With the emergence of Iranian hegemony from Afghanistan to Beirut, Israel’s security and intelligence establishment is watching not only threats from Gaza and Lebanon, but also other areas of potential instability, including locations that have been quiet for years; the Golan Heights and Jordan.
The rise of Iran and the collapse of Syria have unnerved Sunni and Druse populations across the region, including those in Jordan and the Golan. They know that the United States and international bodies have acquiesced in the greatest ethnic cleansing of the 21st century, the removal of hundreds of thousands of Sunnis from Syria and Iraq.
As Hanin Ghaddar Friedmann of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy wrote, “As a result of these efforts, a corridor linking Qalamoun to Damascus, Homs, and an Alawite enclave is almost Sunni-free...
this gives Hezbollah safe access to the Golan Heights, potentially allowing the group to open another front against Israel... The result will be an endless war in a region that is already fragile.”
Just as precarious and uncertain is the future of Jordan.
In desperation for answers beyond the mantra of an elusive two-state solution, experts have looked toward Jordan as a stabilizing pro-Western presence amid a sea of radical Shi’ite and Sunni jihadists. Some believe that a PA-Jordanian confederation is the best alternative.
But how stable is Jordan? Jordan is a very poor country with a radicalized anti-Israel Palestinian majority.
The nation has been inundated with refugees, first from the war in Iraq and most recently the millions fleeing a collapsing Syria. There are nearly 1.5 million refugees scattered throughout the country competing with Jordanians for jobs.
The recent Kerak attacks targeting Jordan’s essential tourist sector highlighted the growing radicalization of Sunni radicals within Jordan. Youth unemployment is near 40%, further adding fuel to radicalization.
Jordan is vulnerable from both within and from without. The Hashemite monarchy, which hails from the Hejaz, is not native to the area. Palestinians, who control the economy but not the government, demographically overwhelm the ruling monarchy’s Beduin brethren. The Muslim Brotherhood has a strong presence in Jordan and over the years has bred many Sunni jihadists who have joined Islamic State or were leaders of al-Qaida.
From the outside Jordan is facing ISIS-linked militants from Iraq and Syria, Hamas in the future from the West Bank, and Iranian-controlled Shi’ite armies to its east and north.
Israel’s next war might not be limited to attacks from Gaza or Lebanon, but could also come from the old front lines of the Golan or Jordan. The 40 years of quiet in the north during the tenure of Assad the father are long over. But is the nearly 50 years of quiet along the Jordanian frontier, that began after the Black September, 1970 struggle between Yasser Arafat and the Hashemites, endangered by instability within the Hashemite regime? Jordan’s greatest threat may be pressure from the do-gooding West encouraging elections in the Palestinian West Bank. Any election now will lead to a Hamas victory, and how long before a Hamas-controlled West Bank would direct its attention to undermining Jordan and encouraging its Palestinian populace to mutiny? As Reuel Marc Gerecht wrote in The Weekly Standard, “Not long ago, I asked a Fatah official how long he thought the Palestinian Authority could survive if Israel stopped supporting its security apparatus.” The answer was, “We could probably last two [months].”
Which means that if there is a PA-Jordanian federation, which falls in some kind of coup or civil war analogous to recent events in Syria, both the West Bank and Jordan could fall under the sway of radical Islamists, the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, or worse.
To Israel’s north and east, groups ranging from Sunni jihadist Al Nusra to Shi’ite Iranian-controlled Hezbollah, both eye control of the Syrian Golan and desire to reconquer the Israeli Golan.
Conventional thought is that Israel’s next war will come from the north (Lebanon), where hundreds of thousands of missiles can rain on a population that is still not prepared for the carnage, or may like clockwork erupt from the Hamas Islamists.
The Golan may be particularly vulnerable for the first time in a generation due to the presence of the joint armies of the Shi’ite militias from Iraq, Hezbollah, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and Syria, all on the doorstep of the Israeli Golan and Jordan.
Attacks on the Israeli Golan from what is left of Syria could be in the form of a long war of attrition, much like the repeated attacks from Gaza over the years, or like the war of attrition on the Suez after the Six Day War. Even if the next war comes from Lebanon, don’t be surprised to see the Golan as a new theater of war, creating a third front.
But it is a Jordanian front which poses the most dangerous challenge. America and Israel have pledged never to let the Jordanian monarchy fall, but it is built on an illegitimate foundation. Add to that a Palestinian majority even more anti-Israel than West Bank Palestinians, the destabilization by millions of poor radicalized refugees from war-torn Iraq and Syria, and Jordan starts looking a lot like pre-2011 Syria.
Even if Israel and the West prop up the carcass of a failed Jordanian monarchy, how long can it last, as it will appear to be another colonialist land grab? Some or none of this may happen, but what is certain is that Israel’s regional vulnerabilities are increasing.
The $38 billion MOU between America to Israel was mainly to compensate Israel for the Obama created disaster of the Iran deal.
It did not address the Obama-created chaos on Israel’s doorstep in Syria, Lebanon, or potentially Jordan, which will require billions more in aid to help stabilize America’s indispensable ally in the region.
What will happen? Who knows. All contingencies must be considered. But what is sure with Iranian ascendancy is that there will be an unpredictable radical Sunni response throughout the Levant.
The author is the director of MEPIN™. He regularly briefs members of Congress, their foreign policy advisers, members of the Knesset and journalists. He regularly briefs Congress on issues related to the Middle East.