In its first arms sale to an Arab country, revealed here by debkafile’s military sources, Israel has sold Jordan 12 advanced unmanned aerial vehicles of the Heron TP and Skylark types. They are urgently needed by the Jordanian Royal Air Force to beef up the counter-terrorism campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in which the Hashemite Kingdom is locked across its borders in Iraq and Syria.
The Heron TP drone is an assault vehicle. Its speed is 370 kph at an altitude of 7,400 km and it can stay aloft for 70 hours at a height of 14 km. The Heron is needed for air strikes against Islamist targets deep inside Iraq or Syria and also as an effective weapon for halting enemy forces advancing on Jordan’s borders through the deep crevasses of the eastern Syrian Deir E-Zour region or from Iraq’s Anbar Province to the east
Skylark, which weighs 7 kg, will gather intelligence for Jordan’s special forces in both arenas. Its cameras beam down a full picture in real time of an active battle field.
debkafile’s military sources report that Jordanian commandos have thrust 200 km deep into Iraq. They have reached the important town of Ar Rutbah, which commands the No. 1 freeway connecting the Iraqi and Jordanian capitals Baghdad to Amman, and prevented ISIS from cutting it off.
Israeli and Jordanian officials decline to reveal details about the financial scope of the sale, how the new Israeli drones will enter service in Jordan and whether Israel has set up an operations center in the Royal Air Force for deploying them. Operating the Herons and Skylarks requires personnel especially trained in their use.
Many secret operations against ISIS are run by the joint US-Jordanian-Israeli war room at US Central Command Forward – Jordan north of Amman. Officers at this center may also be managing the UAVs’ operation.
Another aspect of Israeli-Jordanian military cooperation was revealed last week when the American Foxtrot Alpha website reported a group of five Royal Jordanian Air Force F-16s flying alongside Israeli Air Force KC-707 fuel tankers heading west towards Lajes Field, a mid-Atlantic transit point for military aircraft.
The fleets were heading for Nellis Air Force base in Nevada to take part in the Red Flag air-to-air training exercise from Aug. 17 to 28. The Israeli Air Force’s appearance in the exercise comes when relations between Washington and Jerusalem are apparently at a low point.
Although Israel and Jordan are security partners, Israeli tanker aircraft escorting Jordanian F-16s across the world alongside IAF F-15s, is a special event that indicates a new level of military cooperation operation between the two nations. This disclosure shows that the partnership between the Israeli and Jordanian air forces is deep and extensive enough for the two air arms to work together in a long-range training exercise.
This development comes shortly after the news, revealed on July 23 by Pentagon sources, that Israel had donated AH-1 Cobra attack helicopters to Jordan to withstand ISIS threats.,
This week also saw the first anniversary of the US-led coalition campaign launched against ISIS in Iraq and Syria just a year ago. The US aerial operation against the Islamist terrorists has been too diluted to be much use in curbing their advance, especially when American bombers often return to base with two-thirds of their ordnance unused. The only two armies actually fighting ISIS on the ground – where it really counts – are the Jordanian armed forces and the northern Iraqi Kurdish republic’s Peshmerga, joined by the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia.
Amman has kept its campaign against ISIS in neighboring countries under very tight wraps, including its aerial dimension. debkafile’s disclosure now of the sale of Israeli drones to Jordan opens a small window on the scale of this effort.