Lost in the flurry of rambling threats to Iraq’s Shiite community during its surprise military blitz last week, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) issued an even bolder statement: a call to arms in Jordan.
Emboldened by its impressive gains in Iraq and southern Syria, the former Al Qaeda affiliate took to social media to announce that it would “soon bring the Islamic state” to “brothers in Jordan”.
According to senior ISIL-linked Jordanian jihadists, the former Al Qaeda affiliate has reportedly pumped $3 million (Dh 11m) into Jordan in the past month for “recruitment purposes” and to fund the medical treatment of its fighters returning from Syria.
Sharing a 370-kilometre border with Syria to the north and 180 kilometres with Iraq to the east, ISIL has identified Jordan as a vital “linchpin” to uniting its young caliphate, whose position would allow the movement to open up new routes for fighters and arms between Iraq and Syria – a move that has been singled out by its leadership as key to widening its wars on Baghdad and Damascus.
Yet even more attractive to ISIL is the 220km stretch of Jordan Valley farmland separating Jordan from Israel and the Palestinian territories – with leaders eyeing a push into Palestine and possible “liberation of Jerusalem” as key to winning over ISIL’s doubters.
In recent months, Jordanian jihadists have served as ISIL’s most vocal critics, with Abu Mohammed Al Maqdisi, who once ranked third in Al Qaeda ’s leadership chain, denouncing ISIL as “deviants”.
Key salafist theologian and theorist Omar Mahmoud Othman (better known as Abu Qatada) has taken an even harsher stance, using his continuing trial in Jordan as a stage to attack the movement’s massacres of minorities and referring to its leadership as “dogs”.
The Islamic State will likely find that repeating its successes in Jordan will not be easy, as most in the country still solidly backs the Hashemite monarchy.
And, unlike the undertrained Iraqi government forces or the rapidly depleting Syrian security forces, ISIL would be up against the seasoned veterans of Jordanian intelligence and a well-trained military, who boast more than three decades of antiterror experience and have successfully infiltrated several Al Qaeda cells within Jordan and Iraq. Jordanian authorities have proven deft at applying their antiterror tools along the Syria border, arresting more than 200 suspected ISIL fighters since December last year and sentencing more than a quarter of that number.
The vast majority of Jordanians also have little appetite for the instability brought by hardline Islamist groups, a sentiment tapped into by Hussein Majali, the interior minister, who called on citizens to join the national effort to curb extremism.
Jordan has proven to be two steps ahead of the Islamic State, unleashing in April a new “pre-emptive strike” campaign along its border to prevent the movement from reaching Jordanian soil, engaging in a series of cross-border battles with suspected ISIL fighters that have reportedly left 20 dead and led to more than 100 arrests.
With a missile strike of four suspected ISIL vehicles along the Syria border last week, Jordanian officials returned the Islamic State’s warning shots and a message that ISIL’s path will face a roadblock in Jordan.
Taylor Luck is an Amman-based political analyst and journalist.