism, nationalism and radicalism.
Domestically, Jordan's population is divided between a Palestinians majority and the "original" Jordanians. This is a recipe for discontent, as the events of the post 1967 Israel-Arab war showed. The PLO used Jordanian territory as a launching pad for attacks against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and eventually created a "state within a state" in Jordan with the intention of toppling King Hussein.
From its inception in 1948, Israel found in Jordan a tacit ally – based on the old dictum that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. The common interests shared by the two countries served as an opposing force to the establishment of a Palestinian state and to Arab radicalism. This engendered secret intelligence cooperation and security coordination. Israeli intelligence tips saved the life of King Hussein. Since the 60's all Israeli Prime Ministers met secretly – sometime in exotic venues such as aboard a yacht or a medical clinic in London – with King Hussein. They talked about peace but settled for less – secret security collaboration to maintain tranquility along the border and to fight Palestinian terrorists.
At least twice Israel played an active role in preserving Jordanian independence and Hashemite rule. In 1958 Israel allowed British planes carrying troops to cross its airspace on a mission to defend the kingdom from Nasser's plot to overthrow the regime and turn Jordan into a pro-Nasserite republic.
Twelve years later, in September 1970, after Syrian tanks invaded northern Jordan in solidarity with the PLO struggle against King Hussein, Israel, encouraged by the US, massed troops and threatened to invade Jordan and repel the Syrians. Eventually President Hafez Assad (the father of Bashar) got the message and withdrew his forces.
True, there were those – the late Ariel Sharon was one of them – who argued that instead of assisting the monarchy, Israel should help its enemies in their attempts to over throw the regime and turn Jordan into the state of the Palestinians, thus satisfying their aspirations for statehood.
But since the 1980's these voices have been marginalized, and certainly after the 1994 peace treaty between the two countries was signed. Nowadays, most Israeli strategists and leaders see Jordan as a buffer state vital for Israeli security, and King Abdullah as a solid ally.
With the advancement of radical Sunni forces from Iraq toward Jordan's borders, the clandestine cooperation and consultations between Israel and Jordan are increasing. It is hard to believe that Israel will allow Jordan to fall into ISIL's hands. If such a danger grows acute one can envision even direct Israeli military intervention, or at least the use of the Israeli Air Force to defend the monarchy and Jordanian independence.
Yossi Melman is an Israeli security and intelligence commentator and co-author of "Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel's Secret Wars".