The two countries that share peacetime borders with Israel, Jordan and Egypt, are dealing with a historic challenge presented by Islamic State, also known as ISIS, and its local extensions. The two countries, which over the past year have strengthened their ties with Israel in light of regional instability, could rely even more on the strategic support their neighbor gives them. Only occasionally is information released by foreign media. Thus, according to a report on CNN last week, Israel sent drones to the Jordanian border with Syria to assist Amman in collecting intelligence with the goal of stopping possible attacks by ISIS from the northern border.
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The conflict between Jordan and ISIS worsened following publication last week of a video showing ISIS members immolating the Jordan pilot Muath al-Kaseasbeh, which actually was carried out more than a month ago. A wave of demands for revenge swept over Jordan following the gruesome murder of the captured pilot. The Jordanian air force has already conducted dozens of sorties against ISIS targets in Syria. In Sinai, the Egyptian army has undertaken a major operation against the extremist group Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, following the murder of 32 Egyptians, most of them members of the security forces, in a series of coordinated attacks by the group in the northern Sinai Peninsula on January 29. The organization announced it was moving its support from Al Qaida to ISIS in November.
The murder of the Jordanian pilot and recent terror attacks in Sinai have created expectations from both regimes to take strong steps. The Hashemite kingdom sees to it that every aerial assault on ISIS targets in Syria gets maximum media coverage. In Sinai, the Egyptian army is attacking Ansar strongholds with infantry and combat helicopters, some of which penetrate Gazan air space in blatant disregard for the Hamas regime in the Strip.
Cairo, which squarely blames Hamas for giving logistical and operational backing to groups working against it in Sinai, has renewed its threats against Hamas and plans on continuing its demolition of thousands of homes in Egyptian Rafah to create a “security zone” two kilometers wide on the border with the Strip. The purpose of the security zone is to reduce to a minimum the number of smuggling tunnels to the Palestinian side.
The Egyptian and Jordanian moves implicitly strengthen what might be called the “unity of the threatened” between those two countries and Israel. Jordan recently returned its ambassador to Tel Aviv, after his departure three months ago in protest against the Netanyahu government’s policy on the Temple Mount. From the moment the prime minister took steps to calm things down in Jerusalem and prohibited the members of his coalition’s far-right flank from visiting the Mount, ties between Israel and Jordan went back to normal.
But from the Israeli perspective, not all the results of recent developments are necessarily positive. Organizations affiliated with the Islamist political party Islamic Action Front in Jordan oppose the assaults on ISIS, and the open war King Abdullah has declared on that group is expected to heighten internal conflict and lead to ISIS revenge attacks from the Jordanian-Iraqi border as well.
In Egypt there are two possible negative implications. Renewed Egyptian pressure on Hamas, along with delays in rehabilitation of the Gaza Strip, increase the risk of a renewed outbreak of Palestinian violence from Gaza against Israel. Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, which has already mounted attacks against Israel, could once again attack Israeli targets as a means of drawing more attention to the war of attrition it is waging in Sinai against the Egyptian security forces.