It isn’t often a novelist with dual US-Israeli citizenship has the opportunity to meet a Sunni Arab monarch, but last month I had the honor of spending time with Jordan’s King Abdullah II. It was absolutely fascinating to spend time with a moderate Muslim leader so deeply committed to defeating Islamic State (ISIS) and the forces of violent jihad.
The king invited my wife and me on a five-day visit to the Hashemite Kingdom after reading my latest political thriller, The First Hostage. The novel focuses on a plot by ISIS leaders to launch catastrophic chemical weapons attacks against the US, Israel and Jordan, target the king and seize Jordan to become part of its caliphate.
Upon arriving in Amman, my wife and I had a private luncheon with Abdullah at the National Crisis Center, a high-tech war room reminiscent of Jack Bauer’s fictional Counter-Terrorism Unit (CTU) headquarters in the TV series 24. From there, the king invited us to join him at a live-fire military exercise of Jordanian air and ground forces near Zarqa.
The trip included visits to several Jordanian military bases – including one just a few miles from the Syrian border, and the King Abdullah Special Operations Training Center – and briefings from various generals and military officials. It also included a tour of the Zaatari Refugee Camp, home of some 80,000 Syrians who have fled from the Assad regime, ISIS and a seemingly never-ending civil war. One of the most special elements of the trip was a two-and-a-half-hour private dinner with the king and several friends at Beit al-Urdon, his personal palace.
After getting a first-hand look at the king and his national security team, I came away with three observations.
First, Jordan’s king is sitting on a volcano, nearly surrounded by a raging forest fire, bracing for a massive earthquake.
To his north, Syria is imploding. To his east, Iraq has been massively destabilized.
Some 1.3 million refugees have poured into Jordan from Syria alone, and more are coming every day, putting enormous pressure on Jordan’s struggling economy.
ISIS leaders have publicly vowed to invade Jordan, “slaughter” the king, whom they denounce as an “ally of the Crusaders,” and raise their black flags over Amman. So far, some 3,000 Jordanians have joined ISIS, including the son of a Jordanian member of Parliament.
“This is a message to the tyrant of Jordan,” the young man declared in a video he released just before going on a suicide bombing mission in Iraq. “Know, O Abdullah, son of Hussein, that you are an apostate....
Even if you manage to escape our punishment, you will not manage to escape Allah’s punishment.”
A poll released in 2015 found that 74 percent of Americans fear a major ISIS attack inside the US, and 73% fear a major ISIS attack in Israel. But nearly two-in-three Americans (65%) also fear ISIS “will try to overthrow the King of Jordan – an important, moderate Arab ally of the United States – and use Jordan as a base camp to launch terrorist attacks against America and Israel.”
I pray such scenarios never come to pass. But the threat is real and growing.
Second, King Abdullah was born for this moment.
As a 43rd-generation direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad, the 54-year-old monarch has real credibility with his people when it comes to countering the radical and apocalyptic theological narratives espoused by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and other ISIS leaders. His majesty not only strenuously opposes the ISIS claim that Muslims are required to engage in violent jihad – and even genocide – to re-establish the caliphate and bring about the End of Days, he is also one of the Islamic world’s leading reformers, working with clerics and scholars throughout Jordan and the region to define and advance a moderate, tolerant, peaceful vision of Islam.
What’s more, as a career soldier trained at the best British military schools, and a natural leader who rose through the ranks to become the commander of Jordan’s Special Operations forces prior to ascending to the throne, the king is uniquely qualified to protect his people from the ISIS threat. He regularly meets with – and occasionally even trains with – his special forces commanders and units, and is directly involved in operations against extremists in Jordan and in the tactical leadership of Jordan’s efforts against ISIS in Syria.
At his direction, Jordanian commandos, General Intelligence Directorate operatives and elite police units are taking down an ISIS or related cell inside Jordan every week. As a result of excellent intelligence and security work, Jordan hasn’t had a major terrorist attack inside its borders since 2005, certainly nothing like the recent jihadist attacks in Brussels, Paris, Istanbul, San Bernardino and elsewhere. This is directly attributable to the king’s impressive leadership at home, as well as his close working relationship with Israeli, Egyptian, Saudi and Gulf security and intelligence forces.
Third, the king is ready, willing and able to be even more actively engaged in the fight against ISIS, and to continue caring for so many Muslim and Christian refugees, but he needs more US and international assistance to do this effectively.
One example: Jordan currently has eight Blackhawk military helicopters, which it recently received from the US in early March, and for which it is very grateful. However, to conduct effective missions against ISIS jihadists in Iraq and Syria, Jordanian forces need at least 12 Blackhawks. Another eight Blackhawks have been promised by the US, but they aren’t expected to be delivered until the end of 2017. Why? Shouldn’t Washington immediately provide its most faithful Sunni Arab ally with as many military helicopters as it needs to wage war on ISIS? At the same time, while the international community has pledged billions in financial aid to help Jordan shoulder the enormous refugee burden, it is not delivering on its promises.
In 2014, only 28% of the promised aid was delivered. In 2015, the number was only 35%.
In this regard the US is doing far better than others. In 2012, the US gave Jordan $460 million in foreign aid.
This year, Congress and the Obama administration will provide $1 billion in aid. But why isn’t President Obama pressing other countries to do more? Neither the Europeans nor wealthy Arab nations want millions of Syrian refugees living in their countries.
Nor can they afford to see a moderate country like Jordan destabilized. They need to step up, now.
I was already intrigued with Jordan’s warrior king before I met him. That’s why I made him a central character in both of my recent novels about ISIS. But spending personal time with him and his generals, and seeing the extraordinary lengths to which the king is going to defeat the forces of Islamic extremism, deeply impressed me.
King Abdullah II is, without question, the West’s most faithful Sunni Arab ally. But as he engages in a hot war against a genocidal enemy he needs far more help from the US and the international community – and he needs it now. Let’s give him what he needs, before it’s too late.
The author is a New York Times best-selling author. He has written two novels about the threat of Islamic State, The Third Target (published in January 2015) and The First Hostage (published in December 2016). He can be reached at www.joelrosenberg.com.