Iran seemed to be fully preoccupied with bringing an advantageous nuclear accord with six world powers to a successful conclusion on July 14. That was in Vienna. But back in the Middle East, the Islamic Republic of Iran was in full pursuit of its next venture, a plot to destabilize the Sunni Arab Kingdom of Jordan.
King Abdullah II was alarmed enough this week to order his entire ground and armored corps – three expanded divisions of 45,000 men – to leave their barracks and deploy along the full length of the kingdom’s borders with Iraq in the east, and Syria in the north. He placed the Royal Jordanian Air Force on a high state of readiness.
This was the most extensive border deployment the Hashemite Kingdom had ever staged: Nearly half of its 100,000-strong armed forces were sent to seal the kingdom against infiltration from the Iraqi province of Anbar and from southern Syria – up to the intersection of the Jordanian-Syrian-Israeli borders.
Five brigades were left behind – two to defend Amman, the capital; three to keep the lid on rising unrest in the south, spurred by popular enlistment to the Islamic State. A small number of units were sent to the southern border with Israel to contain smuggling.
Four foes on the kingdom’s borders
The Hashemite Kingdom finds itself beset by four implacable foes poised ready to pounce: Iran, the Islamic State, Syria and Hizballah. Some form of ad hoc collaboration among them is not ruled out.
The intelligence heads-up of the trouble building up against the throne was confirmed in the last week of June, when Jordanian security services caught a would-be bomber belonging to the elite Al Qods Brigade of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. He was captured in northern Jordan with 45 km of explosives for use in terrorist attacks in Jordan and Saudi Arabia. The suspect, who held dual Iraqi-Norwegian citizenship, was smuggled into the kingdom from Syria.
A Jordanian security source told the local Al Rai newspaper that, had the plot not been thwarted, it would have unleashed the most deadly terrorist attack Jordan had seen in 10 years, to judge from the quantity and quality of explosives the bomber was carrying.
The king was so furious about the release of this top-secret incident that he shut the newspaper down for several days as punishment for damaging national security.
Then, on July 12, a Jordanian newspaper man called Jihad al-Muheisen was arrested at Jordan’s international airport over “security concerns” on his return from Beirut
Al Muheisen, who was an adviser of the leftist Minister of Political Development Khaled Kalaleda, announced on his Facebook page that he had converted to Shiism. He also said he intended to establish a “resistance pocket” in southern Jordan and let loose a fierce diatribe against the regime in Amman.
Jordanian journalists subverted by Iran, Hizballah
Additional Jordanian suspects, recently detained, admitted under questioning to contacts with Iran’s Lebanese surrogate, Hizballah. This group was organizing visits to Beirut by likely “Jordanian activists” and also sending some on trips to Tehran.
Jordanian intelligence agencies are anxiously watching the intensive campaign conducted by Iran, Syria and Hizballah to reach the shapers of public opinion in the Kingdom and persuade them to work against mounting Saudi influence in Amman. All three view the Saudi-Jordanian master plan for stretching Jordan’s borders into Iraq and Syria as a threat not only to ISIS but to their own interests.
(See 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).
Tehran also has a reckoning with Jordan over its joint plans with Turkey to establish security zones in southern and northern Syria.
Iran, Syria and Hizballah are getting at journalists in particular in order to plant subversive material for publication and harness them for inciting popular dissidence against the crown. The journalist Al-Muheisen was arrested at Amman airport after he had led a “pro-Iranian popular gathering” before his trip to Beirut.
Menace and intimidation to hold Abdullah in check
On June 6, Hizballah pressed its mouthpiece, Al-Akhbar, into service for an op-ed piece by Nahed Hetr which advised the Jordanian King on the direction he should take and hinted at punishment for failing to toe the right line.
The article accused the Jordanian palace of an intrigue for invading Syria. The king was accused of failing to exercise the necessary restraints to nip this intrigue in the bud. He preferred to wait, said the writer, until Washington and Riyadh “pulled their heads out of the sand” and effected “a 180-degrees turn” in favor of supporting Bashar Assad.
The journalist recalled that Bashar’s father, President Hafez Assad, had maintained good relations with Amman, which Abdullah’s father, King Hussein, “had the wisdom” to reciprocate. The current rulers do not entertain the same “feelings of responsibility,” the A-Akhbar writer regretfully concluded.
Abdullah and his intelligence advisers read into the Al Akhbar article a flat threat to the kingdom, and a go signal to the Iranian, Syrian and Hizballah forces in southern Syria and the pro-Iranian militias operating in Anbar. Their orders were to go into action against Jordan to preempt the royal army’s invasion of southern Syria and western Iraq.
Amman responded with a massive troop build-up on Jordanian borders to thwart a potential incursion. Jordan is also bracing for mayhem to be set loose by Tehran by means of subversion and incitement, terrorism and any other machinations for destabilizing the throne.