Fr Rif’at looks at Gaza, drugs and rival states, 'hot' fronts against Jordan’s wall
by Dario Salvi

The attack on Tower 22 and casualties among US troops have put Jordan back at the centre of regional events. A Lebanese source told AsiaNews that "a red line has been crossed". A Jordanian priest sees a "complicated" situation, but unity of people and leadership is a factor of stability. Peace in the Holy Land and a Palestinian state are the only way to put out the blaze of conflict.

Milan (AsiaNews) – Jordan's northern front has long been the scene of an "open war", especially against “drug militias” that smuggle drugs like Captagon from Syria to the markets of Europe and the Gulf states.

With the attack on a US military outpost that left three US soldiers dead, which was condemned by Jordanian authorities, drug trafficking overlaps with regional wars and retaliation over the US presence.

Fr Rif’at Bader, director of the Catholic Center for Studies and Media (CCSM) in charge of abounga, a Catholic Arabic language news website, is one of the most authoritative figures of the Church in Jordan.

Looking at the attack against the US base, known as Tower 22, he vets the role the Hashemite kingdom is playing in the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East.

“The situation has become complicated lately," the Jordanian priest of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem said to AsiaNews.

“Confrontation with militias linked to states that are not well predisposed towards Jordan has intensified. But the country has proved so far to be steadfast and able to cope" with the incursions, even though the attack on the US post opens a breach in the defensive wall.

Tower 22

Tower 22 was attacked in the early hours of Sunday, 28 January, by a drone that eluded the outpost’s protective shield.

Three US soldiers were killed – 46-year-old William Jerome Rivers, 23-year-old Breonna Alexsondria Moffett, and 24-year-old Kennedy Lando Sanders – and scores more were wounded.

Although Jordan initially claimed that the base was located across the border, in Syria, it eventually acknowledged that it was in Jordanian territory.

In fact, the site is located in Jordan’s far northeast, along the border with Syria and Iraq, and is of great strategic importance, used to monitor Syrian troop movements during the country’s civil war and jihadi militias active in the area.

Little is known about the base because it is shrouded in mystery, but it includes logistical support and houses up to 350 soldiers and officers of the US Army and Air Force.

It is near another US base at al-Tanf, on the other side of the border in Syria, its small garrison involved in the fight against the Islamic State and in containing Iranian influence.

The United States and Jordan have close ties. Jordan’s military is among the largest beneficiaries of US foreign military aid, and has provided logistical assistance and military training with repeated drills during the year.

Since the start of the Syrian conflict in 2011, the White House – regardless of who is president – has invested hundreds of millions of dollars to set up an elaborate surveillance system.

A project known as the Jordan Border Security Program is designed to stem infiltration by militants from Syria and Iraq, as well as counter drug trafficking.

The apparently solid barrier was breached over the weekend in an attack that took the soldiers by surprise, like in Israel with Hamas militants on 7 October.

Jordan and the Palestinian cause

Starting from the attack against the US post, Fr Rif’at Bader broadens his reflection to the latest conflict that, in chronological order, is setting the Middle East on fire: the war launched by Israel against Hamas in Gaza in response to the terrorist attack on the Jewish State, with their burden of death, pain, and destruction.

“In Jordan there is not only broad support for the Palestinians, but as a political issue it is linked from the start to the cause of the Palestinian people, especially since almost half of Jordan’s population is made up of refugees of Palestinian origin.

“Such an issue is a priority and King Abdullah II himself, who turns 62 today and celebrates 25 years on the throne, refers to it as 'our' problem.

"From the first day of the conflict in the Gaza Strip, Jordan has opposed it, setting for itself three main objectives: a ceasefire, the arrival of humanitarian aid, and, as a final point, an end to the Israeli occupation with a radical solution to the problem.”

The latter, the priest adds, "certainly did not begin on 7 October but decades ago, as the monarch himself clearly said: Israeli occupation must have an end, the Palestinians must be allowed to live in peace, because peace in Palestine will also be functional to the security of Israelis."

From this perspective, Jordan’s position is like that of the Vatican, and the two “this year celebrated the 30th anniversary of diplomatic relations,” sharing a long, well-established bond and a common vision of intent, starting with the "special status of Jerusalem, which must also be the capital" of the future Palestinian state.

War fronts, peace in the Holy Land

Speaking about the attack on Tower 22, a Lebanese source told AsiaNews that it will probably not go down in history as the event that set fire to the powder keg, but it still represents the crossing of a red line.

US President Joe Biden will be urged to respond militarily, if only to send a message to American voters who might be tempted to bet on Donald Trump in the next election.

The most likely target could be a site or a figure linked to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, the Pasdaran, even if the operation might not involve Iran per se but rather one of its proxies, as was the case with Sayyed Razi Mousavi.

Widening of the conflict and getting Jordan involved can neither be excluded, nor viewed as a remote possibility, but "we are living the situation with relative serenity,” Fr Rif’at said, “because we can count on a strong army and a high level of protection.

"What happened two days ago, on the Syrian border, has more to do with security and artificial intelligence, which have weaknesses, but the country can count on a wise and strong leadership (king and foreign minister).

“In addition, we have what is called Jordan's oil, national unity, which works wonders in terms of stability" amid these stormy times, for it is the result of the strong bond "between people and leaders.”

Guarantor of religious freedom, custodian of the holy places in Jerusalem, among the first to start a path of dialogue by instituting the week of harmony between faiths (first week in February) promoted by the UN in 2010, Jordan is carefully monitoring the evolving situation.

"When Jordan refused to take in the population of the Gaza Strip," said Fr Rif’at, “it did not do so because it was against its inhabitants, but to ensure that they remain in their land and to avert a new Nakba like in 1948 and 1967.”

"The Palestinian problem complicates many of the crises that inflame the world today. Protests take place in many Western capitals, while leaders support Israel's war on Gaza. The hope is that the voice of the peoples of the West will reach the leaders who will put pressure on Israel to end the conflict.

“Here, on the other hand, there is unity of purpose between people and leaders, also because the danger of violence is present and constant. In order to extinguish the fires from Yemen and Syria to Iraq and Lebanon via Gaza, a final solution to the Palestinian question must be found. This is a fundamental step to truly have peace in the world.”