From Khan Yunis and Jenin to Aleppo and Kirkuk, Iran has its pawns on every square of the Middle East chess board. The Islamic Republic of Iran has established a network of proxy forces that form a “Shia Crescent,” effectively controlling Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Gaza, and some cities in the West Bank.
But the regime will not remain satisfied with its current military and political strongholds, and it has already begun to target the last independent Arab actor in the Levant: Jordan.
Jordan’s GDP growth rate has slowed down. Its public debt has increased, and the country has taken in 1.3 million Syrian refugees who have fled the Syrian civil war.
Smugglers are bringing a synthetic amphetamine-type drug, captagon, into Jordan from manufacturers in Syria and Lebanon into Jordan. They bring armed groups along with them. This drug flow has already been linked to Iranian-backed militias, with Jordan acting as both a conduit and a destination.
Geographically speaking, Jordan is the perfect target. Iran’s presence in Syria, Iraq, and increasingly in the West Bank provides the ability to penetrate from three directions with proxy forces. Iran can maintain plausible deniability while slowly taking over economic, military, and political levers of power. The large number of Syrian refugees and the Palestinian population make it easy to exploit internal divisions.
If Iran seizes control of Jordan through proxies, or undermines the government enough to replace the Hashemite leadership, it would seriously weaken American and regional security. Approximately 3,000 American troops and the Muwaffaq Salti Air Base — a launch pad for counter-ISIS operations — would be threatened. U.S. military intelligence capacities in the region would suffer.
Israel would face greater challenges in its multi-front war, lacking a buffer with Iran east of the Jordan River. Iranian supply lines to Palestinian militants in the West Bank and Jordan would run directly through Iraq and Jordan into the Jordan River Valley. This would also raise security concerns for Arab Gulf states, for fear that their regimes could be next.
The real possibility that Jordan morphs into a proxy state for Iran should serve as a sobering reminder. Even if Israel and the U.S. close the door on current proxies such as Hamas or Hezbollah, new ones can emerge, so long as the Iranian regime stands.
Iran may have its sights set on Jordan, but Jordan’s eyes are on the wrong prize.
After the Hamas terror attacks, Jordanian protesters stormed the Israeli embassy in Amman – to show their support for Hamas – and Jordan recalled its ambassador from Tel Aviv. At least one Jordanian tribal leader has called for the cancellation of the Wadi Araba Treaty, the nation’s peace agreement with Israel signed in 1994.
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Gabriel Diamond is a research assistant at Yorktown Institute and a senior at Yale University.