The Kingdom of Jordan: Deepening its Security and Economic Cooperation with its Neighbors and Allies for the Sake of its Survival

Recently, a memorandum of understanding (MoU) was signed between Jordan and Iraq in the presence of the Iraqi National Security Adviser. The memorandum was signed with the Jordanian Ministry of Defense to increase security cooperation. In the energy sector, it was agreed that Iraqi oil would be transferred to Egypt and Jordan via the Arab gas line, and a crude oil line would be laid, linking the city of Basra with the city of Aqaba in Jordan. The two countries also announced the establishment of a joint industrial city. However, Jordan’s security challenges may limit its ability to eradicate the military militias (some of which are Shiite operating under the Iranian Quds Force) in its border areas with Iraq and Syria.

According to recent reports, Jordanian representatives met with Iranian officials to discuss security matters due to the meeting between Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi and his Iranian counterpart on the sidelines of the Organization for Islamic Cooperation conference in December 2021. In December 2021, the Jordanian capital, Amman, hosted Saudi and Iranian security experts to discuss confidence-building measures and avoid entanglement with Iran and Saudi Arabia. Nonetheless, Jordan’s King Abdullah II fully comprehends Iran’s role in the region in its support of Shiite militias throughout the Middle East, including Iraq.

To mark Iraq’s centennial celebrations, Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, urged all Iraqis to recognize what unites them and not what separates them for the greater good of Iraq. However, Iran, the United States, and the Gulf states are increasingly involved in the struggle for Iraq’s future, and as of now, the political structure in Iraq is far from stable. At a press briefing, the U.S. deputy secretary of state for Iraq and Iran affairs explained that it was essential that the Iraqi parties work together so that the United States could continue to implement the strategic framework agreement with Iraq. But other Shiite groups, particularly the main alliance affiliated with the Iranian-backed Hashd al-Shaabi militias, refused to admit defeat and ran in elections in October 2021, thus preventing efforts to form a government. After Iran’s missile attack on targets in Iraq, Baghdad summoned Iran’s ambassador to the country to protest the airstrikes after the Iraqi Foreign Ministry condemned the attack as a “flagrant violation of Iraqi sovereignty.”

It is possible that the Iraqi prime minister, al- Kadhimi, constituted a moderating influence for Iraq by trying to pull Iraq back into the Arab world through economic deals with Jordan and Egypt. But the significant existential question for Iraq, which is recovering from a failed country divided throughout its various regions, and dominated by different identity communities, remains problematic. In fact, the parliamentary elections in October 2021, which held hope for advancing Iraqi sovereignty, made the situation more explosive and dangerous for its neighbor to the west, Jordan.

Historically, Jordan has assisted Iraq in every possible way, serving as a major trading partner, both through an oil pipeline and through a corridor to transfer weapons. Doing so to protect Iraq from the alliance formed between Iran and Syria decades ago. The peak of Jordanian support for Iraq was during the first Gulf War (1991).

Today, the main Jordanian fear is that clashes will spill over into its territory from Iraq or Syrian territory. In light of this, Jordan hopes to maintain its security through traditional alliances with the United States and Israel. A political meeting held by the Jordanian king in the city of Aqaba with the Emirati Crown Prince, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Egyptian President Sisi, and the Prime Minister of Iraq reflects the Jordanian kingdom’s desire to stabilize its position in the regional sphere. Jordan and Israel share a common security concern over elements of the radical Shiite axis led by Iran near their borders.

Germany is another state that has deployed its forces in Jordan and is committed to its missions in Iraq. Germany’s troop deployment in Iraq was extended by nine months, and the government of Chancellor Olaf Schulz announced an official end to Germany’s operations in Syria. The German military, the Bundeswehr, supports regional efforts against the Islamic State in Iraq, providing military training, operating reconnaissance planes, and air-to-air refueling aircraft. Most of the German soldiers in Iraq are stationed in the northern Kurdish region of the country. Some also operate out of the Muwaffaq Salti Air Base in Jordan and out of Baghdad’s Iraqi capital.

Jordan’s strategic importance is evident due to the ongoing instability in both Syria and neighboring Iraq. The Jordanian kingdom is also a longstanding partner in counterterrorism operations and provides intelligence to perceive the moves of various extremist terrorist groups. Jordan seeks to increase its political and security stability with its natural partners, led by the United States, which provides Jordan with broad economic assistance and significant security support.

Annual U.S. aid to Jordan has nearly quadrupled in historical terms over the past 15 years. In June 2021, the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) announced that the transfer of missile defense assets to Jordan would continue under the Central Command (CENTCOM). A congressional foreign affairs bill includes $1.65 billion in aid, including $425 million for military aid. This aid also includes Patriot missile batteries and advanced defense tools. U.S. assistance also involves funding for constructing security systems for the Jordanian border, an integrated network of watchtowers, surveillance cameras, and radar on the borders with Syria and Iraq. Iraq, including the Kurdistan region, still serves as an important deployment area for U.S. troops who led the coalition that fought against ISIS; in this context, the Jordanian kingdom has proven to be effective in operations against ISIS compared to Egypt and Iraq. However, ISIS is still active in the al-Anbar province of Iraq, which borders Jordan.

The al-Rukban Syrian refugee camp in Jordan, close to the American base in al-Tanf, is a challenge for Jordan. In 2016, the Jordanian government allowed the camp’s 20,000 residents to resettle as refugees, but concerns about potential security risks prompted Jordan to secure their settlement in the Azraq refugee camp and restrict their movements. The terrorist attacks in al-Rukban joined a series of events and failures that led to the dismissal of the Jordanian Defense Minister. The al-Rukban camp creates security challenges in the context of the freedom of movement of its residents in Jordan.

ISIS still threatens the border crossings and appeals to groups within the kingdom. The main significant concentration of Jordan’s population is in the country’s northwest (between the northern region of Irbid province and the Amman district). While the Jordanian kingdom’s security forces have been effective in maintaining the country’s borders, they are struggling to cope with internal threats, as recent pro-ISIS demonstrations deep in Jordanian territory have shown. These demonstrations join protests against corruption and economic despair in tribal and rural areas throughout Jordan, allowing extremist organizations to recruit volunteers more easily.

Israel continues to monitor Jordan’s prosecution authorities, which have banned local media and social media from reporting on the crisis within the Royal House, mainly regarding the former crown prince, Prince Hamza, who was allegedly involved in conspiring with foreign officials planning a coup d’état. The reports accompanied a wave of arrests in Amman, accompanied by popular hostility against the relationship with Israel, hostility already expressed after the water and energy deal between Israel and Jordan in 2021 and the gas deal between Israel and Jordan over the past three years. The King of Jordan carefully navigates the ties with Israel. On the one hand, outwardly, Jordan takes symbolic actions to show a firm stance against Israel. On the other hand, Jordan maintains strategic cooperation (security and economic) with Israel and will continue to do so in the distant future, with a common view that Israel contributes (together with other countries) to the kingdom’s security.

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Dr. Nir Levitan

Dr. Nir Levitan

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