National Security

Israel Deploying Surveillance Drones on Syrian-Jordan Border

Syrian refugees
Syrian refugees wait to be approved to get into Jordan / AP

JERUSALEM—Israel, which regards its neighbor, Jordan, as a buffer against the upheavals sweeping Syria and Iraq, is deploying surveillance drones on the Syrian-Jordan border to monitor attempts by Islamist militants to penetrate the Hashemite kingdom, according to Israeli media reports.

The Times of Israel reported Tuesday that Israel has also supplied Jordan with 16 combat helicopters to patrol its borders.

With the influx of refugees from Syria into Jordan estimated to be around 1.4 million—nearly 20 percent of Jordan’s entire population—security officials in both Jordan and Israel are concerned about the possibility that ISIS operatives may be among them and setting up sleeper cells. Israel’s chief of staff, Gen. Gadi Eizenkot, said last week that ISIS has suffered significant setbacks recently, particularly since Russia’s intervention in Syria. "This raises the possibility that we will see them turning their guns both against us and against the Jordanians," he said.

In a rare expression of public Israeli concern for Jordan—usually avoided so as not to embarrass Jordan in the Arab world—a senior Israeli Defense Ministry official, Gen. (res.) Amos Gilad, said in an interview with the Israel Defense Journal last month that "there is no doubt that ISIS is trying to penetrate Jordan from there [Syria], on a small scale for now." Some 2,500 Jordanian citizens have joined the ranks of ISIS fighters in Syria and Iraq, the third highest number from Arab countries after Saudi Arabia and Tunisia.

Jordan has until now maintained an open door policy regarding refugees from the Arab world, particularly Iraq and Syria, but it recently announced a change in policy. All Syrian refugees will be screened before permitted entry into the country. Although the Jordanian population, which is mostly of Palestinian origin, shares anti-Israel sentiments common in the Arab world, many of Jordan’s elite regard Jordan’s peace treaty with Israel signed in 1994 as an important strategic asset.

In the broader sphere, Jordan relies on the international community for economic support—particularly from the United States, Europe, and the Gulf states—and to cover the cost of providing for the Syrian refugees within its borders. In an interview with the BBC Tuesday, Jordan’s King Abdullah said the refugee situation was overloading Jordan’s social services and threatening regional stability. He warned that "the dam is going to burst" because of pressure on the country’s infrastructure unless a program for long-term aid is agreed upon.

While Israel may provide Jordan a measure of security backing against the threat from ISIS, some Israeli observers say the greatest threat to Jordan is its stagnant economy, which leaves up to 50 percent of its youth unemployed.