Jordan: “The Middle East’s Safety Valve, The Pivotal Regional Ally, and The Unwavering Middle Ground.”
In recent years, Jordan has been subjected to several destabilization attempts, many of which were prompted by regional states and aimed at fueling domestic conflicts, undermining the monarchy’s political system, and weakening the security of a country best described as an island of stability in a turbulent region.
Since the early 1950s, the kingdom has witnessed several campaigns to destabilize the regime, coup attempts, foreign interference, and civil war. However, and since the conflict of 1970 (known as the Jordanian Civil War; AKA: Black September) between the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), the kingdom remained coherent and politically stable for many decades despite the regional conflicts, the war in Iraq, the war in Syria or the evolution of terrorist organizations such as Al-Qaeda and more recently, ISIS.
Jordan, the relatively small and under-resourced country with a diversified population of around ten million, fluctuated economy, and complex tribal communities, has struggled to survive in a continuous spiral. The country that borders Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the West Bank territories, is also a long-term and pivotal ally of the United States and the international society.
Despite the many internal conflicts, the severe economic challenges, and the domestic pressure Jordanians have witnessed over the years, the country’s persistence speaks for itself and highlights the efforts made by the country’s leadership to maintain the progress despite the negative setbacks at both levels; internally and regionally.
An Island of Stability In a Turbulent Region
Jordan has always been an influential and effective player in both regional and international events. The country’s position right in the center of the Middle East chaotic zone and the nature of the kingdom’s foreign policy have played a significant role in turning Jordan into a safety valve that is necessary for the security and stability of the region.
As one of the U.S.’ staunchest allies in the Middle East, Jordan has been a significant strategic partner in the fight against terrorism and the Islamic State (ISIS). The country has one of the region’s finest Special Operations Forces and a first-rate domestic and regional intelligence service that have played fundamental roles in fighting terrorism and combating radical groups.
Jordan is currently facing an imminent threat on many levels. The economy, burdened by an ever-expanding unemployable refugee population of more than 600,000 Syrians and tens of thousands of Iraqi refugees, an unemployment rate of approximately 24 percent, all have been battered by the COVID-19 pandemic. The hardship turns to a wave of anger fueled by regional opponents and interest groups and highjacked by more radical forces.
Jordan’s Geo-Strategic Importance
The kingdom’s stability is crucial to the Middle East due to Jordan’s involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Jordan’s position on the borders of war-torn Syria and Iraq. The kingdom has always been a moderation element in a turbulent region. It is imperative to understand that should Jordan slip, the entire region will slip into endless chaos that may be irreparable.
Jordan was the second Arab country to recognize Israel, after Egypt, and one of the few Arab states to enter into a peace agreement with the state of Israel in 1994 (Known as The Israel–Jordan Peace Treaty, AKA: Wadi Araba Treaty), ending the state of war that has existed since the Arab-Israeli war in 1948.
Nevertheless, Jordan has an invulnerable geographic, demographic, social, and political connection with the Palestinians. The majority of the country’s population is of Palestinian origin, and more than 2 million registered Palestinian refugees live in Jordan. The absence of progress in reaching a viable peace agreement and establishing a two-state solution continues to increase the pressure on Jordan. It places the fate of the kingdom’s future, and the more than 2 million registered Palestinian refugees in the unknown.
On the other hand, Israel has always been eager about Jordan’s stability as critical parts of Israel’s security are associated with the safety, security, and stability of the kingdom’s regime. It is undeniable that any disruption, imbalance, or implosion in Jordan will rapidly turn into a security nightmare for Israel and the region.
The U.S. – Jordanian Relations
The United States has long-standing strategically vital relations with Jordan. The kingdom is a pivotal ally of the United States, a committed partner in the fight against terrorism, and a highly effective balance point in an unbalanced region. Despite the limited resources and tight conventional military capability, Jordan has invested in establishing and developing quality Special Operations Forces (SOF) and a highly competent domestic and regional intelligence service. The Jordanian Intelligence (GID) has been noticeably successful in establishing low and no profile relationships with nearly every faction and government in the region. Jordan can credibly and invisibly negotiate with religious and political figures, tribal leaders, and regional states through diplomatic and non-diplomatic channels.
On the intelligence level, Jordan is well versed in utilizing the available resources and relationships to gain access to well-placed sources and produce unique intelligence. Jordan has been a significant intelligence partner and an integral player in combating Al Qaeda (AQ), the Islamic State (ISIS), and many other radical and criminal organizations.
The U.S. government must realize the magnitude of the Jordanian geo-strategic position in addressing sensitive political, diplomatic, and operational matters in critical times. The Jordanian security institutions have the capacity to facilitate and communicate with different factions, entities, and regimes that the U.S. government prefers not to engage directly, or wish to approach clandestinely for various political and diplomatic reasons, or due to national security concerns. If U.S. negotiations break down in the region, Jordan can intervene with fresh perspectives and feedback from their own meetings, and if U.S. intelligence draws a blank, Jordanian intelligence can take significant risks to fill adequately in that blank. These are not speculations or theories; these are proven facts. In short, Jordan is an indispensable ally.
The kingdom’s national security is more than counterterrorism cooperation, shared intelligence, or military collaboration. Jordan’s economic stability, social coherence, and tangible progress in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are the main pillars of the broader measure of the stability and national security of the country.
- The Economy: Jordan’s economy is in a critical situation, with a lack of resources, unemployment levels on the increase, and administrative disarray, the domestic anarchy is aggravating. The kingdom has been actively working on economic reforms and correction programs to achieve self-sufficiency levels since the late 1980s. However, the regional unrest and the implications of the geo-political circumstances have negatively impacted the course of action. Jordan’s limited economy, scarce natural resources, and the implications of the continued flow of Syrian refugees have exhausted the Jordanian ability to keep up with the endless challenges, placing the country under mounting pressure socially and administratively.
- Refugees: The implications of the civil war in Syria have overwhelmed the Jordanian system in terms of resources and capacity. Jordan hosts tens of thousands of Iraqi and more than 600,000 Syrian refugees. Jordanians also have legitimate concerns; the highly noticeable presence of refugees living in Jordan has increased the Jordanian citizens’ fears over high competition for the already limited resources and work opportunities. The inflation in living costs, increased rents, hikes in prices, and the shortage in public services, caused by the overpopulation are all adding to the complexity of the conflict. If the current situation continues to progress in this manner, resentment and discontent among Jordanians will likely increase in the coming months.
- The Iranian Threat: Iranian ambitions have no limits. Jordan has always been in the crosshairs, and an essential station on the Iranian expansion roadmap. Jordan is under serious threat from the north side (Syria – Lebanon), where Iranian-sponsored militias and proxies run the scene. The threat is even worse in the east, where Iraq is under complete Iranian control, both politically and militarily. The kingdom faces a constant threat, and Jordanian military and security institutions are applying enormous efforts to mitigate the risk.
The additional threat is the potential Iranian control over the West Bank territories through proxies such as Hamas, Palestinian Jihad, and other organizations receiving enormous support both logistically and financially from Iran. However, the Jordanian government rarely discusses threats of that nature publicly. The kingdom has been preoccupied with sensitive topics and dealing with many domestically troubling issues and is very keen to avoid any situation that may trigger concerns or spread fear among its people.
- Terrorism and Radical Groups: Terrorist organizations such as al-Qaeda, ISIS, or the Muslim Brotherhood pose an imminent threat to Jordan’s security and the region’s security. These radical groups target vulnerable populations and utilize influential ideological methodologies to spread radicalization and recruit operatives. The radical ideologies are not new to the Jordanian community, and sleeper cells are present in certain areas of Jordan and usually appear from time to time.
Terrorist organizations and radical groups will utilize the traditional cultivation methodologies, relying on the two classic factors; materialistic needs and widespread resentment. The deteriorating economy, burdened by the expanding unemployment and lack of resources all on top of the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, will significantly increase the opportunities of inducing and instigating specific communities.
- Regional Rivalry and Alliances: Despite the ideal relations between Jordan and the United States and the continued cooperation between the two countries on the diplomatic, military, intelligence levels and the economic assistance Jordan receives from the United States, the kingdom has been excluded from the peace plans on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict during President Trump’s administration in favor of the growing influence of Gulf states.
Jordan for decades has been playing a significant role in advancing the peace process and pushing for a fair resolution to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However, in Washington’s closed circles, Jordan has been viewed by members of the former administration as a hindrance element to the peace process. This conclusion has been fueled by the exponential growth of the Gulf states’ influence inside Washington immediately after the proclamation of the Abrahamic Accords due to the kingdom’s position from the Israeli West Bank annexation intentions. The intended annexation would include the Jordan Valley and move on toward a complete annexation. That move will eventually lead to a mass migration of Palestinians, both voluntarily and involuntarily, posing an existential threat to the security and stability of the kingdom.
- Israeli – Jordanian Borders: The security of an almost 300 miles borderline between Jordan and Israel is critically important for the security of both Jordan and Israel.
A Palestinian authority in place will at some point facilitate the movement of terrorist groups, weapons, and cash to destabilize Jordan. Israel must consider this element, maintaining the national security and geo-strategic alliances, sometimes deserve the sacrifices on the political and demographic levels.
Preserving The Stability
Jordan is the Middle East’s safety valve, a pivotal regional ally, and an unwavering middle ground. A safe, secure, and stable system in Jordan is vitally essential to maintain the balance in an unbalanced region. A coherent government in Jordan is the ideal remedy to prevent the establishment of a hostile regime or the spread of terrorism across borderlines.
- Jordanian – American Cooperation: Jordan is one of the major recipients of U.S. economic assistance in the Middle East. The U.S. bilateral assistance appropriated by the U.S. Congress to Jordan through USAID was estimated at around $1.5 billion in 2020, $425 million of which was in State Department Foreign Military Financing funds.
The U.S. continued support to Jordan is crucial at this point. The U.S. financial aid to Jordan is an anchor of stability on both levels, economically and security-wise. Military aid, joint operations bases and development projects will open the doors for both the United States and Jordan to expand the horizon of cooperation and provide effective and efficient solutions to various issues.
Jordan is also highly essential to the current U.S. administration’s approach in the region. The Biden administration is highly focused on presenting a more diplomatic approach over the military intervention in the region. Surrounded by Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia, the West Bank, and Israel, Jordan is a neutral element and a middle ground that can accommodate all parties, settle disputes, resolve conflicts and build relationships in an exemplary manner.
- Jordanian – Israeli Cooperation: Israel must build on the fact that Jordan is trustworthy geo-strategically and a significant contributor to the national security of Israel and not just a doorkeeper to the West Bank. Jordan’s geo-strategic depth represents an insusceptible barrier between Israel from one side and Iran and its missiles system from the other side. Jordan should never become a staging ground for the Iranian expansion and terror campaigns.
On the economic level, Israel has an opportunity to preserve the mutual security status it shares with Jordan and contributes to both the regional security and the Israeli national security individually and collectively through various strategic projects to boost the economy on both ends. Joint infrastructure, development projects, and strategic enterprises such as the Red Sea-Dead Sea Canal, trade ports, trade zones, and increased export will significantly benefit both countries in moving the economic cycle.
Geo-strategically and logistically, Jordan is an essential element in strengthening and widening the Israeli trade exchange movement, providing a substantial bridge connecting Israel with the major markets in the Arab Gulf and other major regional markets. The Israeli exports to the Gulf countries can lead to remarkable growth in Israel’s economy.
On the Jordanian side, this bilateral cooperation will assist Jordan in filling many of the economic gaps, re-directing the workforce, overcoming the aggravated unemployment issue, expanding the concept of peace and cooperation, and eventually contributing to the regional security of both nations.