Intelligence and Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz downplayed on Sunday the prospect of Israel confronting the Islamic State if it were to move on Jordan, but confirmed that if the monarchy requested help, it would be in Israel’s interest to answer the call.
“Jordan is a strong state, but still if Jordan was truly in danger from these jihadist extremists and asked for our assistance — Israel has a very clear interest in the existence of Jordan,” Steinitz told Israel Radio.
He added, however, that the success of Kurdish fighters, buoyed by US airstrikes, in turning back Islamic State advances and even taking back a number of cities in northern Iraq may indicate that the immediate threat to Jordan may have subsided.
Steinitz, who recently led a trip to the US to discuss upcoming nuclear talks with Iran, emphasized that while Israel approved of Obama’s plan to build a coalition to confront IS, Washington should not be distracted from Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.
“IS is a threat for a few years; Iranian nuclear weapons will be with us, if Iran becomes a nuclear power, for dozens of years,” he reasoned.
On Friday, Channel 2 quoted unnamed Israeli diplomatic sources to the effect that Israel had told the US that if IS began making inroads in Jordan, the Jewish state would not hesitate to act militarily.
In June, The Daily Beast reported that senior Obama administration officials told senators in a classified briefing that if Jordan were to face a military onslaught from IS, it would “ask Israel and the United States for as much help as they can get.”
Despite its relative stability, Jordan has faced rising stress on the home front with a million Syrian refugees currently residing within its borders and, experts say, a growing movement of jihadists and ultraconservative Salafis.
The London-based newspaper a-Sharq al-Awsat reported 10 days ago that Jordanian security forces had arrested 71 radical activists belonging to Islamist organizations, including IS and Syria’s al-Nusra Front, throughout the kingdom.
Hundreds of Jordanians are known to have traveled to Syria to fight in the uprising against President Bashar Assad and some have joined extremist groups, including the Islamic State.
A video posted online in April depicted a number of Jordanian IS fighters, including a child, tearing up their passports and threatening to assassinate the “tyrant,” referring to King Abdullah II.
Extremists have also targeted Jordan in the past. The Islamic State’s precursor, known as al-Qaeda in Iraq, was founded by a Jordanian national, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Under his leadership, the group carried out a triple bombing on Amman hotels in 2005 that killed more than 50 people.
A wary Jordan has taken steps to shore up its defenses, forming a special task force to deal with possible IS threats, dispatching reinforcements to its border with Iraq and expanding anti-terror laws in June.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.