March 8, 2023 | Flash Brief

Jordan’s King Asks for U.S. Help Combating Iran-Backed Militias

March 8, 2023 | Flash Brief

Jordan’s King Asks for U.S. Help Combating Iran-Backed Militias

Latest Developments

Jordan’s King Abdullah II is asking for U.S. assistance to combat Iran-backed militias from Iraq and Syria involved in an escalating drug war on Jordan’s border and attacking inside his kingdom. The king raised the issue when he met with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in Amman on Sunday and with President Joe Biden during a White House visit in early February.

Expert Analysis

“Ties between Jordan and Israel are currently at a low point. But they have certainly not deteriorated beyond repair. The structures stood up by Washington, not to mention by Amman and Jerusalem, remain firmly in place. A return to the fundamentals, with a concurrent embrace of the new regional order, is key to addressing the concerns about Iran articulated by Jordan’s monarch. More broadly, they are key to the continued security of a U.S.-led Middle East.”
Jonathan Schanzer, FDD Senior Vice President for Research

Longtime Concerns

The recent meetings are not the first time King Abdullah has expressed concerns over Iran-backed militias. In a May 2022 conversation with former U.S. National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, he raised concerns that Iranian forces in Syria could soon destabilize his country. Jordan also faces a threat from Iran-backed militias in Iraq. Additional threats loom in the south, with Iranian assets reportedly operating in the Red Sea.

Captagon Drug Trade

Among Jordan’s current chief concerns is the influx of the illicit amphetamine captagon. Jordan sits at the nexus of trafficking routes between Syria and the Gulf. Drug shipments increased by 87 percent between 2013 and 2018 and have since accelerated. In 2020, the Jordanian army seized 1.4 million captagon pills, and seizures in 2022 reached a whopping 54 million pills. While Jordan was once just a transit point for pills shipped to the Arabian Gulf, the drugs have become increasingly popular among Jordanian youth, with addiction cases on the rise.

In January 2022, 27 smugglers died in a clash with the Jordanian army along the Jordan-Syria border. King Abdullah blamed Iran-linked militias for the uptick in violence. The Syrian military’s Fourth Division, led by Maher al-Assad — Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad’s younger brother — supports the smuggling by guarding production facilities and carrying out trafficking operations. Several other Iran-aligned Syrian militias are also complicit.

Jordan Will Benefit by Joining U.S.-Led Middle East Alliance

King Abdullah has escalated his anti-Israel rhetoric in recent years, likely due to a struggling economy, political instability, and pressure from Jordan’s large Palestinian population. In January, Jordan declined to participate in the Negev Forum in Abu Dhabi, which representatives from the United States, Israel, Bahrain, Morocco, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates attended.

While King Abdullah’s request for help from the United States is a welcome step, Washington needs to pressure Amman to resume positive relations with Israel and embrace its role in the new regional order.

Related Analysis

Neither Here Nor There,” by Jonathan Schanzer

Jordan Has an Iran Problem. Can Israel and Saudi Arabia Unite to Combat It?” by Jonathan Schanzer

Captagon: Assad’s Deadly Drug Of Choice Expands To Israel” by Natalie Ecanow

Israel and Arab Allies Conclude Negev Forum Without Jordan,” FDD Flash Brief


Arab Politics Iran Iran Global Threat Network Iran-backed Terrorism Israel Jordan