What is Happening in Jordan?


Myself shaking hands with King Hussein of Jordan in 1970

Three American soldiers were killed in Jordan Friday,  according to one source by trigger happy Jordanian guards at an airforce base ( Jafr) as they were about to enter. The story is that  they failed to halt as ordered. This is very fishy indeed. Was this  first time these soldiers had entered the gate? They did not know the procedure? Something does not pass the smell test. Has the vaunted Jordanian army lost its discipline?

Well, yes it has compared to the earlier years but to this degree, I doubt it. So was it Islamist sympathizers among the army troops? An American contractor was killed not too long ago by a Jordanian soldier. Very possible! In fact probable,  but there are many enemies of the U.S. in Jordan despite the close relationship of the officials of the U.S. and Jordan.

In addition to the Islamists of ISIS, Al Qaeda and various affiliates, there are the radical Palestinian organizations left over from an earlier era. This may include lone wolf attacks by individual Palestinians brought up on a legacy of hate toward the United States and Israel. Or it could be Iraqi Ba’athist thugs, many of whom fled to Jordan following the American liberation of Iraq. This included the female members of the Saddam family who, with vast amounts of money looted from the Iraqi treasury provided funding to Saddamist groups fighting the Americans.

Some History

I arrived in Jordan in the summer of 1970 to replace the murdered assistant military attache, who was shot down in front of his family by Palestinian thugs. I got an early taste of the events to follow when I arrived at the airport and had to go through the official Jordanian customs and one set up by the Palestinian Liberation organization (PLO).

There were in fact two governments existing in Jordan. More critically there were two military organizations: the PLO with about 12 different groups, and the Jordanian Arab Army (JAA).

Fatah  with Yasir Arafat at the top was the largest and most powerful of the Palestinian organizations within the PLO. Obviously something had to give and in September 1970  (Black Septemeber) it did. The JAA Bedouin  soldiers and officers, fed up with the arrogance of the Palestinian rebel groups,  pushed King Hussein into action. I have written about this  war elsewhere so moving on to the relevant points today.

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First of all the bitterness of the JAA PLO confrontation blossomed into a Palestinian-Jordanian civil war with similarities to the Shi’a-Sunni civil war in Iraq, except it was not sectarian but nationalistic.

Jordan’s population consists of East bank Jordanians and West bank Palestinians. The east bank -west bank distinction is important because many Jordanian citizens are of Palestinian origins and maintain that identity. The divide between the communities, despite  a lot of  government propaganda  to cover up the 1970 war as the “era of regrettable events”, the scars remain deep. During the war Palestinian soldiers deserted en masse  from the JAA, including one division commander.


As a result to this day, Palestinians are carefully vetted before they are allowed to serve in combat units. In fact it is largely true  that Palestinians are excluded from combat units and serve mostly in combat service support units, such as logistics and medical organizations. The east bank-west bank population is about 50-50.

Some later estimates have the Palestinians as more numerous. The Palestinians are viewed by the Jordanian military and tribal leaders as a Trojan horse in Jordan. They are not trusted. As might be expected the Islamists have found fertile grounds for recruiting among the Palestinian community.

People such as al Zarkawi, the leader of al Qaeda Iraq, was a Palestinian from Jordan. The influx of Ba’athists from Iraq provided more power to the Islamist movement As has been duly noted, the Ba’athists ,supposedly  advocating a secular ideology had no trouble blending with the “religious” Islamists. In fact they are primarily Sunni supremacists.

A word here about Palestinians in the Arab world. Everywhere in the Arab and Islamic world, the Palestinian cause is lionized, but nowhere in the Arab world were Palestinians accepted by the other Arabs. In Lebanon, in Kuwait, in Jordan, they were seen as troublemakers (with good reason).

In Iraq the Palestinians brought in by the Saddam regime were driven out but by the Shi’a ( Palestinians are Sunni). In Jordan the bad blood was not simply a result of the 1970 war. In existed from the expulsion of Palestinians in 1948 from what is now Israel.

The irony of this is that Jordan is the only Arab county which has freel allowed Palestinians to acquire their citizenship.  A few Palestinians in other Arab countries have been able to acquire citizenship through bribery and family connections. The other irony is that the Palestinian enmity toward U.S. policy, the American taxpayer is the largest  contributor to UN Works and Relief  Agency For Palestine Refugees in the Middle East, (UNRWA). Most Arab nations contributed nothing.

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Another point that has impact of the present situation is the fact that King Abdullah is not as shrewd as his father and upon ascension to the throne retired many of King Hussein’s  generals and advisors.

His marriage to a winsome Palestinian lady  (born in Kuwait) undoubtedly had some political ramifications but she has not endeared herself to the east or west bankers with her extravagant life style, something similar to Asma al Assad in Syria. In the West she is pictured in a different light as her social advocacy work and social media keeps her Western image shiny.

Moreover, King Abdullah II is the son of King Hussein and  British wife Muna. King Abdullah II was chosen by Hussein at the last moment to be his successor over the previous heir apparent Prince Hassan, Hussein’s brother.  There were a number of reasons for the change but chief among them was Hassan’s enmity toward the PlO and  the Palestinian presence in Jordan. He was also sen as a sterner  Muslim.  The d change was messy and though Hassan accepted it, many did not. Many also preferred  Hamza the son of King Hussein and this fourth wife Noor to the next in line. Noor, although she was as American as apple pie, was from a Syrian father and in the Arab folklore,  that made her a more pure Arab, thus more acceptable than Abdullah.

Overall this indicates the tensions which continue to exist within the royal family, excluded from public view. But it is far from a united front.


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Finally the impact of continuing economic problems have not gone over well with west or east bankers,  with even Bedouin  people of the south of Jordan protesting the poor economic conditions and lack of opportunity.  Particularly in the urban areas, like Amman, East bank youth have, to some degree, also become more amenable to the blandishments of radical Islamism.

The Jordanian government which as more of less less free elections has managed to maintain a friendly parliament by manipulating elections in a way to pit Tribalism against Islamism. Despite the rising power of the Islamists, the tribal influence has so far held sway. For how long is anyone’s guess.

It has long been said that Jordan “is an army with a flag”, succinctly depicting Jordan as a state held together primarily by an army. Should that army and the ubiquitous security apparatus tend to erode in loyalty or effectiveness, Jordan will slide into the unstable list which describes most Arab states today.


King Abdullah II with his troops


At this point there is little doubt that it was Islamist terrorism. The reluctance to name it is only one more indication of the way leftist domestic politics  drives our defense policies.

About Tex

Retired artillery colonel, many years in a number of positions in the Arab world. Graduate of the US Military Academy and the American University of Beirut. MA in Arab studies from the American University in Beirut along with 18 years as Middle East Seminar Director at the JFK Special Warfare Center and School, Served in Vietnam with 1st Inf Division, Assignments in Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt, plus service with Trucial Oman Scouts in the Persian Gulf. Traveled to every Arab country on the map including Iraq, Syria, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco.
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1 Response to What is Happening in Jordan?

  1. Scott Samson says:

    Most informative.

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