March 4, 2015 | Quote

Eyes and Ears in the Arab World

Critics — and there are many — point out that the kingdom devotes much of its intelligence resources to spying on its own people. Its secret police apparatus hasn’t earned Jordan any gold stars in the human rights department — the Mukhabarat is regularly accused of torturing prisoners and silencing dissent. That hasn’t stopped the U.S. from partnering with it. Unlike other Arab spy agencies, the GID has an easy rapport with the CIA, says Reuel Marc Gerecht, a onetime Middle East specialist at the CIA who now works at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a think tank. “That’s not true in many, many places in the Arab world,” he says, where communication is “less than ideal.”

In the wake of the Islamic State group’s very public and very violent execution of Jordanian pilot Muath Al-Kaseasbeh, the question lingers: Just how far is Jordan willing to go now? Yes, the country has been pounding Islamic State group strongholds in Syria from the sky and rallying other Arab partners to join the fight. But Jordan’s leaders continue to insist that they have no intention of using ground forces in Syria. That, says Schenker, would be a key turning point and one that would really require stepped-up levels of spycraft. Gerecht agrees, but says that it’s ultimately up to the United States, not Jordan, as to whether the coalition takes this fight against the Islamic State group to Syria.

That doesn’t seem likely under President Obama, even as the U.S. Congress debates his new request to go to war against the extremists. Gerecht certainly doesn’t anticipate it, “unless something surprising happens.”

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