Full Spectrum Jordan: The Adult in the Region

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(File photo: Jordan News)

As 2024 began with the high profile assassination of Hamas leader Aroury (in the Hezbollah stronghold of Southern Dahhiya in Beirut), the US strike on Shia forces in Iraq, and the ISIS bombing in Iran, predictions of a regional war possibly became a reality. The war on Gaza has already ushered in regional upheaval - not in the shape of war but restructuring of power centers and hierarchies. Jordan finds itself (again) in the middle of a troubled region with no allies and partners listening to its warnings. US Secretary of State Blinken launches another Middle East tour, but with which strategy and towards which endgame? 

Three Things You Should Know: 

  1. Failed Popular Mobilization Forces and US policy: In my 2023 in Review I highlighted the PMF as the mid to long term threat for Jordan (linked here). I also highlighted in the same piece the need to move away from dealing with PMF as an emerging threat actor, and treat it as the established complex organization it is. What does this mean? The US is still dealing with PMF as an emerging actor - a future problem to push down via targeting leaders and intel gathering, instead of dealing with the structural pillars of the organization - primarily their economic independence and revenue streams. The drone-assassination of the PMF leader was a colossal mistake that only serves Iranian objectives of tipping the power balance in the Iraqi government towards the PMF - something I have warned about. They lose a leader who will quickly be replaced with no damage to their organizational structure or their revenue. The PMF is a developed and parallel economic and political system to the Iraqi government. As this system gains more power and influence, it will become a threat to Jordan. They have already sent many alarming messages regarding Jordan. 
    The strike undercuts Iraqi sovereignty, and Soudani’s reputation. After his first embarrassing statement where he said the International Coalition assured him they had nothing to do with the strike, Soudani brought up the possibility of the International Coalition Forces leaving Iraq. Obviously, if the coalition were to leave Iraq, Jordan and the TANF airbase would be vulnerable as remaining targets in the Iranian proxy war on US interests and targets. Taking PMF seriously as a force, and considering the optics and power consequences for Soudani before such acts are both steps that need to occur to stabilize the area.

  2. Displacement: The Israeli objective has evolved to include the displacement of Palestinians from Gaza (according to multiple statements) and regaining control (or even settlement) of the land. Israel has launched the most destructive campaign this century against a populated area destroying 70% of Gaza’s residences unleashing the sewage systems into open streets (even killing their own soldiers)- and making much of it uninhabitable, according to the UN. Estimates now point to 15-20 years of reconstruction just to return Gaza to its pre-October state.  Jordan has repeatedly stated that displacement of Palestinians is a red line not to be crossed. Jordan knows that any displacement means 1) a refugee crisis in the region 2) unlikely right of return for the refugees, emptying Gaza and opening it to further settlement 3) permanent resettlement of refugees which cannot return 4) Israel will recreate the scenario in the West Bank - directly affecting Jordan. 

    This last point is not far-fetched since the process has begun on a smaller scale and in slow motion in the West Bank - even attacking the Armenian community in Jerusalem to confiscate their property. With increased illegal settlement building, and unprecedented violence against Palestinians in the West Bank, many Palestinians, looking for a peaceful life and future, could leave their own homes. 

  3. Assassination and targeting of Hamas leadership: Discussions of an Israeli assassination campaign in the region stoke fears of the conflict spreading throughout the region. However, a regional conflict of ground forces is unlikely. More likely is an extended conflict among intelligence forces and in cyberspace. Iranians and Iranian affiliated cybercrime and hacker collectives will be activated for targeting and intel gathering of Israeli institutions and personnel. Jordan seems to always suffer the consequences of regional tensions - an uptick in cyberattacks, targeting by Iranian affiliated groups, drop in tourism, etc.
اضافة اعلان


My Take:Jordan’s curse and blessing lies in the fact that it is a peaceful hub sharing borders with several key middle eastern states. The cliche is ‘the oasis of stability’ in the region. Its relative peace and stability means Jordan can afford to have a long-term view towards its domestic development, though also highly dependent on the stability of its neighbors. Jordan doesn't care about the state of its neighbors out of a sense of (only) generosity. In a realist sense, the better off the neighbors, the safer Jordan is. Jordan has to successfully provide for and appease its own population while at the same time crossing its fingers that the region doesn’t implode. 

Now, maybe the region is imploding. While the US is focused on the “expanded” conflict in reality it is only considering one aspect of this conflict - Israel. - As I've written before, this happens because the US does not have a Middle East policy but an Israel policy. Every event these past months has been based on one principle - no attacks against Israel from regional actors. Meanwhile they ignore the real advice, requests, and concerns from Jordan - the curse of being the Adult of the Middle East. 

We were hoping our 2024 could be centered around political modernizations and rebuilding the economy (youth unemployment is still dancing around the 50% benchmark). There is also an overlooked, ambitious project which is taking government services online - a project that now is being targeted and could be hindered by an escalation of Iranian cybercrime groups.. This morning (December 6) the military again engaged in a large-scale trafficking skirmish (weapons and drugs) making it the third largest attempt in the past months. PMF forces, the same forces that 1) declared Jordan a legitimate target 2) and a protest to block oil exports to Jordan are now gaining ground against Soudani and might have finally gotten the push to power they needed with the US’s reckless assassination last week. However, the concern tends to be Israel’s northern border, or other aspects of Israel’s security. That is decades of policy. What is the Jordan policy? Here is my view: Jordan cannot be taken for granted because it is a stable partner. Jordan’s concerns should not be dismissed because they are ‘longer-term’ or because the population expresses its anger (our people have been watching their brothers, and sisters bombarded for over 90 days now). Rather, Jordan is the key to the region - its concerns are the concerns of the region. Jordan is the adult in the region because it depends on the stability of its neighbors, its views are towards the protection of all. 

Katrina Sammour was first published on Full Spectrum Jordan, a weekly newsletter on SubStack. 

Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Jordan News' point of view.

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