The Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security

Prof. Efraim Inbar: I doubt whether we will see a serious American military presence in Jordan, as the US still wants to disengage from the Middle East.

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The Jordanian government publicly acknowledged a new defense agreement with the United States this week that allows free entry for American forces, boosting Israel’s unstable eastern neighbor and providing a base from which these forces can potentially act in Syria, Iraq and Iran.

The deal was signed in January and approved by the Jordanian government last month after bypassing parliament, which drew criticism.

According to an AFP report, the agreement allows the United States to move in forces, aircraft and vehicles freely in the country. Quoting the local media website, Ammon, the deal will allow U.S. forces to carry and transport weapons in Jordan.

“The new agreement reflects Jordan’s increasing importance as a logistical and operative center in anticipation of further U.S. troop withdrawals from Iraq and Syria at a time when the need for a U.S. military presence increases rather than decreases,” Hillel Frisch, Middle East expert and a professor at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, told JNS.

“Jordan has long been a vital United States ally and since 2014 has been the third-highest beneficiary of United States military aid in the region behind Israel and Egypt,” he said.

He added that “neither the Iranian nor the ISIS threat is going to disappear anytime soon.”

Jordan is part of status quo Arab powers that oppose revolutionary Islamist movements and governments that seek to upend their regimes. Turkey, Iran, the Muslim Brotherhood and ISIS are the main threats to Jordan and like-minded states such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.

These moderate Arab states cooperate among themselves and seek the support of the United States and even Israel as a hedge against regional enemies.

In the latest example, on Wednesday, Egypt and Jordan signed seven cooperative agreements in fields such as technology, defense and water resources.

Keeping radical groups in check regionwide

Efraim Inbar, president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies, said, “If the defense agreement strengthens the Jordanian regime against attempts to destabilize it by Iran and other radicals, it is good for Israel.”

However, he continued, “I doubt whether we will see a serious American military presence in Jordan, as the U.S. still wants to disengage from the Middle East.”

Israel, which has a peace treaty with Jordan, sees it as a significant security wall against radical forces in Syria, Iraq and Iran. Geographically, Jordan separates Israel from Iran-dominated Iraq and Iran.

Jordan’s stability also concerns Jerusalem as there is a sizable Islamist opposition, mainly from the Muslim Brotherhood, and public opinion is heavily anti-Israel. King Abdullah’s government keeps a lid on radicals that could come to power if the regime would fall. A similar worry is Egypt, whose strongman, President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, keeps the Muslim Brotherhood and other radical groups in check.

Then there is the Palestinian issue, which can inflame a Jordanian population that is estimated to be 60 percent of Palestinian origin.

The country continues to struggle economically; earlier this month, Jordanian Prime Minister Bisher al-Khasawneh reshuffled his cabinet. He appointed six new ministers under the aegis of King Abdullah, who assigned him to restore order after continuous failures by a series of governments to improve its citizens’ lives, reported Reuters.

The economy contracted 3 percent last year primarily because of the coronavirus pandemic and resulting economic losses due to a lack of tourism.

From America’s perspective, Jordan provides its military with a flexible base. It can rotate its forces and launch cross-border operations against terrorists and other destabilizing forces in neighboring nations. Additionally, an estimated $425 million in annual U.S. military aid boosts Jordan and strengthens their alliance.

From Israel’s perspective, the new pact is a sign of continued U.S. military presence and action in the region against familiar foes, despite what appears to be a U.S. shift towards more isolationist policies and a drawdown of forces in both Iraq and Syria.