The role of Amman in the Middle East crisis

Jordan seems to have gone unscathed through the motions of the Arab Spring, but the events inside the Middle East could reflect on the uncertain stability of the Hashemite Kingdom. The civil war in Syria, the advance of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), the Iraqi paradigm, the never dormant conflict between Israel and Palestine and the complicated management of Syrian and Palestinian migration flows threaten the borders and the security of Jordan. Although weakened by internal factors such as the limited energy resources, the unemployment and the water supply, Jordan is a friendly space, an example of solidity in the Middle East to engage strategic partnerships with stakeholders of the area, and with the main allies.

Almost completely surrounded by the Middle East crisis, Jordan tries to realize the promises of economic and political reforms. Since 2011, in response to the Arab Spring, the demonstrations of the opposition movements – the Muslim Brotherhood and Hirak – make Abdullah II accelerate the long process of reforms started by his father in 1989. King Hussein has demanded an immediate revision of laws governing politics and public freedoms, including legislation governing political parties and the election of the Prime Minister by Parliament[1]. Unlike Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood harshly repressed by security forces, the Jordanian government has intensified contacts with top Muslim Brotherhood leaders as well[2]. Economically, the primary resources are lacking. The energy sector depends heavily on imports which need state capitals. The attacks on the Arab Gas Pipeline (AGP) in Sinai have suggested the central government to seek new energy partners, such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Israel and Iraq. The Jordanian Royal Family is interested in the crisis in Sinai because the militarization of the Egyptian peninsula could provide security against the advance and the involvement of Salafi jihadist forces, which are opposed to the Hashemite Kingdom[3]. The water supply is another important problem. Jordan is one of the driest countries on earth and the national program “Water for Life 2008-2022” pursues the primary goal of improving the water efficiency through the construction of a canal that will link the Red Sea and the Dead Sea. The Red-Dead Canal is the result of an agreement with Israel and the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), a geopolitical element that could have regional consequences considering the relations between Tel Aviv and Amman, and the crucial interest to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict[4].

The uncertainty of the labor market, the high rate of youth unemployment and the corruption hinder the economic performance of the country[5]. Domestic reforms are challenges that would allow Jordan to boost its credibility as mediator between various forces of the region and avoid a worsening of the financial crisis that could limit the room for maneuver of the monarchy. This is the reason why the king Abdullah II has decided to play a dynamic role against the ISIL. The Hashemite monarchy has confirmed its contribution at the international alliance against ISIL. Unlike the neighbors, Jordan has an almost entirely Sunni population and does not suffer the consequences of sectarianism and religious tensions, which is the sign pressure in other Arab states of the Middle East. The militants of ISIL are Sunni and they are just fighting against Shiites. Even in Iraq, Jordan expects more cooperation against terrorists. Although the parliamentary elections in Iraq has confirmed the victory of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, with the Shiite coalition Da’wala, Amman does not exclude an agreement Shiite-Sunni in order to protect the borders by the progress of ISIL[6]. As a matter of fact, official data seem to confirm that about 1.300 Jordanian citizens are presently fighting in the ranks of hard-line Islamist factions, including the al Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front and ISIL[7]. According to government, the hyperactivity of Jordanian citizens in the Syrian conflict suggests forecasting the chance of military and political escalation in this country as the Jordan Salafists Omar Mahdi Zeidan and Saad Hneity join the ISIL[8]. After all, one of the leaders of the Iraqi jihadist movement is the Jordanian Abu Mousab al-Zarqawi, guide of the Jamaat al-Tawhid wa l-Jihad (Group of Monotheism and Jihad), the insurgent group that takes control in Iraq and that is ISIL now.

Those numbers are only a projection, but they are indicators of high risk for the national security of Jordan, especially if the membership or the support for the ISIL becomes a tool to foment social disorder. This is the most delicate aspect to consider, rather than a military action against ISIL. Against a conventional attack, the kingdom would oppose a military army, to which must be added the American troops in the country[9]. The Jordanian ties with Washington cost the unpopular US policy in the region a disadvantage that can be tolerated. Amman gets American benefits of national security and economic development. The State of Israel is an interest for Jordan and for the US. In 1994, King Hussein, father of Abdullah II, was the second Chief of an Arabic state who signed a peace treaty with Israel. However, relations with Israel are often in danger because of half of Jordan’s population are of Palestinian origin and the latest violence have generated protests in solidarity with the people of Gaza and intensified migration flows. During the most important Arab-Israeli conflicts, immigration created a social divide still opened between citizens of Palestinian origin and Transjordan. Palestinian refugees in Syria, such as Syrians and Iraqi Christians, who flee the Islamic terrorists are a social drama. This humanitarian emergency puts to the test the Jordanian community and its infrastructure and resources. The most dangerous aspect of this moment of political and economic instability is that the rebels could recruit refugees and become a ground for Islamic rhetoric[10]. The Syrian crisis has caused also a significant increase in illegal arm trade. Jordan is the primary supply route for weapons meant for rebels in southern Syria[11]. The United States sends aid to Jordan in order to help with the consequences of the Syrian conflict in the country. Since 2012, a task force of experts has been training Jordanian forces to identify and stop chemical weapons from crossing the border with Syria. Jordan also hosts American training programs for the moderate groups of Syrian rebels, which confirms the essential role of Jordan for the interests of the Middle East area[12].

The geographical and strategic collocation offers to Jordan the dual role of buffer zone and mediator, the border of political fragility across the Middle East. Being faithful to its history, Jordan tries to reinforce its diplomatic role and encourage dialogue between the different forces in the Middle East by maintaining a pragmatic foreign policy. The realpolitik of Amman works by strengthening international relations with the West, where Jordan appears as a convincing model of moderate Islam and defender of Arab and Christian minorities of the Middle East. In this crisis situation due to the civil war in Syria and the threat of fundamentalist ISIL, the means to prevent internal repercussions is the execution of the reforms. Encouraging development and economic growth, fighting the corruption and the youth unemployment could avoid external influences, which could find ideological support in the widespread discontent of the population and cause more than the disastrous consequences of the Arab Spring.

Federica Fanuli

Master’s degree in Political Science, European Studies and International Relations (University of Salento)

[1] ISPI, “Med&Gulf Initiative Bulletin”, 1, June 3, 2014 –

[2] R. Satloff, D. Schenker, Political Instability in Jordan, “Council on Foreign Relations”, May 2013 –

[3] Anon., Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis claims responsibility for tourist bus blast in Egypt, “Ahram Online”, February 18, 2014 –

[4] IRIN, “Water for Life Jordan’s Water Strategy 2008-2022”, February 2009 –

[5] J. Reed, Israel, Jordan and Palestinians to sign regional water agreement, “The Financial Times”, December 9, 2013 – Anon., Israel’s Water Challenge, “Stratfor”, December 25, 2013 –

[6] R. Khalaf, Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari pleads for West’s help in Iraq, “The Financial Times”, June 13, 2014 –

[7] S. Simon, How vulnerable is Jordan?, “Middle East Institute”, August 5, 2014 –

[8] Anon., Is threats increase for Jordan, “Center for Eurasian Strategic Intelligence”, November 20, 2014 –

[9] B. Ravid, Martin Indyk resigns as U.S. special Mideast envoy, “Haaretz”, June 27, 2014 –

[10] J.M. Sharp, Jordan: background and U.S. relations, “Congressional Research Service”, November 21, 2011 –

[11] T. Coghlan, Middle East Redrawn By Struggle Against Islamic State, “Assyrian International News Agency”, November 20, 2014 –

[12] J.M. Sharp, Jordan: background and U.S. relations, “Congressional Research Service”, May 8, 2014 –

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