Israel has not changed its military deployment on its border with Jordan to confront a possible growing threat posed in the area by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) terror group, Israeli officials said Saturday, but Israel is closely watching ISIL’s activities in both Iraq and Syria.
The senior Israeli officials, quoted by Channel 2 TV, were speaking amid reports that the US anticipates Jordan seeking help from both Israel and the US to counter the escalating threat posed by ISIL.
The officials said Israel was “not too troubled at this stage” by ISIL, but that Israeli Military Intelligence had been monitoring what they said was a 10,000-strong organization for more than two years.
Amos Yadlin, a former head of Military intelligence who now runs the INSS think tank at Tel Aviv University, said he anticipated that ISIL “will turn its attention toward Jordan if it encounters problems taking control of Baghdad, and I believe it will encounter those problems.”
Yadlin told Channel 2 that Middle Eastern borders drawn up a century ago by the British, disregarding religion and ethnicity, were “dissolving before our eyes,” with Iraq and Syria key cases in point. The clashes we were witnessing, he said, were between those “looking forward, toward modernity, and those looking to the past.” All countries have an interest in stopping ISIL, he added, but the US was being highly cautious. It had lost 4,000 soldiers, spent a trillion dollars and had no interest in being drawn deeply back into Iraq.
By contrast, he said, the US and Israel would come to Jordan’s aid, if needed, more quickly than to Iraq’s. The US already had forces in Jordan helping the Syrian opposition, he noted.
Overall, Israel anticipates that the Jordanian military, which this week bombed ISIL targets across the border in Iraq, will prove capable of countering ISIL, the TV report said, though Israel does anticipate a possibility that Jordan may benefit from Israeli intelligence assistance.
Speaking in the US at the weekend, Israel’s President Shimon Peres said the Arab League was the body that should confront violent Shi’ite-Sunni hostility, as exemplified by ISIL’s activities. “The Shi’ite-Sunni problem should be handled by the Arab League,” Peres said. “An Arab problem and an Arab solution.”
On Friday, senior Obama administration officials were quoted saying Jordan may ask Israel and the United States to help it fight ISIL if it threatens Amman.
According to a report by The Daily Beast, the officials told senators in a classified briefing earlier this week that ISIL is eyeing Jordan as well as its war-torn neighbors, and that some of its jihadists have already tweeted out photos and messages saying they have seized a key Jordanian town.
The Daily Beast quoted one of the Senate staff members who attended the briefing as saying that, according to the administration officials, if Jordan were to face a military onslaught from ISIL, it would “ask Israel and the United States for as much help as they can get.”
Israel and Jordan signed a peace treaty in 1994.
Another senator said the main “concern” voiced during the briefing was that “Jordan could not repel a full assault from ISIL on its own at this point.”
On Thursday, the US met with its top Sunni state allies in the Mideast to consider how to confront the region’s growing turmoil that has been spawned by a Sunni Muslim insurgency group.
US Secretary of State John Kerry said the threat posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant reaches beyond the two countries — Iraq and Syria — where it is currently based.
“The move of ISIL concerns every single country here,” Kerry said at the start of the meeting held at the US ambassador’s residence in Paris.
If Israel were to join regional efforts to fight ISIL, it would effectively be joining forces with the likes of Iran and Syrian President Bashar Assad, whose forces have been fighting together in Syria and Iraq to overpower the jihadi group.
However, according to The Daily Beast, Israel has indicated behind the scenes that it would be willing to give military assistance to its ally Jordan.
“I think Israel and the United States would identify a substantial threat to Jordan as a threat to themselves and would offer all appropriate assets to the Jordanians,” the media outlet quoted Thomas Sanderson, the co-director for transnational threats at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, as saying.
In Washington, Jordanian embassy spokeswoman Dana Daoud sounded more optimistic regarding her country’s ability to face the jihadi threat.
“We are in full control of our borders and our Jordanian Armed Forces are being very vigilant. We have taken all the precautionary measures. So far, we have not detected any abnormal movement. however, if anything threatens our security or gets near our borders it will face the full strength of our Jordanian Armed Forces,” Daoud reportedly said.
Meanwhile, Rep. Adam Schiff, a Democrat who serves on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and is a co-chair of the Congressional Friends of Jordan Caucus, told The Daily Beast that the Jordanian army was “more than a match” for ISIL.
“I don’t think there is any sense that the rank and file Jordanian forces will melt away the way the Iraqis did,” he said.
Since its formation in April 2013 out of al-Qaeda in Iraq, ISIL has become one of the main forces fighting against Assad in Syria and gaining military control of parts of Iraq. Emboldened by these victories, the burgeoning jihadi group may set its sights on Jordan next.
Mainstream Syrian rebels and the Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Nusra Front accuse the jihadists of ISIL of responsibility for a string of atrocities.
On Friday, a watchdog and jihadist sites said it had executed and crucified one of its own men for corruption in Syria.
Photographs posted on websites showed the body and bloodied head of a bearded man with a placard reading: “Guilty: Abu Adnan al-Anadali. Sentence: execution and three days of crucifixion. Motive: extorting money at checkpoints by accusing drivers of apostasy.”
For Israel, an ISIL assault on Jordan would mean it faces a jihadi threat on two fronts. On Friday, a senior Israeli military commander announced that almost the entire Syrian side of the Golan Heights is now under the control of rebel forces, including radical Islamist groups.
The Israeli officer said that the dramatic gains made by the rebel forces in the area appeared to explain why Syrian troops fired a missile on Sunday that killed a 15-year-old boy on the Israeli side of the border, mistaking an Israeli civilian vehicle for a rebel truck.
The Golan Heights is a strategic plateau on the Israeli-Syrian border. Israel captured the territory in the 1967 war, having been attacked from the Golan over the previous 20 years, and extended Israeli law to the area in 1981. Unsuccessful peace efforts over the years have seen Israel ready to trade most of the Golan for a permanent accord with Damascus, but the notion of Israeli-Syrian peace has all but disappeared as Syria collapsed into anarchy over the past three years of civil war.
AP and AFP contributed to this report.