There is a saying that like in comedy timing is everything in Politics. Over the last fortnight the crisis in the Middle East can be analyzed as the above statement acting out in real time yet again. The casual observer will have no problem noticing this axiom at work either.
It was a mere in April 2018 when the United States working in concert with Great Britain and France launched a series of punitive airstrikes against locations in Syria after a reported strike involving chemical weapons in the city of Duma. This attack which used naval and air assets from the three allied nations seems to be a pinprick without a ground element involved. It also gives the impression that there is a certain threshold regarding the use of certain weapons that have been employed and will elicit a certain response as well.
The strategists at CENTCOM (United States Central Command) and the Pentagon actually had an exercise planned with the assets for it already on the move when the strike in Syria was launched. Yes, it appears that there is another red line in the Middle East that Washington doesn’t want to see crossed under any circumstance.
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After the collapse of Iraqi governance during the rise of Daesh and their subsequent move into Syria to exploit and even seize the initiative in that conflict as it seems to show no sign of abating in the near future. So one question is how can the United States reassure its regional allies and partners of its commitment to their security? There is one nation that has an answer that both countries find as a suitable response.
That country is Jordan.
Since 2011 there has been a joint exercise known as Eager Lion. This exercise paired US military forces (Marines and National Guard Units) with Jordanian military forces in a series of live-fire exercises in various locations throughout the country. These exercises were designed to assist the Jordanian military to deal with an external threat or an internal threat to its security. It also matches US Units with their Jordanian counterparts in case that joint operations are deemed to be necessary.
After the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the subsequent movements of jihadist and other elements throughout the region it became clear that Jordan itself was a potential target of these elements. Not only have there been efforts to successfully recruit fighters from the country, ISIS took great pleasure in executing a captured Jordanian fighter pilot and streaming it over the Internet. The kingdom realized that it had a major security issue and sought efforts to address the issue.
We can assess that the integrity of the Jordanian state is a red line for the United States government. This is a sound strategy in a dangerous part of the world. So far all sides in the Syria fighting have managed not to conduct major operations near the southern border with Jordan. That being said there are several reasons why Jordan itself can be seen as a potential threat to regional stability.
First of all Daesh needs a new location. Physically the group has been driven from its major cities of occupation in both northern Iraq and in Syria. Some of the fighters will most likely go underground into the smaller towns and hamlets and assimilate back into society. Other Foreign Fighters that are not able or willing to return home will need a new base of operations. We should realize that they are actively seeking the same.
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Preventing countries from slipping into chaos or failed governance will be the best measure to prevent Daesh from finding a new location to set up a base.
Therefore the US military exercise with the Jordanian military will be more cost effective now than a future military intervention to prop up a government in distress.