Could Israel Be Drawn Into the ISIS Crisis?

Jordan could turn to Israel for help if the situation on the Iraqi border escalates.

Amos Harel
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Members of the Iraqi security forces celebrate near the bodies of militants from ISIS (not seen), on the outskirts of the city of Samarra, June 26, 2014.Credit: Reuters
Amos Harel

While Israel is mired in the tragic kidnapping of three teenagers, developments in Iraq are sending shock waves throughout the Middle East. The stunning advance by the Al-Qaida-affiliated Islamic State in Iraq and Syria in northern and central Iraq has unnerved all Iraq’s neighbors, mainly Iran, Syria and Jordan.

In the United States, President Barack Obama has been criticized over his foreign policy in the Middle East, especially the breakdown of Iraq’s government. Obama is looking for a way to provide limited military support to the Iraqi government without being dragged again into the quagmire created by the Bush administration.

The Daily Beast has reported on increased security cooperation between the United States, Israel and Jordan designed to help the Jordanians prevent ISIS’ spread into their territory. Citing U.S. officials, The Daily Beast suggested that such a scenario could draw the United States and Israel into a regional war.

Israeli security sources have confirmed that Benjamin Netanyahu’s government is aware of the Hashemite Kingdom’s concerns and is assisting through various channels according to need. But the Israelis are not expecting a flare-up that could drag them into the mix in the near future.

The Israeli-Jordanian security bond grew stronger as a result of the last major shock to the Middle East, the Syrian civil war, which has sent nearly a million refugees into Jordan. King Abdullah’s condemnations of Israel over inaction in the peace process have all but ceased.

At the same time, the international media has reported that Israel has made intelligence and economic overtures to Jordan, and Israeli drones have been spotted surveying the Jordan-Syria border, meant to help the Jordanians prevent a possible attack from the north. This would come either from extremist groups or Bashar Assad’s forces (a scenario that has become less likely over the last year as Jordan has scaled back its criticism of the Syrian president).

But the situation in Iraq has been tacked onto the Jordanian king’s list of troubles. Not only could Jordan suffer a new wave of Iraqi refugees, ISIS’ success is particularly frightening because the organization has a penchant for mass public executions. About a decade ago, during Al-Qaida’s last high point in Iraq, terror attacks spread into Jordan, and the Jordanians are worried about such attacks either from southern Syria or western Iraq.

Jordan relies mainly on the United States for its security. Even now, roughly half the United States’ F-16 fighter squadrons are stationed in Jordan, along with another thousand or so U.S. military personnel. The American contingent is meant to be a kind of logistical first strike team on the Syria-Jordanian border if one is required.

Now the attention will be diverted to the Iraqi border. It’s likely that if things escalate, Jordan will want assistance from Israel as well. Any requests to that end will be made with a much lower profile so as not to stir condemnation from the rest of the Arab world for being an ally of Israel.

The situation in Iraq does not yet seem to signal the fall of the Hashemite Kingdom, which has survived the last three and half years of Arab turmoil. But there is no doubt that the shocking events in Iraq have influenced internal Jordanian affairs as well, as there has been a marked increase of Islamist demonstrations in Ma’an, a city in the south. Meanwhile, the renewed fighting in Iraq is changing the regional balance of power, perhaps creating a window for temporary alliances based on common interests.

The situation could affect the new outline agreement between the United States and Iran, as both seek to stall ISIS in Iraq as they enter negotiations on a final agreement for Iran’s nuclear program. But in recent days there have been reports of Syrian air strikes on ISIS on the Iraqi side of the Syria-Iraq border.

It seems Jordan and Israel are monitoring the situation in Iraq with angst. The constant turmoil in the region has led to the creation of all sorts of strange alliances, even if they’re only partial and temporary.

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