The Jordanian Option

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Has the gruesome execution by immolation of Jordanian air force Lt. Muath al-Kaseasbeh tipped the balance in the Arab world against the Islamic State? The swift calls in Jordan for revenge and “relentless” war, apparently part heartfelt and part orchestrated, and the kingdom’s new openness about its airstrikes against Islamic State targets suggest that some change is underway.

The Jordanian moves were matched by an announcement that the United Arab Emirates would resume the airstrikes it suspended after the Jordanian pilot’s capture in December. This is a promising development, as visible Arab participation in the U.S.-led coalition’s offensive against the Islamic State gives the
attacks a regional legitimacy.

Ultimately, such broad-based support and force is necessary in order to defeat the Islamic State, even if U.S. activity dwarfs that of its Arab coalition members. Thus, according to NPR as of last week, “the U.S. mounted 946 strikes in Syria, while Jordan, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and UAE completed 79 total.” These kinds of numbers are likely part of President Obama’s calculus in asking Congress to authorize the use of military force against the Islamic State.

But there is something else at play here. Jordan’s new stance draws it closer to Israel in what has long been a strong security relationship. On Monday the kingdom returned its ambassador to Israel, whom it withdrew three months ago, after violence flared on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The growing relationship is not new, as Israel has long been part of Jordan’s strategic umbrella — even if it has had to act as a nearly invisible partner that cannot risk seeming to be involved.

Yet, as horrific as the execution of the Jordanian pilot was, no one should rely on
revenge as a strategy for waging war. As retired U.S. Army Maj. Gen. James “Spider” Marks told CNN, “If emotions brought [the Jordanians] in, that’s fine. But at this point, it needs to be a relentless, aggressive attack … objectively controlled so that you can achieve results on the ground. And it needs to be sustained.”

Anyone who enters the fray has to be “in it to win it” and prepared to stay until the end.

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