Jordan’s King Abdullah II checked first with Washington before he approved Iran’s Al Qods Brigades Chief, Gen. Qassem Soleimani’s visit to Amman on March 5, and sent Jordan’s Foreign Minister Nasser Joudeh on a visit to Tehran three days later. DEBKA Weekly’s sources in Riyadh and Cairo report that the visits were fully approved by the Obama administration.
Soleimani was hosted by Gen. Faisal Shoulbaki, director of Jordan’s General Intelligence and a close adviser to the king, while Joudeh was received by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, to whom he handed a letter from the Hashemite King.
Jordan’s détente with the Islamic republic of Iran is the outcome of the expanding US-Iranian partnership in the war against the Islamic State in Iraq. It takes into account that Iraq’s western Iraqi province of Anbar abuts on the Kingdom of Jordan’s eastern border.
A certain analogy to this situation may be found in Syria, in whose conflict Iran is deeply involved. Jordan may well follow the US lead in agreeing to talk to President Bashar Assad (see a separate item in this issue). But on the military side, the situations are dissimilar. Whereas Jordan’s military activity in Iraq is directly coordinated with the US and Iranian field commands, in Syria and especially in the south, Jordanian special units operate in sync with the Americans, the Saudis and the Israelis – not with Iran.
Saudis and Gulf reduce aid packages to Jordan
Jordan has a 380-km long border with Syria. And so it is no wonder that Amman is willing to talk turkey with Tehran when it sees a formidable array of Iranian, Syrian, Hizballah and Afghan and Pakistani Shiite forces advancing slowly but surely on the Syrian side of their common border under Gen. Soleimani’s personal command and purging the area of a Syrian rebel presence.
There are three more complications:
1. Jordan is the seat of US bases where CIA instructors train Syrian rebels to fight the Assad regime and the allies fighting with his army, i.e. Iranian and Hizballah forces. A détente with Tehran would force Jordan to deny Syrian rebel forces passage into Syria through their common border.
2. The Jordanian economy has for years depended heavily on financial aid from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and additional Gulf sheikdoms, the same governments which also sponsor the Syrian rebels, especially those based in the south. This assistance is therefore slowing down to a trickle, keeping pace with the progress of Jordan’s moves towards Tehran.
King Abdullah on his visit to Washington in early February obtained from President Barack Obama a promise to expand US assistance to his kingdom and replace the dwindling Gulf remittances.
Iranians in Jordan would tighten Tehran’s chokehold on Israel’s borders
3. The Hashemite royal family has hitherto relied for its security on the US and Israeli military and their intelligence services. Israel will certainly pull away this safety net as Amman deepens its ties with Tehran.
This development is of extreme concern to Israel’s leaders, because they see the Iranians tightening their military chokehold on its borders.
It started with Iran’s military operations to dominate southern Syria ready for a leap on Israel’s northeastern border on the Golan, after seizing positions on Israel’s northern border in Lebanon and Syria. An Iranian military presence in Jordan would endanger Israel’s long eastern border that runs through the West Bank.
When Saudi officials challenged the Obama administration with their concerns over Jordan’s collaboration with Iran, they were assured that Washington is working to transform Jordan into a live wire in inter-Gulf relations, with the role of go-between for Riyadh and Tehran.
This hardly put minds at rest. DEBKA Weekly has not found any responsible parties in Riyadh or Jerusalem ready to take this US position seriously. The explanation meant to set Saudi minds at rest has rather deepened their distrust of President Obama’s plans for the region.