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Source: The Hill

Jan 13, 2024

Jordan is at risk of falling into Iranian hands


From Khan Yunis and Jenin to Aleppo and Kirkuk, Iran has its pawns on every square of the Middle East chess board. The Islamic Republic of Iran has established a network of proxy forces that form a “Shia Crescent,” effectively controlling Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Gaza, and some cities in the West Bank.

But the regime will not remain satisfied with its current military and political strongholds, and it has already begun to target the last independent Arab actor in the Levant: Jordan. 

Jordan’s GDP growth rate has slowed down. Its public debt has increased, and the country has taken in 1.3 million Syrian refugees who have fled the Syrian civil war.

Smugglers are bringing a synthetic amphetamine-type drug, captagon, into Jordan from manufacturers in Syria and Lebanon into Jordan. They bring armed groups along with them. This drug flow has already been linked to Iranian-backed militias, with Jordan acting as both a conduit and a destination.

Geographically speaking, Jordan is the perfect target. Iran’s presence in Syria, Iraq, and increasingly in the West Bank provides the ability to penetrate from three directions with proxy forces. Iran can maintain plausible deniability while slowly taking over economic, military, and political levers of power. The large number of Syrian refugees and the Palestinian population make it easy to exploit internal divisions.

If Iran seizes control of Jordan through proxies, or undermines the government enough to replace the Hashemite leadership, it would seriously weaken American and regional security. Approximately 3,000 American troops and the Muwaffaq Salti Air Base — a launch pad for counter-ISIS operations — would be threatened. U.S. military intelligence capacities in the region would suffer.

Israel would face greater challenges in its multi-front war, lacking a buffer with Iran east of the Jordan River. Iranian supply lines to Palestinian militants in the West Bank and Jordan would run directly through Iraq and Jordan into the Jordan River Valley. This would also raise security concerns for Arab Gulf states, for fear that their regimes could be next.

The real possibility that Jordan morphs into a proxy state for Iran should serve as a sobering reminder. Even if Israel and the U.S. close the door on current proxies such as Hamas or Hezbollah, new ones can emerge, so long as the Iranian regime stands.

Iran may have its sights set on Jordan, but Jordan’s eyes are on the wrong prize. 

Even before October 7, rhetoric from Jordanian officials had become increasingly negative toward Israel, and thousands of Jordanians protested energy deals between Jordan and Israel. 

After the Hamas terror attacks, Jordanian protesters stormed the Israeli embassy in Amman – to show their support for Hamas – and Jordan recalled its ambassador from Tel Aviv. At least one Jordanian tribal leader has called for the cancellation of the Wadi Araba Treaty, the nation’s peace agreement with Israel signed in 1994.

The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan remains concerned that Israel will push Palestinians into its territory, creating a demographic crisis that would challenge its leadership. Amman even bolstered its military presence on its western border to prevent a spillover of Palestinians. 

Jordanian officials must be reminded that although these concerns are legitimate, the greatest threat to their future remains Iran. This will provide the basis for new and improved relations with Israel; nothing unites nations like a common enemy. 

Iranian proxies have attacked U.S. military personnel in Iraq and Syria over 100 times since the Oct. 7 terror attack against Israel. Back in March 2023, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin informed lawmakers that these forces had attacked U.S. troops 83 times. The U.S. struck back in only four of these cases. Quick math would indicate almost 200 attacks on American personnel during the Biden administration and just a dozen responses by U.S. armed forces.

If the U.S. lacks the will to defend even its own citizens, how can any nation expect the backing of American hard power? The recent retaliatory strike launched against Kataib Hezbollah in Iraq must become the norm, not the exception. This will signal to Jordan, among other Arab states, that the U.S. will support its allies — and its own troops. 

In order to prevent Iran from destabilizing Jordan and to renew the Israel-Jordan relationship, the United States must begin with four additional actions. 

First, the State Department must re-designate the Houthis (Ansarallah) as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, and the U.S. military must degrade and destroy the Houthis’ launch sites and missile depots to preempt further maritime attacks in the Red Sea. The Biden administration may be moving in the right direction with the most recent strikes against Houthi rebel targets; it must continue escalating to de-escalate.

Returning to appeasement will only embolden the Houthis and other Iranian proxies across the region, whereas keeping the military option on the table will ensure the U.S. does not lose its leverage. Now is not the time for diplomatic engagement with a rogue actor. 

Second, American forces stationed at the Muwaffaq Salti Air Base should work quietly with Jordanian Armed Forces to protect its northern border and prevent the entry of captagon and Iranian proxy militants.

The U.S. Air Force should target drug-laden drones sent from Syria, a top concern for Jordan. A few thousand troops can have an outsized impact as demonstrated by the 900 troops in Syria or the 2,500 situated in Iraq which hinder the reemergence of ISIS. 

Third, the U.S. should express support for Israeli strikes against Iranian generals such as the most recent one in Syria.

This airstrike eliminated senior adviser Sayyed Razi Mousavi of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, a key coordinator of the Iran-Syria military alliance. American backing will enable Israel to take out that crucial Iranian militia’s forces in proxy states without fear of direct Iranian reprisal. This will constrain Iran’s exploitation of Syria as a corridor to target Jordan. 

Lastly, the Biden administration should study the founding documents of contemporary Middle East peace — the Abraham Accords. Increasing security, energy, and economic cooperation between Israel and Arab nations will strengthen the bloc of anti-Iranian Gulf states.

If Jordan is going to improve cooperation with Israel, the focus must be directed toward Iran. The Biden administration should be reminded that until it deals with Iran, efforts to eliminate their proxy forces will be met with limited success. Iran could lose its proxy in Gaza, only to be rewarded with a new one in Jordan.

Without American support to weaken Iranian influence, the Shia crescent threatens to pull down a key American ally in the Arab world, which would be devastating to the entire region.  

Gabriel Diamond is a senior at Yale University studying political science and a research assistant at Yorktown Institute.

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