Every time America tries to pivot its foreign policy toward China and the Far East, the Middle East comes calling. If policy makers in Washington think it’s a binary choice between the challenges of China and North Korea vs. the recurring malignant variants of Shi’ite and Sunni Islamism undermining our national security interests, they are sadly mistaken.
America is safer and the world functions better when America is engaged throughout the world, leading from strength and not from behind. Those who equate engagement with only military action mislead the conversation, as military strength leverages diplomacy, economic sanctions and other tools.
Predicting what’s next in the Middle East is a slippery slope. Who would have predicted the Khashoggi debacle or the 2011 Arab Winter? Yet, it is still imperative for the United States to invest the time and resources to analyze the likely possibilities of what’s coming next to create flexible strategies.
The US Army War College’s Strategic Studies Institute says, “One of the Department of Defense’s most important tools for strategy development under uncertainty is scenario planning… using alternative future scenarios to test prospective capabilities, concepts, and policies.”
We must therefore plan for how America will respond to the dangerous and inevitable situations brewing in both Lebanon and Jordan.
First, there is little doubt Israel will attack Iranian-controlled precision missile factories in Lebanon just as it did in Syria.
Second, the precarious Hashemite hold on Jordan due to the deteriorating economic conditions is being exploited by the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood, which is trying to undermine King Abdullah’s government.
It shouldn’t have surprised analysts that Jordan decided to terminate an annex to the 1994 peace treaty with Israel. Jordan’s Hashemite government is continually trying to placate opposition lawmakers and Islamists who rile up the disgruntled populace suffering from economic decline in part due to reduced subsidies imposed by the IMF (International Monetary Fund).
According to The Economist
, “Bread prices nearly doubled and fuel taxes climbed 30%... with “just 3% of Jordanians pay(ing) income tax (and) the unemployment rate 18%.”
Add to that the Jordanian citizenry was raised on anti-Israel rhetoric for generations, not much different from the other Arab nation, Egypt, that has a peace treaty with Israel. It is not hard to find a copy of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion in your neighborhood Amman bookstore. The 2017 US State Department’s International Religious Freedom report documented profound Jordanian and Egyptian state-sponsored antisemitism and anti-Israel bias.
Jordan has been fragile for years, a poor country inundated with refugees from Syria and Iraq, while its monarchy is considered illegitimate by many because it is a relic of a colonial past that is not indigenous to the area, while ruling over a resentful populace that is becoming more Islamist every year.
If Jordan appears to be in danger of collapsing, both Israel and America will put boots on the ground to save the Kingdom, which would be the third American war in the Middle East in 20 years.
Iran plans is to take advantage of the Muslim Brotherhood’s destabilization of Jordan and wait in the wings to undermine Jordan with the Iranian Popular Mobilization Units, Hezbollah and the Iranian Republican Guard ominously lurking on its borders as they create the architecture to invade Jordan from Iraq, Lebanon and Syria at a time of Iran’s choosing.
America must let King Abdullah know that if he wants to remain in power, placating the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood by distancing Jordan from Israel would more likely destabilize his regime first, opening the door for the Shi’ite Iranian threat from the north and east.
The King must be on guard as the reopening of the Nassib crossing between Syria and Jordan to bolster Jordan’s economy also opens it up to Iranian influence, as Iran today largely controls both Syria and Lebanon. King Abdullah should also remember his grandfather’s assassination as well as the assassination of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat was by Islamists associated with the Muslim Brotherhood.
As for Lebanon, what comes next there isn’t likely to be pretty.
After successful Israeli attacks in Syria on Iran’s precision missile factories, Iran has decided to transfer them to Hezbollah control in Lebanon while continuing to transfer game-changing GPS guidance systems. This is a red line for Israel, which will be forced to repeatedly attack Lebanon with each new transfer of weapons and identification of missile factories, with the possibility that this can lead to a regional conflagration involving both Russia and America.
As former Israeli head of Military Intelligence Amos Yadlin told the Israeli daily Yediot Aharono
t, “If Israel does not do anything… the price will be paid in war.”
America needs to be in close coordination with Israel on a daily basis about the ever-changing situation in Lebanon and see if Russia has any appetite to help avoid a war in Lebanon where instability could undermine Russian gains in advanced air and sea bases in Latakia province in Syria.
In the past, when Assad the father had designs on Jordan, the threat of Israeli or American intervention was enough to stop him. Now it is a totally different ballgame, with an Iran that may welcome a confrontation with Israel to destabilize the region and advance its hegemonic interests.
If the Middle East is not going to continually undermine America’s other priorities in the world, the US needs to have a strategy for the day after the Iranian Northern War begins and also figure out how to stabilize the weak Jordanian regime before it falls off the cliff.
The writer, the director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political Information Network, regularly briefs members of the Senate, House and their foreign policy advisors. He is a regular columnist for The Jerusalem Post, and a contributor to i24TV, The Hill and The Forward.
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