Analysis: King Abdullah's woes

If realignment creates another Gaza, Abdullah has reason to worry.

abdullah 298.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
abdullah 298.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
"You think you have troubles?" Jordan's King Abdullah II could rightfully ask Prime Minister Ehud Olmert during their scheduled meeting in Amman Thursday. "I can tell you something about troubles." And, indeed, Abdullah has a bagful of strategic woes that rival even those which all Israeli prime ministers carry around with them. One of Abdullah's messages to Olmert will undoubtedly be an appeal not to add to his problems by unilaterally walking out of most of the West Bank. The problem with Olmert's realignment plan from a Jordanian perspective is what might emerge in the territories that Israel leaves behind. If Israel were to leave behind an area that had a recognized sovereign and was run in an orderly fashion, and Israel still controlled the Jordan River as its eastern border, that would be one thing. But if a withdrawal were to give birth to "Gaza in the West Bank," meaning a situation of chronic unemployment, severe poverty and chaos verging on anarchy, then Abdullah has what to fear. And his concern is simple. Hemmed in by Israel's security barrier, tens of thousands of Palestinians may very well - in this scenario - look to improve their lot by crossing the Jordan River. Which is one reason Abdullah is, paradoxically, interested in Israel maintaining a presence along the river so there is no contiguous border between Jordan and a future Palestinian state. His concern, according to senior Israeli sources, is not of a violent coup, but rather that an influx of massive proportions could radically change the delicate dynamics in the kingdom, where Palestinians already make up 70 percent of the population. Furthermore, there would likely be among this potential wave of immigrants no small number of Islamic radicals who would like nothing more than to join up with Jordan's homegrown radicals and topple Abdullah and everything he stands for. But that scenario isn't the worst of Jordan's strategic problems. "You think you've got bad neighbors," Abdullah could again justifiably ask Olmert, "take a look at mine." On Abdullah's east is Iraq, which - for all intents and purposes - is mired in an ethnically based civil war that neither the Americans nor the weak Iraqi government can control. The upshot of this for Jordan is both economic and strategic: Economically it means that a vital market for its goods has been squashed, and strategically it means the constant threat that out of the Iraqi chaos will come terrorism exported into Jordan. Abdullah has problems on the north, too, with Syria and Bashar Assad, who are not allies of the Hashemites, but rather of Iran. Granted, Israel has its Iranian fears, but so do the Jordanians - although they are not as apocalyptic or mushroom-cloud like. In taking stock of potential weapons that could be used in a confrontation with the US, Iran is certainly considering destabilizing pro-American Arab regimes. And what more pro-American Arab regime is there than Jordan? This destabilization could take many forms - from technical and logistical support for terrorists interested in operating in Jordan, to supplying military training or providing refuge for the terrorists - and this could all take place in Syria. To say there is a lack of trust between Jordanian and Syrian leaders is a gross understatement. Moreover, Iran's influence in Iraq is growing via the Shi'ites there, and as a result Teheran's influence in the entire region is on the rise. While this is obviously not good for the kingdom's health, there is also - again somewhat paradoxically - concern in Amman that an American-Iranian rapprochement could also be bad for Jordan. The problem with this scenario is that the US could allow Iran to increase its influence in the Middle East in exchange for concessions on the nuclear issue. And these are only Jordan's external threats. Internally, economic difficulties stemming from an inability to get cheap oil from the Gulf states have gotten worse, and the Islamic fundamentalists - buoyed by Hamas's success - are brimming with confidence. Jordan is keeping a wary eye on the combustible combination of economic woes and Islamic fundamentalism. Taken all together, when Olmert lays the logic of his unilateralist plan on the line for Abdullah on Thursday, and explains how this step is critical for Israel, Abdullah is unlikely to lend a sympathetic ear - concerned more about what such a move would do for his future. Or, as he said in a speech Wednesday to a graduating class of army and police cadets: "This region around us is passing through the most difficult conditions, and worst developments. The deteriorating state of affairs in the West Bank and in Iraq, and the dispute between Iran and the United States of America, all threaten security and stability. It is clear that there are parties and states that seek to benefit from this state of affairs. Some seek to settle their problems at the expense of neighboring countries; others want to ignite this situation and spread chaos and destruction in more than one place, to enhance their influence and control over the whole region." Abdullah's conclusion: "Jordan is first, and Jordan's interests supersede all other interests and considerations." In other words, at this particular point in time, the king's reading of Jordan's interest don't converge with Olmert's convergence plan.