King Abdullah II of Jordan visited Russia. He has been a constant guest in the Kremlin of late due to a quite complicated situation near his country’s borders.
Besides bilateral problems, the sides are supposed to discuss the situation in the Middle East and North Africa and their joint steps against international terrorism, the Kremlin reported before Abdullah II’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
There are two factors that might have motivated the Jordanian King to visit Moscow.
Last month was one of the most alarming for Jordan. In Dec 2016, big groups if ISIL fighters (some 3,000-5,000 men) cracked the line in the Syrian province of Homs and re-seized Tadmor (Palmyra). This means that at any moment, ISIL (a terrorist organization banned in Russia) may decide to cross Jordan’s border.
Also last month, ISIL knocked Jordan down from inside: in Al-Karak, Jordan’s tourist capital, a group of terrorists attacked a police patrol. The attackers killed several policemen and one foreign tourist.
Recently Jordan has become a kind of a “prize” for ISIL, who, though having suffered defeats in Iraq and Syria, still has enough strengths to fight. According to Middle East sources, some 2,000 Jordanians are fighting for ISIL in Syria and Iraq, with 10,000 more Islamic extremists said to be “sleeping” inside Jordan. And it was they who “woke up” in Al-Karak in Dec 2016.
Not only ISIL but also Al Qaida consider Jordan as a big source of recruits and a target for terrorist attacks (1).
All this is a good reason for the Jordanians to be worried. Their close military-political contacts with the United States and the United Kingdom have not saved them from internal instability. Nor have they gotten any benefits from their involvement in the Syrian conflict. As you may know, the Jordanians provided their bases to the South Front and the New Syrian Army (NSA), Syrian opposition forces patronized by the Americans and the British and sponsored by the Gulf monarchies. They haven’t heard of the South Front for a long time already and may shortly see the NSA dissolved.
So, their only option is an anti-Jihadist dialogue with the Russians and further military contacts with the Syrian government. Some Syrian intelligence bosses have already visited Amman for consultations. Now that Palmyra has been recaptured, Israeli sources are reporting a visit by a Syrian government army delegation to Amman. The key topic, according to them, was an operation in concert with a combined American-Russian-Jordanian force.
One more important subject of the forthcoming Russian-Jordanian talks may be Donald Trump’s initiative to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The Jordanians have already warned the Americans that this move may have disastrous consequences for the whole Middle East. Being the guardians of the holy Muslim sites in Jerusalem, the Jordanians are all but interested in this. By moving their embassy to Jerusalem, the Americans will indirectly confirm Israel’s claims to that city.
So, the Jordanians are going to contact the Americans. “We hope that the United States will listen to the opinion of their closest ally,” a source from the Jordanian government said.
On Jan 22, 2017, King Abdullah II met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas met on Sunday in Amman. One of the key topics was the U.S. administration’s wish to move Washington's embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Abbas said that such a step would be taken as hostile by the Palestinians and might cause them to sever their relations with the Americans. However, on that day, the White House said that the administration was "at the very beginning stages of even discussing" moving the embassy (2).
But if the Americans still move to Jerusalem, they will encourage Abdullah’s opponents into action as they will see that his anti-terror allies do not much care for him and that they have all chances to success in their anti-American and anti-Israeli plans.
Abdullah cannot allow this to happen and is going to ask Putin to help him to convince Trump not to move the embassy. But he has no illusions here as he knows that the Russians are not inclined to spoil their relations with the Israelis. But even if they don’t prevent the move, they can help him to minimize the disastrous consequences it may have.
And one more interesting topic for the Jordanian king in Moscow may be the results of the Jan 24-25 Astana talks on Syria.
(1) Aaron Magid, IS turns its attention to Jordan // Al-Monitor, July 1, 2016.
(2) Jack Khoury, Palestinians, Jordan Agree to Take Steps if U.S. Moves Embassy to Jerusalem / Haaretz, January 22, 2017.
EADaily’s Middle East Bureau