at the Edge
Briefing by David
Middle East Forum
September 12, 2017
The Arab world's fifth poorest country, Jordan
has only a quarter of its adult population gainfully employed. Its
accumulated debt represents nearly 100% of GDP and the Jordanian economy
has been seriously afflicted by the arrival of 1.4 million Syrian refugees
over the past few years. This, however, has not generated an overt
backlash against the refugees by the indigenous population, partly because
the 2015-16 terror attacks in the kingdom were perpetrated by homegrown
extremists rather than by incoming refugees.
Not only have those attacks raised questions
about the effectiveness of the Jordanian security forces, but the
perpetrators belonging to tribes that constitute the mainstay of the
regime has been a major source of concern for King Abdullah, not least
since an estimated 2,500-3,000 Jordanians have joined ISIS or al-Qaeda.
And while Jordan managed to prevent the conflict's spillover into its
territory by establishing a de-facto buffer zone along its border with
Syria, the recent U.S.-Russian ceasefire agreement has kindled fears in
Amman that Hezbollah and other Iranian-backed Shiite militias will
destabilize the kingdom's northern border.
Another security concern has been the steep
deterioration in Jordanian-Israeli relations as a result of the recent
Temple Mount crisis. Israel's enhanced security measures on the Temple
Mount and the killing of a Jordanian assailant (and an innocent bystander)
by an Israeli guard at the Amman embassy both prompted public outrage.
With the embassy temporarily closed and its staff relocated to Israel, the
king exploited the crisis to pressure Israel for concessions on Temple
These tensions notwithstanding, there is quiet
understanding in Jerusalem for Abdullah's need to strike a delicate
balance between his awareness of the importance of Jordan's strategic
relationship with Israel (not to mention its planned multi-billion-dollar
import of Israeli natural gas) and the need to appease his staunchly
anti-Israeli (and anti-American) subjects. From the Israeli perspective,
the reopening of the Amman embassy is vital not only for normalizing the
bilateral relationship with Jordan, but for consolidating the newly
developed collaboration with the Gulf states against resurgent Iran, in
which the Amman embassy has apparently served as an important backchannel.