The first formidable Sunni army, set up quietly by Jordan in the past few months to spearhead a new effort to throw back the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, may face its first big test in eastern Syria. Control of the approaches to the Euphrates Valley and western Iraq will hang in the balance of that confrontation.
The creation of the 70,000-strong Hashemite Army – which outnumbers ISIS (30,000 fighting men) and the Syrian army (40,000) – is the outcome of the advancing Saudi-backed plan to expand the Hashemite kingdom’s borders into Iraq and Syria and provide the first real muscle for cutting ISIS down.
Ahead of the coming showdown, the Hashemite kingdom appears to be shifting its actions against ISIS into a higher gear
The master plan was first revealed In DEBKA Weekly 668, of June 26 (“The Greater Sunni Kingdom of Jordan: Kings Salman & Abdullah Plan to Redraw the Mid East Map to Contain and Shrink ISIS”)
Jordan has insisted on denying any plan is afoot to expand its borders, or sending its army into Iraq or Syria. These denials were supported by Western and Arab media silence on the topic.
The first vague hint of what was going on came from US Secretary of State, John Kerry, who said Wednesday, Sept. 2 that he is confident Middle East powers would send troops to help defeat the Daesh group in Syria. He stressed in an interview that ground forces eventually will be needed in the fight against Daesh.
New Hashemite Army enlists Iraqi Sunni tribes
On July 21, DEBKA Weekly 672, followed up its first report with an article titled “Hashemite Kingdom Takes up Islamist Challenge: Jordanian Troops in Iraq for First Real Seek-and-Destroy Mission against ISIS.”
Our military and intelligence sources then reported exclusively that Jordanian special forces were operating 200 kilometers inside Iraqi territory in the western Anbar province, and that the commandos had reached the town of Ar Rutbah, roughly 400 kilometers west of Baghdad (see attached map).
Those forces have been operating under the direction of the US Central Command-Forward-Jordan, to which American, Jordanian, Saudi, Qatari and Israeli officers are attached.
The US is providing the Jordanian troops with intelligence, while the Israeli Air Force gives it air cover and Saudi Arabia supplies the financing for special operations.
That disclosure met with the same deafening silence as the first. The world chose to eclipse the fact that the Kingdom of Jordan was the first nation, certainly in the Middle East, to allocate ground troops for grappling directly with ISIS.
The new Hashemite Army is quietly gaining ground, along with the master plan for an expanded Hashemite Kingdom.
Jordan’s military intelligence has managed to enlist the 50 largest Sunni tribes in western and northern Iraq, as well as most of the tribes of the Syrian Desert, which straddles eastern Syria and parts of western Iraq.
Remember the Great Arab Revolt!
To appeal to the hearts and minds of the various tribes, the motto Jordanian intelligence officers are using in those areas is: “Remember the Great Arab Revolt!”
The Arab Revolt from 1916 to 1918 was fought to overthrow the Ottoman Empire and establish a unified Arab state from Aleppo in Syria to Aden in Yemen under the Hashemite flag, the 500-year-old emblem of the Hashemite dynasty.
On June 9, the day before Jordan’s Army Day, King Abdullah II handed that flag to the Jordanian armed forces chiefs. This act transferred the 70,000 Sunnis fighting in Iraq and Syria under Jordanian commanders to the army of the Hashemite kingdom of Jordan.
The new army, say DEBKA Weekly’s military sources, is also supported by US weapons, Saudi financing, including salaries and family allowances for soldiers, and Israeli air cover for its operations.
Deir Ez-Zor is critical for ISIS and Jordanian offensive
While the Hashemite army is taking shape in the dark, our counterterrorism sources say it has not gone unnoticed – notably by President Bashar Assad’s circle in Damascus and ISIS leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, at his headquarters in the northern Syrian town of Raqqa.
Assad instructed his military and political chiefs to hold silent, a sort of passive acceptance, in line with his non-reaction to any of the efforts made by the US, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Israel to fight the jihadis.
The first reaction in Raqqa was nervousness. While ISIS has not commented on the rise of a formidable new opponent, it is getting ready for its first major facedown, predicting it will center on the eastern of Deir ez-Zor, which is the key to its control of Syrian oil fields, and the approaches to the Euphrates River and the Euphrates Valley.
This first encounter is critical. If the Islamists can hold on to Deir ez-Zor against the coming onslaught, they will be in a position to undermine the Sunni army’s offensive and hamper the operations of Jordanian commandos in Iraq’s Anbar province.