London, 25 Apr – Jordanians gathered in the northern city of Mafraq to burn Iranian flags and pictures of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Friday, April 14.
They also called for the expulsion of Iran’s ambassador from Jordan.
This demonstration followed an escalation in tensions between Jordanian and Iranian officials, which began when King Abdullah II of Jordan appeared to compare the Iranian Regime to ISIS in an interview with The Washington Post on April 6.
He said: “These issues [surrounding Israeli settlement construction] give ammunition to the Iranians, to [Islamic State leader Abu Bakr] al-Baghdadi and ISIS [Islamic State].”
Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghassemi called the comments “silly and careless” and referred to Abdullah’s view as ignorant and superficial. This was especially insulting to the people of Jordan, as most insults towards the country target the government, rather than the king. Insulting the king is considered a red line.
In response, the Foreign Ministry in Jordan rebuked the Iranian ambassador, Mojtaba Ferdosipour, for his country’s comments.
This verbal spat mirrors a very real policy divide between the two countries, which is not easily solved.
Currently, Iran has stationed its terror group, the Revolutionary Guard Corps, only about 70 kilometres from the Jordanian border despite having no reason to be there.
Nabil Sharif, the former Jordanian minister of media affairs and former ambassador to Morocco, said: “Jordan is geographically far away from Iran. Iranian forces have no business to be on our borders at all. The only conclusion that I can reach is that they are there to threaten and pressure Jordan.”
Iranian troops and the Hezbollah proxies have previously tried to commit terrorist acts inside Jordan, and the fear is that they will try again.
In 2015, Jordan sentenced eight Hezbollah operatives for attempting to launch a terrorist attack American and Israeli targets inside Jordan and recruiting Jordanians to join the terror group. Also that year, Jordan foiled an attack by the Iranian-sponsored Bayt al-Maqdis group.
Payam Mohseni, the director of the Iran Project at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, said: “Iran views the Syrian civil war as a conflict mainly aimed toward undermining the Islamic Republic. Given Syria’s historically close ties to Iran and its important geostrategic position on the Mediterranean — including its proximity to Hezbollah — the Iranians will never give up Syria willingly. Iran views outside incursions into Syria — including from Jordan’s borders — as unacceptable and will work to secure the border area.”
While Alex Vatanka, an Iranian senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, said: “There is this innate desire among the hard-liners in Tehran to flex muscle to show that they are a regional actor to be reckoned with. When you say that you are close to a border, that means you are a real player in Syria or Iraq. We are part of the conversation. You can’t isolate us.”