by Avi Melamed
The collapse or weakening of state authority in different parts of the Middle East and Africa, together with growing inner challenges and chronic instability in large parts of the region and the widening and escalating Iranian-Arab power struggle, creates a chaotic environment militant Islamic groups exploit to expand their activities and influence.
The threat of militant Islamist groups is growing exponentially due to: their access to huge amounts of weapons; the availability of advanced weapons—including chemical materials that can be weaponized; the efficient use of Internet and social media platforms for the recruitment and activation of activists and supporters; and a growing and widening global terror infrastructure—particularly in Europe stemming from the massive influx of refugees fleeing from the Middle East and Africa.
Ideologically speaking, Salafi-Jihadist groups view the toppling of the political establishments in the Arab world – primarily the Arab monarchies—as a top priority on the path to realizing the vision of a global caliphate. One should also remember that according to all militant Islamist streams, as well as all political Islamist groups such as the Salafi movement or the Muslim Brotherhood movement, Israel must be erased.
As of now, there is a “T”-Shape structure in the region that defines areas where either militant Islamist groups have a significant presence or are in complete control. The horizontal corridor of that structure stretches from West Africa through Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Gaza Strip, Jordan, and Iraq. The vertical corridor stretches from North Africa south toward Mali, Niger, Nigeria, as well as south towards Somalia in East Africa and Yemen.
Egypt, Israel, and Jordan share a long-term strategic interest in defeating or minimizing the threat of militant Islamist groups. ISIS and the like present a chronic and increasing security threat, as they seek to use chemical or (and as of now less likely) biological weapons, and conduct attacks on sites and targets of strategic importance, such as energy facilities, harbors, airports, aerial and naval routes, the Suez Canal, governmental and national symbols, and tourism infrastructure.
That threat results in operational cooperation between Egypt, Israel, and Jordan centered on:
- Cooperating in the gathering of operational intelligence
- Sharing counterterror and interceptive knowledge, tactics, and methodology
- Sharing of general Intelligence
- Sharing results of operational Intelligence
Israel and Egypt view two areas – the Sinai Peninsula, ruled by Egypt, and the Gaza Strip (located at the northeastern tip of the Sinai), ruled by Hamas, as interconnected arenas, which generate an ongoing challenge and imminent and serious terror threat.
To assist Egypt in its military campaign to uproot the terror infrastructure in Sinai, Israel permitted Egypt to deploy additional armed forces and its air force in the Sinai Peninsula, activities which are prohibited by the Israel-Egypt peace treaty.
To counter the terror challenge from the Gaza Strip, both states cooperate in the effort to reduce the number of tunnels connecting the Sinai with the Gaza Strip.
One cannot exclude the possibility that Egypt tolerates Israeli counterterror activities and operations inside Sinai, including preemptive interceptions of imminent terror plots.
It is likely that Israeli-Egyptian cooperation includes operational and intelligence gathering targeting the terror infrastructure of Egypt’s neighbors, in countries like Sudan and Libya, as well as the eastern basin of the Mediterranean Sea.
Israeli-Jordanian cooperation is strengthening because of Salafi-Jihadi groups operating in southern Syria and Iraq, and the presence of Iranian forces and proxies in those areas.
Jordan has become the northern gatekeeper for the Arab Monarchies in the Arabian Peninsula, as well as the eastern gatekeeper for Israel and Egypt. Therefore, Jordan’s stability and security is paramount in the Middle East. Thus, ensuring Jordan’s security is a strategic interest of the Arab Gulf states, Israel, and Egypt.
In addition, senior levels of the Jordanian establishment contemplate the possible formation of an additional layer of defense known as “Greater Jordan.” This concept envisions an alliance comprised of Jordan, the Bedouin tribes and the Druze of southern Syria, and the Sunni tribes of western Iraq, backed by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and Egypt. Israel, if needed, would provide military support to ensure the security of the kingdom and will likely be a very instrumental partner in the Greater Jordan constellation should it evolve.
The concept of “Greater Jordan” generates controversy in Jordan. Opponents argue that it will backfire and drag Jordan into the Syrian and Iraqi mud. Supporters maintain it will improve Jordan’s security, because it will be an external layer of defense with a solid foundation—the shared history and heritage of Jordan and the tribes. Furthermore, they assert that all partners in that alliance share a long-term strategic interest; fighting militant Islamist groups and thwarting the Shiite-Iranian threat.
Should Jordan adopt the concept of Greater Jordan, then Israel, who provides Jordan with a strategic umbrella, will likely be a key partner behind the scenes.
The growing threat of militant Islam, the aggressive Iranian policy, and the Arab states need for stability is generating the creation of a quiet Israeli-Arab axis based upon shared long-term strategic interests. Such an axis, in my opinion, has a long life expectancy.