This 2024 - Let's Win the Battle of Headlines
OpinionMiddle East

Jordan’s volatility is a wake-up call for the US

In the Middle East, violent regime change is the rule, not the exception.

The Middle East as seen from 250 miles above in this April 14, 2016 photo from the International Space Station. Countries seen, from left, along the Mediterranean coast include Egypt, Gaza, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Lebanon, Syria and Turkey. Credit: NASA via Wikimedia Commons.
The Middle East as seen from 250 miles above in this April 14, 2016 photo from the International Space Station. Countries seen, from left, along the Mediterranean coast include Egypt, Gaza, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Lebanon, Syria and Turkey. Credit: NASA via Wikimedia Commons.
Yoram Ettinger
Yoram Ettinger
Yoram Ettinger is a former ambassador and head of Second Thought: A U.S.-Israel Initiative.

Jordan’s recent domestic upheaval reportedly involved members of the royal Jordanian family and prominent Bedouin tribesmen, who were arrested and charged with an attempted regime change. Other Arab countries were also said to be involved.

Regime change in Jordan could transform the strategically located country into another haven for Palestinian and Islamic terrorism. It would threaten the existence of the current regimes in Saudi Arabia, all other pro-U.S. Gulf states and Egypt, advancing the interests of Iran, Turkey, the Muslim Brotherhood, China and Russia, and would have dire national security and economic implications for Israel and the West.

Jordan’s inherent political and ideological vulnerability dates back to 1921, when the British Empire imported the Hashemite Bedouin clan to Jordan from Hejaz in western Saudi Arabia, imposing them upon the indigenous Bedouins. Furthermore, Jordan’s Bedouins are deeply divided, geographically, tribally, culturally, ideologically and religiously. Some of the southern tribes consider the Hashemites to be “carpetbaggers” from the Arabian Peninsula, for example. These tribes believe that the Hashemites are too Westernized and that they have strayed from Islam and pan-Arabism by concluding a peace treaty with the “infidel” Jewish state.

Moreover, 70 percent of Jordan’s population are Palestinians, while Palestinian leaders (e.g., the PLO, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas) view Jordan as an artificial entity, the eastern (78 percent) part of Palestine. Thus the active Palestinian involvement in subversion and terrorism in Jordan, and occasional attempts to topple the Hashemite regime, such as the civil war in September 1970 and the 1989 wave of terrorism.

Palestinians have been involved in the Muslim Brotherhood’s political and terrorist subversion against the regimes of Egypt and the Gulf States as well.

In addition, Islamic State veterans of the wars in Iraq and Syria have settled down in Jordan, and many Islamic terrorists are among the 2 million Iraqi and (mostly) Syrian refugees that have been absorbed into the country’s north.

This latest Jordanian upheaval sheds light on the following 14-century-old features of the Middle East:

• Family, clan and tribal loyalty superseding national loyalty;

• Political volatility, unpredictability and instability;

• Domestic and regional fragmentation;

• Transient (minority) despotic regimes susceptible to coups;

• Regimes ascending to (and losing) power through violence;

• Non-democratic regime-change;

• Kleptocracy;

• Violent intolerance, internally and regionally, religiously, ethnically, ideologically and geographically;

• Lack of intra-Arab peaceful-coexistence, domestic or regional;

• Lack of Western-style human rights and democracy (no freedom of religion, speech, press, association).

Middle East context

The current tremor in Jordan is one of the ripple effects of the “Arab Tsunami” that has rampaged through the Arab street since 2010-11. The tsunami has been fueled by centuries of internal and regional ethnic, religious and ideological violence, exacerbated by hate education, political corruption, despotism and human-rights violations.

In fact, the 2021 reality in two of the historically most powerful Arab countries—Syria and Iraq—documents the fragility of Arab regimes. The violent collapse of the political order in Syria and Iraq has set them on a chaotic course of disintegration, delivering a glaring warning to every Arab regime.

Arab leaders who were perceived to be Rock of Gibraltar-like rulers were violently overthrown. For example:

• Iraq’s King Faisal II was executed by the military in 1958, followed by the execution of Gen. Qasim in 1963, and a military-Ba’athist regime, featuring Saddam Hussein, who officially assumed leadership in 1979 and was hanged in 2006;

• Egypt’s King Farouk was toppled by Maj. Gen. Naguib and Col. Nasser in 1952, Gen. Mubarak was deposed by the Muslim Brotherhood in 2012-13, which was then forced out by General el-Sisi in 2013;

• Libya’s King Idris was ousted by Col. Gaddafi in 1969, who was lynched by a mob in 2011, throwing the country into an ongoing series of civil wars;

• Iran’s Shah was violently removed by Ayatollah Khomeini in 1978-1979;

• Sudan’s military rulers were deposed by a coalition of military rebels, political activists and Islamists in 1964 and 1985, followed by a 1989 military coup by Gen. Bashir. He was deposed by a joint military-civilian uprising in 2019, which led to fragmented civilian leadership, supported by some military elements and opposed by Islamist organizations;

• Yemen has experienced a series of civil wars and violent regime changes since 1962;

Tunisia’s President Bourguiba was removed, in 1987, in a bloodless coup by President Ben Ali, who fled the country during a 2011 coup, which yielded a Muslim Brotherhood government.

The scope of intra-Arab/Muslim violence is attested to by the 11 million Muslims killed via wars and terrorism since 1948, of which 35,000 (0.3 percent or one out of every 315 fatalities) died during the Arab wars against Israel.

Approximately 500,000 Syrians have been killed and some 7 million made into refugees since the eruption of the civil war in that country in 2011. Two million Sudanese were killed and 4 million displaced during Sudan’s genocidal civil war from 1983 to 2011. During the 1991 to 2006 civil war in Algeria, 200,000 people were killed. One million people were killed during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War. As many as 300,000 Iraqis were killed by Saddam Hussein, in addition to the 150,000 killed by bin Laden’s carnage in Iraq. During the 1970s and ’80s, some 200,000 Lebanese were killed in that country’s internal violence—inflamed by Palestinian terrorism. Eighty thousand Iranians were killed during the 1978-79 Islamic Revolution and more are executed and decapitated routinely by Iran’s ayatollahs.

The bottom line

According to professor Fouad Ajami, the late director of Middle East Studies at Johns Hopkins University and author of “The Arab Predicament,” Middle East reality comprises “a chronicle of illusions, despair and politics repeatedly degenerating into bloodletting.”

Unfortunately, in the pursuit of peace, alliances and interests, well-meaning western policy-makers tend to oversimplification and wishful thinking, which has fueled regional fires.

Connecting the dots of the boiling Arab street exposes the systematic failure of well-intentioned peace negotiators, who mistake the Arab Tsunami for a liberty and democracy-driven “Arab Spring,” and believe that signed agreements can override a 1,400-year-old political culture. They ignore the facts that intra-Arab conflicts—not the Arab-Israeli conflict—have been at the core of regional unrest, and that the Palestinian issue has never been the crown jewel of Arab policy-making or the crux of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Connecting dots in the Middle East reaffirms Israel’s non-Western security requirements, which must withstand the Middle Eastern worst-case scenario, not the Western best-case scenario. Hence, security requirements must take into consideration relatively frequent and unpredictable abrogations of peace accords, and bolster Israel’s posture of deterrence in a region prone to transient regimes, policies and agreements.

Connecting the dots on the stormy Arab street highlights Israel’s unique role as the only effective, reliable, unconditional, democratic and stable U.S. ally in the region. An ally moreover whose military and technological capabilities have become a unique force-multiplier while producing for U.S. taxpayers an annual rate of return of a few hundred percent on the annual U.S. investment in the country (erroneously defined as “foreign aid”).

Yoram Ettinger is a former ambassador and head of Second Thought: A U.S.-Israel Initiative.

This article was first published by The Ettinger Report.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
You have read 3 articles this month.
Register to receive full access to JNS.

Just before you scroll on...

Israel is at war.

JNS is combating the stream of misinformation on Israel with real, honest and factual reporting. In order to deliver this in-depth, unbiased coverage of Israel and the Jewish world, we rely on readers like you.

The support you provide allows our journalists to deliver the truth, free from bias and hidden agendas. Can we count on your support?

Every contribution, big or small, helps remain a trusted source of news you can rely on.

Become a part of our mission by donating today
Thank you. You are a loyal JNS Reader.
You have read more than 10 articles this month.
Please register for full access to continue reading and post comments.
Never miss a thing
Get the best stories faster with JNS breaking news updates