September 3, 2014
Itani on Jordan's Response to ISIS
Jordan’s intelligence and security forces, which cooperate closely with Washington, have already been “aggressive against Salafi jihadists in Jordan,” says Faysal Itani, a resident fellow at the Atlantic Council's Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East. That has more to do with Jordanian Salafis joining Jabhat al-Nusra and less with an overt threat of border attacks from ISIS, he says. “The problem of domestic homegrown Salafi jihadists is one that is obviously relevant for—but distinct from—the ISIS threat in Syria.”
As for Amman being a target for the Islamic State, as it was during the group’s incarnation under Zarqawi a decade ago, Itani believes that the Jordanians “will be a target whatever they do, for ideological and strategic reasons, not linked to any particular policy of theirs.” In fact, he says, King Abdullah’s Syria policy—coordinating with Washington on the supply of some arms, training and logistical support for select Syrian rebel groups through a secret a command center in Amman—has actually, despite that limited aid, been “hands off as much as possible toward Syria, partly not so much because they fear ISIS, but because they fear the regime, frankly—and the regime’s ability to make trouble for them inside Jordanian territory.”
The possibility of U.S. strikes against the Islamic State in Syria amid a messy civil war has fueled debate over tacit or open cooperation with Bashar al-Assad’s regime against a common enemy. But as both Landis and Itani note, that raises complicated and nagging questions about military support for Syrian rebels that have plagued the conflict.
“Given that the ISIS phenomenon is not obviously an Iraqi or a Syrian one but a transnational one, and that ISIS doesn’t recognize that border anyway, to go after them in Iraq and not go after them decisively in Syria is frankly absurd,” says Itani. “The only groups that are willing and capable—and capable is critical here—of keeping ISIS weak and disrupting them are the groups that are among the Sunni population that live inside the territory ISIS controls. They are the people who can push back.”
Sunni militant groups have done the most to weaken ISIS in northern and eastern Syria and must be part of a bigger plan against the group, Itani says. “Without a strategy that allows them to consolidate control over Sunni territory and continue to contain the organization of ISIS and break it up, it’s really just a holding action. Once the air strikes stop, ISIS can rebuild its capability.”