Can IS drag Jordan into a destabilising war?

Can IS drag Jordan into a destabilising war?
5 min read
04 Feb, 2015
Comment: As anger boils over in Jordan over Moaz al-Kassasbeh's murder, IS could succeed in drawing Jordan into a never-ending US-led war, says Lamis Andoni.
The heinous murder of Lt. Kassasbeh has uinted the nation in rage and sadness.

If the Islamic State group's goal behind releasing the hidious video showing the burning alive of pilot Moaz al-Kassasbeh was to destablise the Jordanian regime, then they failed. The depraved way the murder was carried out and filmed have united Jordanians in grief, sorrow and rage.

However, it is too early for the regime to take comfort in the outpouring of calls for ferocious vengeance against the group. Beneath the din of the deafening shouts are deep concerns that Jordan will find itself more and more implicated in an US-led war. This war could become a new battleground for revenge and counter-revenge.

The heinous act of murder has dealt a blow to the support the Islamic State group had in Jordan, and even sympathisers have renounced the burning of a prisoner of war as "un-Islamic". But it is actually difficult to conclude that this cold-blooded, calculating group, had undermined its goal of extending its influence in the region.

What is clear so far is that the group is not seeking to gain popular support among Jordanians, but to deepen the existing crisis in the country - a crisis originating in policies that have led to marginalisation, social inequality and a failure to fulfil promised political reforms.

A journey to Liwa Ayy, the birthplace of murdered pilot Moaz al-Kassesbeh

Although it is early to judge, the Islamic State group appears to be trying to draw Jordan deeper into the quagmire of war, playing on the tribal allegiances of Jordanians who have called for the revenge of Moaz's spilt blood, at any cost and by all means.

But beneath the calls for revenge persist serious concerns that Jordan is being dragged into a confrontation with a myriad of extremists. Not only through its participation in the war on the IS group, but also by providing intelligence services for a continuing string of US-led wars.

Sajida al-Rishawi, who was executed at dawn on Wednesday, was herself testimony to the services provided by Jordan to the US during the 2003 invasion and occupation. Rishawi, an Iraqi woman, was captured after the bombing of three hotels in Amman. She later confessed that she wanted to take revenge against Jordan for its complicity in the war and the violent deaths of members of her family.

"Kill" or "burn" Sajida became the slogans on the streets of Jordan and Facebook pages of citizens. This was a reaction to group's purported prisoner offer – swapping Sajida for Moaz.

Many Jordanians are aware of Sajida's story, and view her as "a victim turned murderer" but lost any sympathy, possible compassion, when they saw the pain inflicted on Moaz. Those who were not even contemplating revenge, or supported her release in an exchange for Moaz, saw in Sajida's face in every masked man who threw a torched sticks at the caged pilot.

Anger at the government

The prompt execution of Sajida, was not only an act of retribution by the regime, but also an attempt to contain anger and prevent it from being directed at the government and the palace. But questions about the palace's responsibility have not subsided and are not likely to.

People are already questioning if the highest echelons knew that Moaz, who was murdered on 3 January, was already dead but kept it from the public. There are muted but known questions about whether Jordan's entry into the war has jeopardised Jordanian lives, and not just the life of Moaz.

In the video of Moaz's death, the Islamic State group also named 20 other Jordanian pilots. It has provoked fears about the state's ability to protect them. There are also those inside the government who question why the young pilot was allowed to operate a sophisticated F-16 aircraft.

     People are already questioning whether the highest echelons knew that Moaz was already dead but kept it from the public.

The palace, the government, already wary and aware of these questions, didn't waste a second to exploit the tragedy to reinforce people's loyalty. His gruesome death may have vindicated officials' silencing of dissent.

Former ministers and pro-government supporters are heard and seen on radio and TV channels calling for unity behind the palace, the war, and the army and at times chastising critical voices, in an explicit public display of sadness and anger.

The scene of the Jordanian media's response to the death, although partly a genuine reflection of genuine grief and shock, is already becoming a border campaign against dissent. It could also be a potential prelude to a government crackdown, eerily reminiscent of the dangerous model of the Egyptian media.

The video of the grotesque murder of Kassasbeh was murder was watched by most Jordanians have silenced critical voices. In reverence to the excruciating suffering of Moaz and his elderly parents who have come to symbolise the archetype of a hard-working Jordanian couple living in a marginalised area.

But the palace, and its supporters, risk going too far on playing on the sympathies of Jordanians. The authorities showed cynicism in their untimely sense of "triumph". To quote one government spokesman: the IS group "has proved the extent of savagery to those who doubted it".

As important it is to push the point across about the real face of the IS group to potential sympathisers, the regime still faces the predicament of countering extremism without holding the country hostage to an open-ended US-led war.