Jordan is growing antsy about the approaching Jaish Khalid Ibn al-Walid army.
It should be.
The Islamic State (I.S.) affiliate has been slowly eking its way south toward the Jordanian border since it first pledged its allegiance to the jihadist terror organization in June of last year.
And last month, the ultra-conservative Salafi Khalid Ibn al-Walid broke free from a long-time siege imposed by opposition Syrian factions in the Yarmouk Basin of the southwestern suburb of Dara’a and captured four villages just a few kilometers north of the Hashemite Kingdom.
The advance put Jordan on alert, and now, Amman is gearing up for an armed confrontation to oust the terror at its doorsteps.
Khalid ibn al-Walid, reportedly headed by Palestinian Authority-born jihadist Abu Mohammad al-Maqdisi, now controls the Syrian villages of Adwan, Saham al-Jawlan, Jalin and Tasil.
In the last month, it has also tightened its clasp in other Syrian towns, including Al-Shajara, Jamla, Abidin, Qusayr, Nafaa, Ain Thakar, Tasil, Adwan, Jillen and Sahm.
Now, Khalid ibn al-Walid seems poised to take its battle smack-dab into Jordanian territory.
Ever since early 2014, the For the past three years, the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) has tried to establish a footing in southern Syria. It tried in the mountainous Qalamoun region near the Lebanese border, but it was expelled after intermittent clashes with Al Qaeda and Hizbollah. Its attempts to co-opt forces near Damascus did not get far either, particularly as rebels preemptively clamped down on the group’s fledgling cells there.Islamic State has been itching for a slice of southern Syria and a foothold into Jordan.
For ISIL, the south in general is strategically and symbolically important. Deraa borders Israel and Jordan and has historical resonance. The new formation is named after the historical Muslim figure, Khaled bin Al Walid, who commanded a key battle in the Yarmouk Basin against the Byzantine empire in the 7th century.
Nowhere in Syria has ISIL succeeded in growing organically as it has done in Deraa. This is a remarkable development especially since the Southern Front has been hailed as a good example of international support to the opposition.
Members of the three factions are overwhelmingly locals from Deraa. Many of them are part of prominent tribes in the province. Members often describe the movement as more extreme than Jabhat Al Nusra. Unlike other areas in Syria, these groups have become loyal to ISIL voluntarily rather than because they had no other choice.
The south of Syria has major strategic and symbolic importance for the terror group, partly due to its geographic proximity to Jordan and Israel, and partly because it has, in the past, been impervious to extremist fighting and a prototype of multinational resistance to I.S.
Consequently, it has, to a certain degree, served as a bulwark between the war in northern Syria and the two nations to the south.
But with Khalid ibn al-Walid’s new incursion into the region, that buffer zone is essentially nullified.
Jordan is not alone in its efforts to quell the Khalid ibn al-Walid infiltration into Syria’s south.
In the last few months, both Russia and the United States, along with Israel, have taken note of the oozing of Islamic State influence into the Dara’a region.
Both superpowers have been quietly launching propaganda campaigns to persuade the locals not to support Khalid ibn al-Walid.
But against Khalid ibn al-Walid’s overwhelming tanks and field guns, unbacked promises and hoopla marketing operations may prove powerless.
That means that Jordan may have no choice but to resort to a military solution to its northern border problem.
In the past, Jordan has been able to keep its head down and, for the most part, steer clear of what is happening in Syria.
Now, that may no longer be possible.
Thérèse Margolis can be reached at [email protected]