Last week, the Islamic Action Front (IAF), the Muslim Brotherhood’s wing in Jordan, wrote an open letter to Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, urging him to secure the release of the Jordanian members of his militant group incarcerated in Israeli prisons. The letter came amidst reports that Hamas officials were seeking to restart indirect talks with Israel over a prisoner exchange.
Hamas, however, is unlikely to receive much in exchange for the bargaining chips it is believed to hold: the remains of two Israeli soldiers from this summer’s Gaza conflict. The Israelis are not eager for a repeat of 2011, when Hamas traded captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit for 1,027 prisoners held in Israel. At the onset of this summer’s fighting, Israel re-arrested at least 50 of those it had previously freed and whom it accused of having returned to terrorism.
Some 21 to 24 Jordanians are now serving time in Israeli prisons for sentences from two years to 67 consecutive life sentences. The inmate serving the longest sentence is Abdullah Barghouti, a distant relative of Marwan Barghouti, the iconic terror mastermind of the second intifada (2000-2005). The lesser-known Barghouti was convicted in 2004 for assembling bombs used in attacks that killed 66 Israelis, including at Jerusalem’s Sbarro pizzeria, Hebrew University and Tel Aviv’s Central Bus Station.
An Israeli precedent for releasing Jordanians already exists. In August 2013, Israel released Iyad Rashid Abu Arja after he served two years. Abu Arja, who is Saudi-born but holds Jordanian and Australian passports, had flown into Ben-Gurion Airport in 2011 in what an Israeli court determined was an attempt to offer his computer expertise to Hamas. It remains unclear whether Amman and Jerusalem had engaged in direct negotiations over his release.
That Hamas is deploying Jordanians to commit terrorism is hardly news. However, the fact that Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood is now calling on Hamas to do its bidding is noteworthy. Jordan’s reasonably strong ties with Israel are usually the avenue for such negotiations, even for avowedly anti-Israel actors like the IAF.
The IAF’s newfound assertiveness is also significant. At the onset of Jordan’s short-lived, local version of the Arab uprisings, the IAF rode a wave of popular support, hitting the streets of Amman to press King Abdullah II to implement reforms. However, as the region’s monarchies regained the upper hand against Islamists, the IAF’s stock plummeted, along with those of the rest of the region’s Brotherhood branches.
The IAF’s overture to Hamas may represent an attempt to revive its flagging political fortunes. Hamas, as the de facto sovereign in Gaza, remains one of the region’s most prominent arms of the Brotherhood. Regardless, the IAF’s plea to Hamas is not likely to yield practical results.
Grant Rumley is a research analyst at Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Find him on Twitter, @Grant_Rumley. [Photo by Joe Catron]