Jordan in the Crosshairs
Thursday’s roadside bombing outside Amman made clear that Jordan is at the center of the war on terror. Salameh Nematt on the new pressure on the kingdom as it partners with the CIA.
Proving for the second time in the past month that Jordan is at the center of the war on terror, a roadside bomb detonated Thursday near a convoy of cars carrying three Israeli diplomats and two other embassy staff, on their way from Amman to Israel for the weekend.
None of the passengers were injured when the bomb exploded on the highway, halfway between the Jordanian capital and the King Hussein-Allenby Bridge, which links Jordan to the West Bank town of Jericho. The explosion, which occurred around 4:45 p.m., caused damage to one of the two cars carrying the diplomats, but they were able to continue their trip. The explosive device appears to have been detonated remotely. Jordanian fire engines, ambulances, and security forces rushed to the scene within minutes.
With Jordan and the CIA united in the bungling of Balawi’s case, the role Jordan will play in the fight against terrorism going forward remains to be seen.
According to Agence France-Presse, the attack targeted the car of the Israeli ambassador, but official Israeli and Jordanian sources rejected the report, saying Ambassador Daniel Nevo was nowhere near the scene of the bombing. An Israeli journalist contacted by The Daily Beast said she personally spoke to the ambassador and that he was safe.
Jordanian officials said the government ordered an immediate investigation into the attack, but would not speculate about who was behind it. Local Jordanian media reports said former Israeli ambassador to Jordan Yaakov Rosen may have been in the convoy.
What’s clear is that by allying itself strongly with Israel and the United States—and ever more publicly—Jordan has opened itself up to more terrorist attacks within its borders. The Thursday attack followed the Dec. 30 suicide bombing in Afghanistan that killed seven CIA officers and a Jordanian intelligence officer at a CIA base. The bomber was identified as Jordanian double agent Humam Khalil al-Balawi. The Jordanian victim was Sharif Ali Bin Zaid, a relative of Jordan’s King Abdullah II and a liaison between the CIA and Jordan’s General Intelligence Directorate.
Balawi, the bomber, had been a well-known propagandist for al Qaeda for years when he was captured by Jordan’s spy agency in 2008, before he was supposedly recruited and sent to penetrate al Qaeda’s network in Pakistan. Instead, he became loyal to Pakistan’s Taliban, which sent him as a double agent to carry out the attack at the CIA base.
With Jordan and the CIA united in the bungling of Balawi’s case, the role Jordan will play in the fight against terrorism going forward remains to be seen. In 1994, it became the second largest Arab country, after Egypt, to sign a peace treaty with Israel, and Jordan has been the biggest foreign contributor to the U.S.-led counterterrorism effort in the Middle East, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. The kingdom’s intelligence service is credited with providing information that led to the killing of al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in 2006, seven months after Zarqawi’s group bombed three hotels in Jordan, killing nearly 200 people.
Al Qaeda and other hard-line Islamist groups have repeatedly called on Jordan to break diplomatic ties with Israel and end their security cooperation with the Jewish state and the U.S. The attack against three hotels in Amman on Nov. 9, 2005, was an early warning from al Qaeda that Jordan’s cooperation with U.S. intelligence would have consequences. But it has not deterred Jordan from continuing its close alliance with the CIA; after all, Jordan’s intelligence service entrusted a relative of King Abdullah II to be a liaison officer to the CIA operation in Afghanistan. The killing of a relative of the king alongside CIA officers in Afghanistan will only make Jordan more determined in its fight against Islamist terrorists. (The attack was the first time a terrorist organization shed the blood of a Jordanian royal. King Abdullah is believed to be a direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad, and so was Zaid, whose funeral the king, Queen Rania, and other royals attended.)
The recent events, including the failed Jordanian attempt to penetrate al Qaeda through Balawi, are not likely to erode the Americans’ or Israelis’ trust in Jordan. Thursday’s attack was an attempt to rock Jordan’s stability, and is likely to result in the nation recommitting to the fight again global terrorism, as Jordanian officials have made clear in recent statements.
But Jordanian intelligence analysts maintain that it is impossible to prevent every terrorist attempt. “You hear a lot about the failures, but very little about the successes,” one analyst said. “We have aborted numerous attempts and our U.S. partners know that very well. Even Israel, with the most formidable security establishment, is not immune to such attacks.”
Salameh Nematt is an international writer for The Daily Beast. He is the former Washington bureau chief for the international Arab daily Al Hayat, where he reported on U.S. foreign policy, the war in Iraq, and the U.S. drive for democratization in the broader Middle East. He has also written extensively on regional and global energy issues and their political implications.