January 22, 2017:
Why do some Moslem majority countries have fewer problems with Islamic terrorism than others. In all cases it comes down to the quality of national leadership. These nations don’t make the news much, because they have managed to keep Islamic terrorists out. But for some countries the threat is right next door. Such is the case in Jordan, which borders Syria and Iraq. Despite that, and considerable and persistent efforts by Islamic terror groups to establish themselves in Jordan have failed. An incident in late December 2016 shows why. ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) launched an attack on the Jordanian town of Karnak and tried to seize its 12th century castle (built by Christian crusaders). The ISIL attackers were killed or driven away after a week of fighting and one striking aspect of it all (seen on the many cell-phone videos) was that the majority of the Jordanians fighting the ISIL force were local civilians, armed with their own (legal) weapons and often urging on the Jordanian police and soldiers to keep up with the locals. Police were seen trying to restrain unarmed civilians from joining the attack to drive the few ISIL gunmen who got into the castle.
Jordan has long been a prime target for Islamic terror groups. Yet compared to other nations in the region the kingdom has, next to Israel, had the fewest Islamic terrorist incidents within its borders. This is no accident and is the result of having one of the best trained and reliable security forces in the region and being the beneficiary of a lot of help with equipment and specialist training from the United States and Israel. This because the senior leadership of the country (a monarchy) have a centuries long track record of being effective and generally beneficial rulers.
Since the 1990s Jordan has been particularly good at keeping Islamic terrorists and professional smugglers from getting across its long borders with nations suffering from Islamic terrorism. The border with Iraq is 179 kilometers long and Syria is 379 kilometers. Less troublesome, but still requiring tight controls is the 731 kilometers long border with Saudi Arabia and 148 kilometer border with the West Bank. This last one has Israelis controlling the other side and the Israelis and Jordanians cooperate to keep illegal traffic from going in either direction.
As the pressure on the borders increase the Jordanians sought technology that would held and the new border barriers use UAVs, vidcams on the ground (especially in towers) and many small sensors. There are also radars than can see through sand storms. Finally the Jordanian border guards are well trained and led and under orders to shoot first and shoot to kill whenever anyone gets too close to the border or crosses without permission. The “kill zones” along the border are clearly marked and several times a month someone tries to cross anyway and gets killed or wounded. The word gets around and that is a major deterrent.
Jordan also carefully screens refugees from Syria and Iraq. There are currently over 600,000 refugees in Jordan, most from Syria. Syrian refugees are carefully screened at the border, a process made easier by reducing the number of official Syrian border crossings from 45 to five. Some admitted refugees are noted as potentially a problem and are screened again once they are inside Jordan. The UN has complained the Jordan is too quick to expel suspicious refugees but the Jordanians point out that they have caught many Islamic terrorists who pretended to be refugees but that were late found to be in Jordan to kill. Jordan also insists that it keeps the terrorists out by erring on the side of caution when it comes to screening refugees, either at the border or later inside Jordan.
All this security has required more trained people. So since early 2014 the Jordanian Army has increased its recruiting efforts. At first the government insisted this was routine but most Jordanians believe the increased recruiting is all about the threats from Syria and Iraq, especially Islamic terrorists from ISIL. Despite over 3,000 Jordanians joining ISIL, Jordan is considered the most hostile nation (next to Israel) in the Middle East for ISIL to operate in. Other Jordanian Islamic radicals, including members of al Qaeda, oppose ISIL as well but complain that ISIL is so hated by most Jordanians that Islamic radicalism in general has become less popular. Although ISIL recognizes Jordan as a formidable enemy they also make no secret of their desire to kill the Jordanian royal family. Another issue for ISIL is Jordanian support for Syrian rebels fighting ISIL But against this ISIL, and other Islamic radical groups have to face the fact that most Jordanians support their king and will disown sons who go off to join ISIL.
To deal with all this Jordan is trying to increase the size of its army from 88,000 to whatever it can afford (probably with some financial help from the U.S. and Saudi Arabia) in order to better cope. Even if the increase is only a few thousand troops, it takes time and money to get the new recruits into shape. All Jordanian army recruits get 14 weeks of basic training and then a month or more of specialized training. It then takes a few years of active service before the new soldiers are considered really useful.
For Jordanians who make the army a career there are many opportunities for advancement. One of the most challenging, and rewarding opportunities is to gain admittance to Jordanian special operations troops (commandoes and rangers). These elite combat troops are particularly good and greatly feared by Islamic terrorists. Jordanian troops have also shown an exceptional ability to train Moslem troops for special operations. In 2007 Jordan provided training, in Jordan, for 2,400 members of the Afghan special operations (commando) forces. Members of Iraqi commando units were also trained. In both cases the Jordanian trained personnel went on to be particularly effective. In 2009 Jordan opened a $200 million Special Operations Training Center. This facility trains Jordanians, as well as foreign troops, mainly those from Moslem nations.
Jordan has long been recognized as having the best troops in the Arab world. This comes about because there is no conscription and most Jordanian troops are recruited from the Bedouin population. During several decades of British rule early in the 20th century the local Bedouins eagerly embraced British military techniques and traditions. Bedouins have long honored skilled warriors and professional soldiers are seen as just that. These western training techniques and military practices became part of the Jordanian Bedouin culture.
In the 1967 war with Israel, the Jordanians caused the Israelis more trouble than any other Arab army. Since then, the Israelis and Jordanians have maintained good relations, partly because of the realization that war between the two nations would be particularly bloody. Jordan also became a good ally of the United States, and American Special Forces have worked with their Jordanian counterparts for decades. Another thing that keeps the Jordanian troops on their toes is the fact that most Jordanians are non-Bedouin Palestinians, a population that has produced a lot of terrorists and disloyal Jordanians. The royal family of Jordan, from an ancient Bedouin family, takes very good care of the largely Bedouin armed forces, which provides security for the royal family. Loyal Palestinian families can expect royal support as well, but disloyalty is not tolerated.
The Jordanian armed forces contains 105,000 troops plus 65,000 trained reservists. It is a small force, but more effective, man-for-man, than any other in the region. Only about 40 percent of the eight million people in Jordan are Bedouins while about half are Palestinians (many who fled the West Bank in 1967 when Jordan lost control of the area to Israeli troops). Many Jordanian Bedouins (and even more Palestinians) support Islamic radicalism but are also loyal to their own government, if only because the government provides safety in a sea of violence.