The new friendship developing between Jordan's King Abdullah II, hitherto one of America's staunchest allies in the Middle East, and Iran has taken the US and the Hashemite Kingdom's neighbors, especially Israel and Saudi Arabia, by storm. They fear the kingdom may be drawn into the radical alliance Iran has formed with Syria, Hizballah, Hamas and Turkey.
No one knew about the king's plans for an early visit to Tehran until the formalities were revealed.
Saturday, December 11, he welcomed the Iranian president's bureau chief Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, who came to Amman with a formal invitation from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for a state visit.
The next day, the Royal Office announced: "It is imperative to undertake practical steps for improving Jordanian-Iranian relations in the service of the two countries, their brotherly peoples and shared Islamic causes, in the interests of consolidating security and stability in the region."
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's sources in Washington and Jerusalem report hurried US and Israeli requests for clarifications to find out whether the announcement was released to ease Syrian and Turkish pressure on the king to visit Tehran, or he really meant to go through with it. The evasive answers they received aroused disquiet. Jordanian officials did confirm that Abdullah had accepted an invitation to visit to Tehran soon but insisted no date had been set.
Barak: Israel cannot stand by idly as Iran tightens noose
Tehran was more explicit. The communiqué the presidential bureau issued after Mashaei delivered the invitation stated that the royal visit would turn a new page in bilateral relations: "The two countries have a huge potential for working together and those capabilities must be utilized," the Iranian official was quoted as enthusing. "Islamic unity is the most important factor for removing threats. If Islamic states stand united, no country will be threatened."
Tehran was already celebrating the Jordanian monarch's visit and welcoming him aboard the region's anti-American Islamic extremist bloc.
This potential development was at the center of the long talks Israel's Defense Minister Ehud Barak held in Washington on Dec. 13 with US Defense Secretary Robert Gates, CIA Chief Leon Panetta, the president's special adviser Dennis Ross and Vice President Joe Biden.
Barak warned them that Israel could not afford to stand by idly if Iran tightened a noose around it from every one of its land borders, with pro-Iranian military forces in Lebanon, Syria, the Gaza Strip – and finally Jordan – drawn into the camp dedicated to fighting Israel and receiving a steady stream of missiles and military advisers for that purpose. At some point, Israel would have to break that noose.
Four months ago, Jerusalem smelled a rat, when Jordan began cooling its intelligence and military cooperation with Israel. By November, these formerly close neighborly ties had been reduced to working together on security for their common border along the River Jordan.
At this rate, said Barak, it is only a matter of time before Iranian weapons and missiles begin flowing into Jordan, perhaps not directly, but via Syria, the same route Iran uses for smuggling weapons to Hizballah in Lebanon.
Obama fears Israeli action against Hizballah would derail nuclear talks
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's sources report that Barak went on to complain that, while the Obama administration stuck to its carrot-and-stick policy vis-à-vis Iran, combining sanctions with diplomatic engagement, Iran is running ahead and winning more and more friends and allies in the Middle East.
US intelligence experts are connecting the dots linking the Israeli defense minister's warning, the Jordan king's imminent visit to Tehran and the Iranian ground forces exercise on the Iraqi border – which Tehran disclosed Monday, Dec. 13 as a direct threat to US forces in Iraq. If Jordan did defect to Iran, it would signal the reconstitution of the Eastern Front against Israel in radicalized form and menace America's key positions in the region.
This prospect was considered serious enough for President Barack Obama to direct his Special Adviser on the Middle East Dennis Ross and Deputy Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. James E. Cartwright to depart immediately for Israel to urgently restrain Israeli from embarking on an offensive against Hizballah to disrupt Iran's machinations.
Obama is determined to prevent any Israeli military action for fear it would derail the nuclear negotiations the Six Powers (the Permanent UN SC members and Germany) are scheduled to resume in Istanbul next month.
(For more about the Ross visit to Israel and how Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Barak thwarted his plan for separate meetings with Israel's generals, see HOT POINTS of Dec. 16.)
Saudis concerned about their northern neighbor
The consequences of Jordan's Abdullah pulling what is known in the Middle East as a "Walid Jumblatt stunt" would be incalculable, DEBKA-Net-Weekly's military sources note. The term refers to Lebanon's Druze leader Walid Jumblatt who arrived in Tehran on Sept. 1, thereby crossing the line from the pro-American camp in Beirut to the ranks of the radical pro-Iran Hizballah.
In so doing, Jumblatt tipped the balance of strength in Lebanon against the government headed by Saad Hariri and opened the door for a pro-Iranian takeover of the country.
When challenged on his betrayal by Jeffrey Feltman, the Assistant US Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, the Druze leader said: 'My heart is with you (Americans). But when I see the weakness and complete inaction of President Obama in the Middle East, I have to save the Druze people and guard the only territory we control in the Chouf Mountains of central Lebanon. Only Iran and Syria can guarantee that this territory remains intact. Not America anymore."
Saudi Arabia is just as concerned by the prospect of Jordan's defection to Iran's orbit. In addition to Tehran's intensified threat to Israel, Iranian weapons and military personnel would win a presence on the oil kingdom's northern border for the first time. The Iranian threat would also close in on Iraq from the west as well as from the east.