“Ma’an is the Falluja of Jordan!” shouted thousands of Bedouin Saturday, June 28, in the southern Jordanian town of Ma’an. This legend was inscribed on the placards and flags they bore aloft with one hand in the name of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS). In the other, they waved automatic rifles.
Ma’an (pop: 50,000) is in a sensitive location: 218 km south of Amman, it also lies 104 km from the Israeli port town of Eilat and some 60 km from the main artery cutting south from northern Israel to the south.
But although pro-Al Qaeda riots have been going on for days in Ma’an, capital of the southern province of the Kingdom of Jordan, military and security personnel have not been seen in its vicinity.
The town has a history of violent unrest. It has in the past suffered curfew and was even, when the rioting got out of hand, stormed by soldiers firing live rounds and leaving dozens dead.
For now, King Abdullah is conferring urgently with his army and intelligence chiefs on how to suppress the Islamist revolt in Ma’an without it spilling over into other Jordanian towns, especially Salt, Irbid and Zerka, which have large clusters of Al Qaeda followers.
There was anxious talk in Washington Sunday about the prospect of Abdullah’s throne being rocked by an Islamist revolt, in which case the Obama administration would have no option but to approve the intervention of American and Israeli special operations forces to defend the king, and push back against an Al Qaeda-ISIS invasion. However the domestic Islamist peril may be more immediate and acute than the external one.
A US military source consulted by debkafile revealed that the Jordanian army is now concentrated in three sectors: The Syrian border in the north, the Iraqi border in the east and the capital.
In the first case, Jordanian troops are ranged to head off a possible incursion by ISIS forces concentrated in eastern Syria. They are also prepared to withstand a possible Syrian army assault to dampen Jordan’s military support for the Syrian rebels operating in southern Syria in defense of the Jordanian and Israeli borders.
In the second case, the Jordanian army is deployed directly opposite the ISIS forces which have seized control of most of Iraq’s Anbar province adjacent to the Jordanian border.
The army’s third sector is the capital, Amman, where it acts as the guardian of the royal regime.
Should the Islamist conflagration spread from Ma’an to other corners of the kingdom, its army will be short of fighting manpower for simultaneous defense against internal and external threats.
Our Washington sources report that Brig. Gen. Dennis McKean, commander of the joint US-Jordanian-Israeli underground Centcom-Forward war room established near Amman, has already received instructions to place the 12,000 US soldiers and USAF F-16 fighter squadron positioned in Jordan on the ready.
They also disclose that Brig. McKean is in direct communication with Israel’s Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, the commander of Israel’s Deep Operations command, Maj. Gen. Shay Avital and Israel Air Force chief Maj. Gen. .Amir Eshel.
The Deep Operations command was established in case it was necessary to launch operations against Iran or the Lebanese Hizballah in alien territory. This unit may find itself operating against Al Qaeda’s ISIS in Jordan instead
Washington, Jerusalem and Amman are mulling over whether to wait for the trouble in Jordan to escalate further before intervening, or to act preemptively before matters get out of hand by punching hard at ISIS forces concentrated along the Iraqi-Jordanian border. In the latter case, there would have to be a second decision as to which army would inflict the punch, its location and a forward estimate of the potential repercussions on Jordan’s internal security.