April 5, 2024 MEMRI Daily Brief No. 590

Black September 2024?

April 5, 2024 | By Amb. Alberto M. Fernandez*
Iran, Jordan, Palestinians | MEMRI Daily Brief No. 590

The threat could not be clearer.[1] Iran, through its many proxies, sees the undermining of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan as a key piece in its regional strategy. Subverting and penetrating Jordan, through Islamist Palestinian (Hamas) and Jordanian (Islamic Action Front and allies) factions offers the opportunity to advance one of the key goals of the 2023 Gaza War launched by Hamas on October 7: The takeover of the Fatah-ruled West Bank and the widening of points of direct confrontation with Israel. Iran's proxies nearby in Iraq, Syria, Gaza, and Lebanon are eager to help make this happen. A Jordan that would submit to Iran's Axis of Resistance would make the entire country a strategic front line of direct combat in the Iranian encirclement of Israel. Iran has worked diligently to build up Palestinian factions as part of its broader network of proxy forces.[2]

Geography and demography condemn Jordan to be involved in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in some way. The country constitutes most of Israel's Western border and most of Jordan's population is of Palestinian origin. Jordan's King is still the traditional custodian of the Muslim and Christian holy places in Jerusalem. Jordan fought two wars against Israel (in 1948 and 1967) and signed a formal peace treaty in 1994 with its former enemy.

On the surface, the threats seem excessive. Fifty-four years ago, Jordan fought and won in an all-out war against armed Palestinian factions, the infamous "Black September" of 1970. Today, despite rhetoric from Iranian-led militias in Iraq and local allies of Hamas in Jordan, there is no armed "state within a state" in Jordan. Not only that but both Jordanian Intelligence, the very capable GID, and the Jordanian Armed Forces are well funded and well-regarded for their professionalism. In recent days, Jordan has received strong public statements of support from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and the PLO's Mahmoud Abbas. The Biden Administration is also a strong supporter.[3] So, on paper, Jordan would seem very well prepared to defend itself internally.

The government has sought since October 7 to channel popular anger against Israel and the West by adopting much of the same rhetoric used by Hamas supporters elsewhere. Western observers have noted in particular the harsh rhetoric from Jordan's Queen Rania (of Palestinian origin) and Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi (a former journalist and member of Jordan's East Bank Druze community).[4] That tactic does not seem to have worked to calm the internal situation or at least did not work enough.[5]

Jordanian security officials are very experienced and skilled in dealing with Islamist threats in the country that produced Abdullah Azzam, Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, and Abu Muhammad Al-Maqdisi.[6] But opponents of the regime, especially the Islamists, also have decades of hard-earned experience in subversion.

Obviously, one part of the goal is to promote the proliferation of terrorist attacks from Jordan into Israel.[7] But a second goal is to promote chaos inside Jordan itself thereby pressuring both the authorities and public opinion in Hamas's favor. The endgame being at least a change of policy if not (yet) a change of regime. A spate of recent media articles in the (heavily monitored and influenced by the GID) Jordanian press have warned Hamas and its local Islamist allies from pursuing this dangerous game.[8] There is plenty of discontent in Jordan already even without Gaza.[9]

Pro-government social media hashtags have recently sent the message of "Jordan First" and "Jordan Red Line," cautioning that attempts against the stability and security of the regime are red lines.[10] While some Jordanians have claimed that Israel was secretly behind some of the intemperate language against the regime in Amman,[11] real anti-Israel Arabs have openly criticized the Jordanian security forces, government and even the King for their supposed complacency on Gaza.[12] As one group in Cairo chanted on TikTok, "Abdullah, Guard of the [Zionist] Entity, Who Jails Our Youth in Amman."[13] Inside Jordan, others threatened that there can be no stability inside the country "without the removal of the Zionist entity from Palestine."[14] And, not surprisingly, pro-Hamas protests in Jordan have received high-profile, positive coverage on Al-Jazeera, which serves as a kind of informal Ministry of Propaganda for the terrorist group.[15]

It was Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon who notoriously said once that "Jordan is Palestine," a notion still prevalent among some in Israel and that is probably more popular there after the comments of Queen Rania in past months. The difficult truth is that Jordan does have, or seeks to maintain, a separate identity – East Banker or Transjordanian, Hashemite, Muslim and Arab – grounded in certain historic realities. That is why one of the current concerns about Hamas and company is that they seek to dominate the street by rousing Jordan's (East Bank) tribes to join their cause, those tribes being traditional mainstays of Hashemite rule. And subverting that old loyalty is a red line. Supporters of the Hashemites have responded to the Hamas-created "Al-Aqsa Flood" Arabic hashtag with a "Loyalty Flood" of their own, loyalty to the state and the crown.[16]

The world and Jordan are very different than they were in September 1970 but the agenda is eerily similar: to submit Jordan and its political will to the primacy of the Palestinian cause, as if – as Iran's axis of proxies says daily – there is no more important cause.

Given the demographics and regional politics, Jordan has traditionally tried to tread carefully – allied with the West, supported by the Western leaning Gulf states, making peace with Israel – while at the same time giving space and rhetorical lip service to the partisans of the "Palestine First" cause. In 1968, King Hussein famously remarked "we are all Fedayeen." Two years later he was fighting and killing them in the streets of Amman.

The Jordanian regime would much prefer to maintain the old ambiguity that worked so well for decades after Black September, maneuvering carefully in the uneasy center. When I served in Amman, I knew (it was public knowledge) that the Jordanians worked closely with the Americans in counterterrorism[17] while daily, as a press officer, I would see reams of anti-American poison in the pages of Jordanian newspapers. That combination was managing that ambiguity, saying one thing and doing another. It was a successful crisis strategy made possible by a loyal, united and capable national security establishment and ruling elite.

Jordan prefers having space to maneuver, to remain ill-defined and mutable, to divide and conquer, as a key survival tactic. Black September 1970 was an exception, the iron fist when driven to desperation. The question is whether that other strategy of carefully planned ambiguity still works, should a politically strengthened Hamas emerge from the rubble of Gaza and should Iran, Qatar's Al-Jazeera, and Jordan's own Islamists truly make common cause and find real opportunities to fish in troubled Jordanian waters.

*Alberto M. Fernandez is Vice President of MEMRI.


[2], December 2023.

[3], February 12, 2024.

[4] See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 10950, Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Al-Safadi: Hamas Is An Idea And Ideas Do Not Die, November 9, 2023.

[5], October 25, 2023.

[6], March 11, 2021.

[9], accessed April 5, 2024.

[10], April 4, 2024.

[11], April 4, 2024.

[12], April 3, 2024.

[13], April 4, 2024.

[14], April 4, 2024.

[15], March 30, 2024.

[16], March 30, 2024.

[17], December 6, 2019.

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