German military redeployment to Jordan shows country will remain attractive Islamic State target despite group’s low capabilities
Germany’s Defence Minister said on 19 July that Berlin would start relocating its military aircraft involved in the campaign against Islamic State (IS) from Turkey’s Incirlik air base to Jordan next month. This will entail the deployment of six attack aircraft, one aerial tanker and around 250 German military personnel to Jordan’s al-Azraq air base, which is located roughly 100 km east of Amman.
The announcement came after several months of increased tensions between Berlin and Ankara, and the German Parliament voted on 7 June to remove its troops from Incirlik after its politicians were refused permission by Ankara to visit the site for the second time in a year. Moreover, deteriorating relations between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, home to the largest US military base in the region, will have left Jordan as one of the most attractive alternatives for the aircraft. Regional developments have therefore increased Jordan’s importance to Western militaries, just as the country had earlier been a key US and Saudi ally against IS’s predecessor, al-Qaeda in Iraq. Further, IS will focus over the next twelve months on defending its remaining territories in Syria, and will also aim for an eventual comeback in Iraq. Amman will consequently continue to play a central role in the fight against the group.
One result of Jordan’s active support for US-led efforts against IS is that the group will continue to view the country as an attractive target, especially as the increased deployment of Western troops will anger members of Jordan’s Islamist community and make them more susceptible to IS recruitment. IS’s domestic sympathisers will therefore continue attempting to conduct attacks, often encouraged by IS propaganda but with relatively little active direction by the group’s leadership. Nonetheless, the group’s supporters have only limited capabilities in Jordan, and so such operations will remain sporadic.
Most attacks will be targeted at the security forces, which jihadists believe are supporting an un-Islamic Government, aiding Western militaries and protecting Israel, with which Jordan has a peace treaty. However, occasional low-level attacks on soft targets, including tourists and Westerners, remain possible. A Jordanian corporal is currently on trial for killing three US soldiers at al-Jafr air base in November, showing that the group has some support within the security services, but officers remain overwhelmingly loyal to the Government.
Separately, the Government said in early June that unemployment had reached 18.2% during the first quarter of this year, a significant increase from 15.8% in the last quarter of 2016. Nonetheless, the IMF recently gave Jordan a fresh USD 71 million loan to support reforms aimed at reducing public debt. Jordan’s alignment with the US and other Western nations against IS, and its hosting of a large number of Syrian refugees, means that international institutions will continue to provide large-scale financial support. This will help to ensure that the economy does not worsen further to the point of causing instability.