While many once complained that the U.S. “tricked” Jordan into the anti-ISIS coalition, Jordanian public opinion has come to favor retaliation since a video surfaced Tuesday of pilot Muadh al-Kasasbeh being burned alive.
Minarets and church bell towers across the country sounded in mourning for Kasasbeh. Numerous reports from the Jordanian capital Amman, as well as the provinces, recount how for the first time in weeks, in The Atlantic’s words, “people are pushing the state to fight, not the other way around.”
But the push for war also benefits Jordan’s “warrior king,” King Abdullah II. Jordan receives millions annually in American military assistance. (President Barack Obama’s recent draft budget for federal year 2016 includes $350 million in military aid to the country.) As a result, it enjoys one of the Middle East’s most sophisticated special operations forces, and top-line equipment. And this time, the campaign to defend Jordan’s national pride has the look and feel of a genuinely local response. (RELATED: No, Jordan’s King Abdullah Didn’t Personally Bomb ISIS)
Like many Arab countries, Jordan is rife with conspiracy theories about the United States, Israel and other powers manipulating its behavior to suit their goals. Islamists and liberals alike, tired of excessive police surveillance and atrophied political freedom, have often sought excuses to criticize the king as a tool of American policy. The Jordanian military, which suspended its air raids on ISIS after losing Kasasbeh in December, now has the political advantage of returning to the battlefield on its own terms.
Jordan faces increasing strain from surrounding countries as well. Its fourth-largest city is a Syrian refugee camp opened in 2012. And Jordan’s long-time alliance with the U.S., together with its significant Palestinian population, gives it a sometimes-awkward relationship with its western neighbor Israel. Its other two foreign borders, with Saudi Arabia and Iraq, have also been strained for decades.
Meanwhile, Middle East-watchers have debated vigorously about ISIS’ own political calculus. The habit of killing hostages instead of using them for value strikes many of them as an unsound tactic. The Soufan Group, a security analysis firm, has warned that “overreaction” and the “replenishment of fear” are key tools in the extremist group’s propaganda campaign, and that a over-robust response will make ISIS more victim than bully.
On the other hand, Jordan’s years of friendship with the Pentagon may allow it to “fight [its] own fights,” bringing order to its backyard as a bulwark of Arab and Muslim legitimacy — the royal tribe claims direct descent from Muhammad — not a foreign power.
But as Jordan begins to launch its F-16s, cracks may already be appearing in the façade of national unity. On Wednesday, Safi al-Kasasbeh, the deceased pilot’s father, reportedly accused female anti-ISIS Emirati fighter pilot Maryam al-Mansuri of downing his son’s plane, not the terrorist group he longed to “destroy.” He said this just hours after meeting with King Abdullah himself, and later claiming that the king told him Jordan carried out airstrikes on ISIS’ Syrian headquarters in Raqqa, a claim that has not been substantiated by either Jordan’s government or open-source data.
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