Thursday, May 23, 2024

Jordan Stuck in the Crossfire as Iran and Israel Near War

HomeWARJordan Stuck in the Crossfire as Iran and Israel Near War

The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan finds itself in an intensely precarious position as bitter regional foes Iran and Israel ratchet up hostilities to alarming new heights. Caught squarely in the crosshairs of this escalating conflict, the monarchy is contending with rising domestic unrest and intense international pressures that threaten to spark an uncontrollable powder keg.

“Any imminent Iranian-Israeli war is going to put Jordan on a tightrope walk from hell,” warned Sean Yom, a leading expert on Jordanian affairs at Temple University. “Publicly, the kingdom has to do an intricate balancing act, staying out of the fray completely while siding with neither combatant.”

The recent eruption of full-blown war between Israel and militant groups in Gaza has already ignited furious protests across Jordan, with thousands taking to the streets outside U.S. and Israeli embassies demanding their government cut all ties with the two nations. Roiled by shocking scenes of the Israeli bombardment’s appalling death toll exceeding 34,000 Palestinian civilians since October 7th, public fury shows no signs of abating.

While King Abdullah II has urgently pressed for a ceasefire and highly publicized Jordan’s humanitarian aid airlifts into the besieged Gaza Strip, such efforts have barely put a dent in quelling the outrage over Jordan’s perceived acquiescence to – if not enablement of – Israel’s military onslaught against the defenseless Palestinian population.

“Jordan may very well become collateral damage if this conflict goes any wider,” Yom cautioned ominously. “It risks suffering physical destruction within its territory, as well as economic catastrophe from the total collapse of tourism revenues and disrupted trade flows.”

A flashpoint that vividly illustrated Jordan’s caught-in-the-middle predicament came on April 13th. The kingdom’s air force was forced to shoot down dozens of Iranian drones that flagrantly violated its airspace while en route to Israeli targets. The drone barrage was retaliation by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps for alleged Israeli strikes in Damascus that killed several senior Iranian commanders.

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Though undoubtedly acting in defense of Jordanian sovereignty and security, the move immediately triggered vehement backlash on the domestic front. Protesters branded King Abdullah a “traitor” for obstructing Tehran’s retaliation against Israeli aggression. The IRGC itself initially erupted in fury, threatening that Jordan could become “a future target” if it continued to “interfere with Iran’s military operations against Israel.”

Cooler heads eventually prevailed between the two governments via frantic back-channel diplomacy, with Iran’s foreign ministry walking back the threats and dubbing Jordan “a diplomatic partner.” But the whiplash-inducing incident laid bare just how explosive Jordan’s balancing act has become.

“The Iranians actually went after the Jordanians and the king’s own family very aggressively and personally at first,” revealed Vali Nasr, professor of international affairs at Johns Hopkins University. “It took some deft Jordanian and Iranian diplomacy to smooth over those kinds of ruffled feathers.”

In a bizarre twist, some regional analysts suggest the drone episode could paradoxically pave the way for a long-overdue thaw in frosty Jordan-Iran relations after the two had previously discussed normalization.

“I think the Jordanians, much like the Saudis, may be coming around to the conclusion that ultimately having zero relations with Iran does not defend their interests at all,” Nasr speculated. “This drone incident could perversely end up being the catalyst that jumpstarts reengagement.”

For ordinary Jordanians however, their monarchy’s downing of Iranian munitions heading toward Israel has stoked rage over what they see as blatant complicity in perpetuating Palestinian suffering. While the government cited an “imminent danger” in allowing armed drones to penetrate the kingdom’s airspace unchallenged, protests and scathing denunciations across social media accused King Abdullah of being a “traitor.”

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“Most Jordanians are simply furious that their country is being thrust into the crossfire of this disastrous regional conflict – one they played absolutely no role in starting but now find themselves helplessly trapped in the middle of,” assessed Yom. “While some criticized the government for cooperating with the U.S. and Israel on that drone operation, the overwhelming public anger has been directed squarely at Netanyahu and his regime as the primary aggressor that bombed Iran’s Damascus compound and is perpetrating this genocidal campaign in Gaza.”

Jordan’s intensely unenviable position between the Iranian-Israeli crosshairs has only compounded the domestic upheaval already roiling the kingdom. Its economy, still struggling to recover from the devastating COVID-19 pandemic, has been battered once again by the renewed Gaza war.

“We have witnessed a severe slowdown in economic activities that directly and indirectly impact Jordan,” lamented Ibrahim Saif, a former Jordanian minister and senior fellow at the Middle East Institute. He cited crippled tourism revenues, private sector investment paralysis, and threats to slash vital UN aid funding for over 1 million Palestinian refugees residing in Jordan as key drivers.

“All of that has resulted in immense pressure being piled on the Jordanian economy, which inevitably translates into acute political instability as well,” Saif told Al Jazeera.

With rumors swirling of an imminent Israeli ground invasion into the Rafah region of Gaza, the conditions are ripe for a perfect storm of domestic unrest in Jordan. Mass protests could reignite with even greater ferocity, overwhelming the regime’s typical heavyhanded crackdown measures of mass arrests, tear gas, and even live ammunition.

“When the monarchy finds it has nothing to offer the protesters, that’s when they get determined to start arresting people in hopes of reasserting control through brute force,” warned Jose Ciro Martinez, a Jordan expert at England’s York University. “But that’s always just a temporizing tactic, not any genuine solution.”

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Indeed, in the early months of the Gaza bombardment, Jordan’s security forces did manage to temporarily quell spiraling demonstrations through such iron-fisted tactics and generating a “profound sense of despair” among activists.

“For a while there, protest fatigue had clearly set in as authorities relentlessly cracked down on any popular mobilization for months on end,” said Yom. “Many activists became resigned to the tragic reality that their actions simply weren’t going to change the unfolding situation in Gaza one iota.”

However, this approach of muzzling dissent through force threatens to be a mere band-aid that cannot permanently stem public fury, especially if economic conditions further deteriorate for Jordan’s increasingly impoverished and restless population.

With the latest casualties from Israel’s bombardment pushing the death toll in Gaza well past 34,000, ominous parallels to the 2011 wildfire protest movement of the Arab Spring cannot be ignored. Nearly a decade ago, unrelenting civil unrest driven by economic grievances pushed the Hashemite monarchy to the brink before beaten-down protesters eventually ran out of steam.

Today, with the perfect storm of domestic despair over staggering Palestinian civilian deaths and a crumbling economy, all it may take is one final spark – like the feared Israeli ground invasion of Rafah – to reignite a unified protest movement more determined than ever to force transformative change.

No matter how deftly the kingdom tries to navigate its tightrope act between Israel and Iran, the inferno raging in Gaza may ultimately pose the biggest existential threat of all to King Abdullah II’s rule if it continues consumingnotalent Palestinians but the hopes of his own people as well.

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Mezhar Alee
Mezhar Alee
Mezhar Alee is a prolific author who provides commentary and analysis on business, finance, politics, sports, and current events on his website Opportuneist. With over a decade of experience in journalism and blogging, Mezhar aims to deliver well-researched insights and thought-provoking perspectives on important local and global issues in society.

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