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Over the past few weeks, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) has captured large swaths of territory in
Mesopotamia and proclaimed a Caliphate that aspires to consolidate political and religious control over the entire
region. Crucially, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan may be the next target of this radical Sunni militant group.
Jordan already finds itself under great pressure, hosting hundreds of thousands of Syrian, Iraqi and Palestinian
refugees some affiliated with the Islamic State, Al-Qaeda and other Salafist groups. Originating from a variety of ethnic
backgrounds, the countrys diverse population makes it vulnerable to the influence of radical forces. A serious infiltration
by ISIS into Jordan would not only pose a threat to the stability of the Hashemite Kingdom but could also drag Israel and
the United States into the conflict.

Jordan faces a new period of uncertainty and instability with the declaration of the Islamic State to its north and east, but
there are also opportunities to expand the Kingdoms influence. Forty-five Wikistrat experts analyzed how Jordan would
be affected by the Islamic States attempt to infiltrate, subvert or conquer it. They identified the Islamic States shortand long-term objectives for infiltration and the dynamics of said infiltration (how the Islamic State would attempt
penetration and how Jordan would respond) all with an eye towards anticipating how these dynamics would affect
Jordans political and security profile in 2015.

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Jordans predicament may not be as dire as it seems. The Islamic State was able to acquire territory in Syria and Iraq
because of the vacuum created by their failed governments. The Syrian state has fallen apart after years of civil and
sectarian war; Iraq, on the other hand, was broken twice first by the United States when it overthrew Saddams regime
and, second, during Al-Malikis sectarian state-building exercise that allowed little room for Sunni participation.
Unlike Syria and Iraq, Jordan boasts one of the oldest legitimate governments in the Middle East, drawing said legitimacy
from both religious and political sources. The former stems from the Hashemites lineage from the Prophet Mohammed,
and the latter stems from building one of the only long-lasting, unified and relatively pluralistic states in the Middle East.
To acquire control of Jordanian towns and villages, the Islamic State will have to wrest control from a legitimate
government featuring a modern military, an experienced intelligence service, as well as strong allies in Saudi Arabia,
Israel and the United States, which has 1,000 troops stationed in the Kingdom.

Wikistrats analysts identified four ways the Islamic State could penetrate Jordan. These strategic pathways are offered
below, ordered from quickest to slowest in terms of the rapidity of any potential success. While none of the scenarios
seem promising for the Islamic State, Jordan is under significant pressure from unprecedented numbers of refugees,
chaotic civil wars on two borders, turbulent politics and an overall weak economy. Any major misstep could provide the
Islamic State with an opening that is not readily apparent. We also believe, however, that recent events may even present
Jordan with opportunities to improve its security.



The Islamic State rolled through Mesopotamia in the wake of a collapsing effort by the Iraqi army an impressive
achievement for the militant group. Seizing on that momentum in June 2014, ISIS attempted to occupy Tarbil, Iraqs only
border crossing with Jordan. Surprise success could have resulted in ISIS positioning itself within the Jordanian Desert,
being able to recruit, loot and arm at will to prepare for an attack on Amman. However, Jordan was able to beat off the
attack on the Iraqi side of the border with only about a hundred Special Forces and Air Force personnel. Jordan has
now secured the border with several thousand troops, blocking for now the Islamic States attempt to move on Amman.
Jordan has also been able to successfully defend its Syrian border crossings, keeping the fight outside its own territory.

The Islamic State could play off its recent momentum by hitting Jordans security and command-and-control infrastructure,
but doing so would require a level of penetration, planning and sophistication that ISIS has not yet demonstrated. Iraqs
security services remain largely intact south of Baghdad and even the Taliban have failed to cripple Kabuls security
leadership during 12 years of fighting in Afghanistan. The United States did take out Saddams command-and-control in
the 2003 war, but only with overpowering air superiority.

Lastly, taking possession of Jordans Tannour Dam, currently full at 16.8 million cubic meters, would provide the Islamic
State with leverage over the Jordanian government. However, this would hardly help ISIS win the hearts and minds of a
Jordanian population held hostage by this state of affairs. Jordan will continue to secure its high-priority assets, and, as
yet, ISIS has shown no ability to operate or penetrate Jordans borders with a force sufficient to launch a decisive attack.


Rather than attempting such a decisive attack, the Islamic State could set brush fires in key places and among aggrieved
peoples in the hopes that the flames will spread. A likely starting point would be the southern Jordanian city of
Maan, which has long been a hotbed of discontent and instability due to unemployment, poor infrastructure and few
socioeconomic opportunities. Maans mayor told the New York Times, There is no ISIS here, but there could be because
there is oppression, frustration, high prices and unemployment. One could expect ISIS (and other Salafist groups) to
infiltrate through marriage the surest way to secure long-term tribal allegiances and through other less binding
social means.
The Islamic State could attack Jordan through a potential Achilles heel its peace treaty with Israel. Much of Jordans
population is frustrated with Palestines losing position in the current peace process and the continuing conflict in
Gaza. With over three million Jordanians of Palestinian descent and more than two million Palestinian refugees within
Jordans borders, the Islamic State could gain local allegiance by claiming to be heading for Jerusalem and Israel itself. If
successful, the Islamic State would create an arc of instability from Mesopotamia to the Maghreb. It is important to note,
however, that although many Jordanian Palestinians are interested in attaining power for themselves by overthrowing
the monarchy, ideologically they are unlikely to attain their goals under allegiance to a Salafist Islamic State.
In either event, Jordan has a long history of being able to quell discontent among aggrieved populations. The Islamic
State would only amplify an existing dynamic that Jordan is better positioned to defend than the Islamic State is to


If the Islamic State is unable to penetrate Jordan quickly (or ignite any sort of brushfire), its options will be limited
to building support slowly by picking up adherents from vulnerable groups, like a sports team drafting unwanted
players from another team. Salafist elements within the Islamic Action Front and hardline Islamist elements within the
Muslim Brotherhood who are unhappy with the Brotherhoods current direction are among likely recruitment targets.
Palestinian and Syrian refugee camps might also be fruitful recruitment grounds for disaffected youth who could be

Some analysts have speculated that the Islamic State could make inroads with Jordans Chechen community, but most
of the 16,500 Chechens in the country are second- and third-generation assimilated Jordanians. And aware of this issue,
King Abdullah has already reached out to Chechnya for assistance.

Jordan has been dealing with these types of infiltration issues for decades, so it is hard to see what form of strategic
advantage the Islamic State would have, especially as it finds itself competing with better-entrenched Salafist groups
for recruits. Many of Jordans political factions have long accepted Jordans rules for expressing discontent, which allow
for a modicum of expression for grievances albeit under the threat of a harsh response should an understood line
be crossed. The Islamic States supporters would need to enhance the risk/reward calculation significantly for this
equilibrium to be broken.


If thwarted inside Jordan, the Islamic State could also resort to infiltrating radicalized agents from Syria and Iraq.
Although Jordans borders with these countries are hardly porous, high-traffic areas provide sufficient opportunities. For
example, Karameh, the only official border crossing between Jordan and Iraq, accommodates over 800,000 immigrants
annually. Apart from radicalized refugees, ISIS could also reinsert Jordanians who have been fighting in Iraq and Syria,
provided their services are no longer needed in those two turbulent areas.

Alternatively, the Islamic State could attempt to infiltrate agents directly into the Jordanian Desert, bypassing the formal
border crossing. A soft destabilization of the Jordanian Desert would constitute a very long-term strategy for seizing
territory in Jordan, as operatives would suffer from weak supply, command and control lines.
While Jordan must defend lengthy borders with Syria and Iraq against this form of penetration, sending a large number
of Islamic State insurgents through these border crossings would be a fools undertaking. Doing so would require the
Islamic State to physically control both sides of the border and be able to move a large number of people and munitions.
This would be an achievement that would require a significant military defeat for the Jordanian armed forces. In this
scenario, the best the Islamic State could hope for would be a slow drip of personnel to form small terror cells. It would
take years for such small groups to become strategically significant, but they could cause minor damage through small
terror attacks.

In such a case, local communities, especially cross-border tribes in northern Jordan and southern Syria such as al-Zoubi,
would also assist Jordans defense against ISIS. Even local militant groups could pose as obstacles, because they view the
Islamic State as a rival for popular support. Lastly, King Abdullah has long sought to rally his citizenry around a common
enemy, and the Islamic State could be that enemy if it plays its cards wrong in Jordan.

Already under stress from conflict on its Syrian and Iraqi borders, the influx of refugees, a slowing economy and its
aggrieved citizenry, Jordan will have to exhibit even more resiliency in the face of the threat posed by the rise of ISIS and
its Islamic State.

However, the Jordanian government has the means to manage the current threat posed by the Islamic State; it is also
backed by the Gulf states, Israel, the United States and internal allies. Even Salafist figures like Sheikh al-Maqdisi would
fight the ideological war against the Islamic State within Jordanian communities. Jordans major risk comes if it overresponds to the threats and unintentionally radicalizes its population.
For the newly formed Islamic State to challenge Jordans stability, it would have to adopt a long game of recruitment,
infiltration and social disruption based on the grievances held by Jordans diverse population. This strategy is not
without challenges. The Islamic State would have to compete with Salafist groups that have stronger roots in Jordan.
Championing the liberation of Palestine could provide traction for its campaign, but other groups have gone down that
road already so far without success.
From a broader perspective, the establishment of a Sunni Caliphate could offer opportunities for Jordan. The Islamic
States hold on Mesopotamia is hardly assured, as various Sunni groups vie for leadership among the unstable factions.
King Abdullah, a direct descendant from the Prophet Mohammed, could exert a legitimate claim for leadership. However,
Jordan is unlikely to claim primacy in Mesopotamia in the short term, since United States policy still seeks to maintain
the territorial integrity of both Iraq and Syria.

There does seem to be a sorting out of population going on in Mesopotamia similar in scope and violence to Europe
in the first half of the 20th century. That great sorting led to many new nation-states and new territorial boundaries.
Similar dynamics in Mesopotamia seem to be leading to a major sorting of Sunnis, Shia, Kurds and others. In that event,
one could expect the Hashemite Kingdom, backed by Saudi Arabia, to assert influence over the Sunni Mesopotamian
heartland. Thus, the rise of ISIS in Mesopotamia not only poses a threat to Jordan but an opportunity as well.


Written by: Dr. Amanda Skuldt & James McGirk in consultation with Dr.
Thomas PM Barnett, Wikistrats Chief Analyst
Edited by: Steve Keller

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