For the first time in decades, the centuries-old royal banner of the Hashemite House of Jordan was unfurled in a quiet, history-loaded ceremony in the Jordanian capital of Amman on June 9. It was presented with great solemnity by Jordan’s King Abdullah II to the Chief of the Royal Armed Forces, Lt. Gen. Meshal Al Zaben, in the presence of the royal family, ministers of state and high officials.
The dark red flag which proclaims, “There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is His Messenger,” was first hoisted by Al Sharif Abu Nami in 1515. Prince Abdullah, later King Abdullah I and great-grandfather of the incumbent monarch, symbolically raised the banner in 1920 when he led his troops to Maan in southern Jordan during the Great Arab Revolt.
By handing over this highly symbolic flag, Abdullah elevated his army’s status as the bearer and defender of a historic Arab national and Islamic message. He reaffirmed the “noble status of the armed forces” and their role as “carrier of a pan-nationalist and Islamic message throughout their history and in the future.”
It must be said that this high-sounding message and this banner was peripheral to the Hashemite Kingdom’s contemporary history until it was hauled out on June 9, 2015.
But that ceremony, DEBKA Weekly reveals, imbued the old symbols with high practical significance.
New Saudi monarch broaches ambitious new plan
When King Salman bin Abdulaziz ascended the Saudi throne last January, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant was well on the way to engulfing western and central Iraq and northern, eastern and southern Syria. On the assumption that the United States could not be relied on to keep the tide away from his realm, the new king started the ball rolling on a revolutionary scheme. It hinged on expanding the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan to form a Sunni-ruled buffer state as a barrier against the encroaching jiahdist peril – even if this entailed ditching post-Colonial borders and redrawing the Middle East map anew.
The two Sunni monarchs quickly put their heads together on the plan.
During their face-to-face conversations and phone calls, Salman maintained that there was no time to be lost because Abu Bakr Al-Baghdad’s Islamic caliphate, unless stopped, was bound to get stronger and devour bigger slices of territory in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian-ruled Gaza Strip. ISIS strongholds might also rise in Palestinian-ruled on Palestinian Authority-controlled areas of the West Bank, right up to Jordan’s western border.
Jordan would double in area, quadruple its Sunni population
The Saudi king put in work on the figures.
Jordan today, with its small population of 6.8 million and 110,000 enlisted officers and men plus 60,000 reservists, is nowhere strong enough to stand up to the Islamic State on its own. Jordan’s future would be safe only in the unlikely event of America investing all its military might in the effort, supplemented by Israeli’s military and intelligence support. But as matters stood today, Salman advised King Abdullah that the smaller kingdom’s only chance of survival lay in acquiring more territory to augment its small population and military resources.
His advice was to establish a new Sunni national entity, the Greater Hashemite Kingdom. It would draw new populations from the Sunni nomadic tribes sprawling over the Iraqi province of Anbar and the Syrian borderland, from the Sunnis of southern Syria and northern Saudi Arabia, and from the West Bank Palestinians.
This revamp would double the area of Jordan from 89,342 sq. km to around 180,000 sq km by the attachment of Anbar province (90,000 sq, km), southern Syria (4,500 sq. km.) and a 5,000 sq. km, slice of the West Bank.
Jordan’s population would expand fourfold to an impressive 20 million.
(See the map attached to this article.)
The scheme would clearly be bankrolled by Saudi wealth, which would put up the funds for the new economy and enlarged army.
The post-Arab Spring era is the most volatile in decades
For months, Abdullah sat on the fence. He did not reject the Saudi King’s scheme, but neither did he take steps towards accepting it – that is until June 9. It was then that the Hashemite King signaled his commitment to the new Sunni state by the ceremonial unfurling of the historic Hashemite flag in Amman.
His announcement that the Jordanian army was to be “carrier of a pan-nationalist and Islamic message through their history and in the future” symbolically affirmed the Jordanian king’s endorsement of the initial steps necessary for implementing the Saudi scheme.
He accepted King Salman’s premise that changed circumstances had made it necessary to change Middle East national borders for the first time since they were drawn by Britain and France.
The region’s face was redrawn for ever by the Arab Spring of 2011, an event which demonstrated how swiftly unforeseen, spasmodic occurrences could alter the region in a trice, toppling rulers and regimes almost overnight, throwing up new political and military entities and splintering nations into violent fragments in established countries like Libya, Syria and Iraq.
No one in Riyadh or Amman ventures to assess how long it will take to create the new Sunni state. But there is a sense of urgency in both capitals and a feeling that dark crises are gathering fast around their borders.
Abdullah in London to canvass Western support and aerial support
This sense brought King Abdullah to London Tuesday, June 22 for secret meetings with officials of the non-Arab members of the coalition the US set up last year to fight the Islamic State.
According to DEBKA Weekly’s exclusive sources, he brought with him a blueprint drawn up by King Salman and himself outlining a new strategy for fighting and containing ISIS on the ground.
The two monarchs are convinced that their two-stage operational plan is ready for immediate implementation.
In the first stage, Jordanian intelligence and special operations units would spread out across the western Iraqi province of Anbar and southern Syria. Abdullah planned to show his interlocutors a list of Sunni tribes and clans in Iraq and Syria, who were willing to join Jordan in the campaign against ISIS.
Large sums of Saudi and Jordanian cash changed hands to buy their loyalty and willingness to fight the jihadis
Jordan’s king was to explain that his army stands ready to move into the targeted areas of Iraq and Syria and consolidate its presence there, but it needs a Western air umbrella.
He could not say how much time would be needed for capture and consolidation. But once this was accomplished, he said, the next stage would go forward, to bring the new territories under the Hashemite crown and establish the region’s newest, fully-fledged Sunni state.
An obstacle against ISIS and Iranian hegemonic expansion
The new kingdom – if it came to be – would herald epic changes in the region:
1. The turbulence in the wake of the Arab Spring has progressively eroded the lines drawn in the 1916 Sykos-Pikot Agreement, which divided Middle East spheres of influence between Britain and France – and indirectly Russia – after the downfall of the Ottoman Empire. The Saudi creation of an expanded Jordanian kingdom would finally obliterate those lines and draw the map anew.
2. Greater Jordan would fill three major functions:
a) Provide Saudi Arabia with a broad defense land barrier against ISIS encroachments.
b) Pre-empt the Shiite Crescent plan entertained by Tehran for building a contiguous land link across the Middle East between Tehran, Baghdad, Damascus and Beirut .The Islamic Republic of Iran would be denied its ambition to dominate an area from the Persian Gulf up to the eastern Mediterranean;
c) Build an impassable impediment between Saudi Arabia and the Lebanese Shiite Hizballah terrorist group, which Riyadh regards as an enemy as dangerous as ISIS.
Bashar Assad looks a bit like an asset for some Saudis, maybe
3. Making the Sunnis of Iraq and Syria independent of their governments would obviate the urgent need to end the rule of Bashar Assad in Damascus, by making them safe from his vengeance.
For five years the Saudis were unshakably determined to topple the Syrian ruler, the sworn enemy of Sunni Muslims, by any means. These days, word is going around the Gulf that some Saudi circles may be amenable to a reassessment, viewing him as an asset in view of his adamant fight against ISIS and therefore worth keeping in power
DEBKA Weekly cannot confirm that this thinking is part of King Salman’s plans.
The fate of the Assad regime came up in the talks Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman held on June 18 in St. Petersburg with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who along with Tehran has been arming and backing Bashar Assad throughout the civil war.
4. Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas might as well stop running around the world in pursuit of international condemnation for Israel and the imposition of a two-state solution, because the Greater Hashemite Kingdom envisaged in Riyadh will, in concurrence with Israel, attach the Palestinian West Bank to Amman as the wing of a confederation.