U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry travels to Jordan Tuesday for talks on building an international alliance against Islamic State militants who control parts of Syria and Iraq. reports on what that instability means for Jordan.
Jordan is looking for help from the United States to prevent Syria’s civil war from spilling across the border, with U.S. officials discussing better aerial surveillance and more training for Jordanian special operations forces.
Jordanian King Abdullah met with President Barack Obama at the NATO summit in Wales last week to discuss the Syrian war and the rise of Islamic State militants. The militants’ brutal conquest of swaths of Syria and Iraq has heightened security concerns in Jordan, said Steve Heydemann, an analyst for the U.S. Institute of Peace, an independent, government-funded institution in Washington.
“The threat level that Jordan confronts has increased, and it is taking measures to tighten its control over borders, to tighten its control over local sympathizers of ISIS,” Heydemann said.
Cleric inspires militants
Security officials say many young militants are inspired by Muslim cleric Abu Qatada, who was extradited from Britain last year. Jordan has postponed his trial on charges of plotting to attack tourists at New Year celebrations in 2000 but previously convicted him for conspiring to attack U.S. targets in Jordan.
Heydemann says Jordan’s long-standing ties with Europe and the United States make it a more difficult target for Islamic State leaders looking to expand beyond Syria and Iraq.
The country “has a far more effective military. It has very close security relationships with the United States,” Heydemann said. “It is seen as, in some respects, … a ‘red line,’ which if ISIS were to cross it might trigger much more extensive U.S. and Western intervention.”
Refugees strain security
Complicating Jordanian security – and stretching government resources – are hundreds of thousands of refugees from Syria and Iraq, says former U.S. ambassador Adam Ereli.
“Twenty percent of the population is refugees,” Ereli said. “That’s not a good situation to be in. So I’m worried about Jordan.”
Jordanian authorities have so far kept that refugee crisis from undermining internal security.
But those strains will only grow worse the longer conflicts in Syria and Iraq continue, says analyst Nora Bensahel.
She said Jordan has been getting international support, including the United Nations’ very active help with the refugee situation. But, she wondered how long the country could withstand the strain.
“The answer has been for a long time: more than we might have expected,” Bensahel said. “But at some point, that will no longer continue to be true.”
Continuing to address the refugee crisis and safeguard Jordan’s borders will remain important to keep King Abdullah in a coalition against the Islamic State extremists.