What does the attack on US soldiers in Jordan mean for Israeli security?

Israel could find itself tracking an influx of terrorists in Turkey and Jordan, but also closer to home in the Sinai.

November 6, 2016 18:42
3 minute read.
jordanian soldiers

Jordanian soldiers use a portable scanner to check the possessions of Syrian refugees after they crossed into Jordanian territory. (photo credit: REUTERS)

What appeared to be a terrorist attack Friday by a Jordanian soldier on three US military advisers who were entering a Jordanian army base will not end intelligence cooperation between the two countries, but it does signal a heightened terrorist threats to Israel, Dr. Ely Karmon of the IDC’s International Institute for Counter-Terrorism said on Sunday.

Details are still unclear from the incident with the tone of both US and Jordanian officials implying that the incident was a deliberate attack.

Officials also said that the investigation is still ongoing and that they are refraining from a formal public declaration about the motivation of the shooters or their identities.

The narrative provided by various Jordanian officials has also indicated the possibility of a spontaneous outbreak of tension between certain Jordanian and US military personnel of late, with several Jordanians also hurt in the incident.

Assuming the incident was a terrorist attack, Karmon, who has also advised the Defense Ministry and participated in NATO workshops on terrorism, said it still needed to be put into the greater picture of complex events impacting terrorism in Jordan, Israel and their neighbors.

He said that “US-Jordan cooperation is huge” and is a “key bridge to other states like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Israel.”

“The US has an interest in a stable regime, and Jordan needs assistance, including military and economic [assistance] and the backing of a superpower,” Karmon said.

For the US and Israel, Jordan is a firewall of stability against ISIS and other terrorist groups trying to spread their influence from Syria and Iraq, he said.

Karmon said ISIS, Hezbollah, Iran and other groups “are trying to get into Jordan and know it is important, but until now have had very limited success.”

There has been some ISIS success in infiltrating the Beduin community in Jordan, noted Karmon, but mostly Jordan has stopped them and recently arrested some Hezbollah cells.

The big concerns are that the last year or two have caused internal divisions within Jordan where the Muslim Brotherhood and the broader population is not ready to fight a war with ISIS.

These divisions, along with the 1.5 million Syrian and Iraqi refugees in Jordan with no horizon for an improved situation, is a combustible situation for ISIS and others to inspire “lone wolf” attackers, said Karmon.

Karmon said the same threats that these terrorist groups pose to Jordan can also apply to Israel either by undermining Jordan as a bulwark of stability and a quiet border for Israel or by building more of a foundation for terrorists to sneak into Israel from Jordan.

However, the biggest threat that attack highlighted is the escalating terrorism threat to Israel, Jordan and US advisers in the region after ISIS’s expected fall in Mosul and other locations, he said.

While these expected anti- ISIS victories go a long way toward reducing the group’s regional power, large numbers of ISIS foreign fighters are expected to retreat, survive and pose a lower-grade but potent terrorist danger in the area in other ways, Karmon said.

Israel could find itself tracking an influx of terrorists in Turkey and Jordan, but also closer to home in the Sinai, where ISIS can try to recruit Israeli-Arabs or Beduin from close range, he said.

One interesting phenomenon Karmon pointed out, which may help Jordan push back against infiltration and terrorism by ISIS, is the government’s cooperation with other Jihadist groups, which it then co-opts to stand against ISIS.

Karmon gave Abu Muhammad Maqdisi, a central Salafist figure in Jordan and a former mentor of Abu Musab Zarqawi; and Abu Qatada, who was involved with terror groups including in England until being extradited to Jordan; as examples.

Both Jihadist leaders got some favorable treatment from Jordanian law enforcement in return for making “strong statements against ISIS,” he said.

Overall, Karmon called the incident very embarrassing for Jordanian and US intelligence and counterterrorism cooperation, with both sides hoping the attacker was a lone wolf,= and wanting to resolve it quickly so as to stabilize cooperation.

In November 2015, a Jordanian army officer said to be inspired by ISIS killed two US private security contractors and a South African at a US-funded police training facility.

Many Jordanians oppose the government’s close counterterrorism cooperation with the US and Israel, including working with the US on air strikes against ISIS, though the country receives hundreds of millions of dollars in aid in return.

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