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The rise of ISIS in Jordan: A Threat to Israel

By Raphael Levy

29th June 2014. Security and Defence, Issue 2, No. 5.

The rise of ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Al Sham) in Iraq and Syria is a source of major concern across the Middle East. The Islamist group’s ambition to create an Islamic state is not limited to Iraq and Syria, as confusion over its name may suggest. Rather, a seizure of power in Jordan would fit in with ISIS’ ultimate aim of creating an Islamic state straddling Iraq and Al Sham, an Arabic term that has, over time, come to mean an area in the Middle East encompassing Iraq and Syria but also Jordan, Israel, the Palestinian Territories and Lebanon.[1]

There seems to be almost an agreement in Western media sources that Jordan is both a) the most likely next move for ISIS but b) a more difficult proverbial nut to crack than Iraq and Syria have been thus far.  According to senior ISIS-linked officials, funding for ‘recruitment purposes’ in Jordan has reached $3 million in the past month , whilst ISIS has issued ‘a call to arms in Jordan,’ further indicating that this is the group’s next target.[2],[3] This would represent a worrying development for the country. Despite the relative stability of Jordan compared with Syria and Iraq, where ISIS has made remarkable gains, the group have demonstrated a ruthlessness and barbarity that pose a threat to even the most stable of regimes in Middle Eastern terms. Whilst the majority of ISIS’ operations are currently in Iraq and Syria, with its fighters taking on the Iraqi security forces and army with apparent ease, ISIS has been moving towards the Jordanian border. Just last Sunday, ISIS fighters overran the Iraqi military and seized the main border crossing between Iraq and Jordan. This has only served to further fuel the fears that the fighting will spill over into Jordanian territory. These gains by ISIS have forced the country to respond by mobilising its security forces along the border.[4] Alongside the concern generated in Jordan by the spread westwards of ISIS, The Jordan Times reports that ISIS have opened an ‘unofficial’ branch in Jordan.[5]

All this his prompted John Kerry to call for a halt to funding ISIS in an attempt to weaken their capabilities and, also, to limit their ability to move from Iraq and Syria toward two of the US’ closest allies in the region – Jordan and Saudi Arabia. It is clear that ISIS, if they are not present in Jordan already, are making moves towards operations in the country.

This is a logical next step for ISIS in achieving their goals of an Islamic Caliphate across parts of the Middle East. The reportedly small number of ISIS fighters presently in Jordan may be the first stumbling block for ISIS to overcome, but reports of money flooding into Jordan to rectify this ‘problem’ presents immense concern not only for Jordan and the USA but also Israel.

Israel’s concern towards ISIS and the situation is two-fold.

First, any potential rise of ISIS in Jordan represents another Islamist group on the Israeli border. Along with the presence of ISIS in Syria already, this development increases the scope for terrorist attacks within Israel and the possibility of facing ISIS as a military threat.[6] Calls to “liberate Palestine” are nothing new for Israel to deal with and it fits in with the ultimate aim of ISIS, whose territorial claims extend across Israel and to Jerusalem, known as ‘al Quds’ to Muslims. It is not clear that ISIS has the military capability to seriously threaten the IDF (Israeli Defence Force). However, Israeli security is threatened by any group with the ability to launch attacks against its civilians and whilst the “liberation” of Palestine may not be a realistic aim of ISIS, Jordan is an effective springboard to launch terrorist attacks against Israel from.

Secondly, the rise of ISIS across Iraq and Syria has prompted what is unthinkable in Israeli eyes – support for Iran. The UK has deemed circumstances ‘right’ to reopen its Iranian embassy, whilst discussions are on-going between Iran and the USA on how to respond to the crisis.[7] What, therefore, is clear is that, from an Israeli perspective, it is not just the rise of yet another Islamist group on its border that is of concern, it is the unlikely bedfellows that this rise has seemingly “forced”.

Israel, at the moment, seems content to let ISIS, Iran and Assad’s forces weaken each other. This is what Netanyahu means when he suggests that the USA should weaken both Iran and ISIS – let them fight it out, without offering support to either. Perhaps paradoxically, the rise of ISIS in Iraq and Syria has weakened Israeli enemies in Assad. The rise of ISIS in Jordan, however, would change this somewhat. The presence of ISIS on two of Israel’s borders is of obvious concern. Should ISIS become a serious force in Jordan, the Israeli response is likely to be a swift mobilisation of Israeli troops in the territory surrounding the River Jordan.

About Raphael Levy

Raphael Levy was a research assistant at the HSC. His main interests are the political situation in the Middle East, with a focus on Israel’s security and the peace process. Raphael has previously interned at Stand For Peace, researching extremism on campuses in the UK and the interfaith network’s links to extremism.