Soldiers of Jordan Armed Forces and U.S. military service members
salute during playing of the national anthems at dedication ceremony
for expanded Jordan Armed Forces Joint Training Center
October 10, 2018 [Image Source]
[This guest post is authored by Bennett Ruda. His background is below.]
Back in June 2020, it seemed as if the US had finally turned the corner on the issue of extraditing an Arab terrorist to the US for the murder of a US citizen.
Ahlam Tamimi is the confessed mastermind of the 2001 Sbarro massacre that killed 15 Israelis, including Malki Roth, who was also an American citizen.
Jordan had a 1995 extradition treaty with the USwhich had already been honored by Jordan to bring Eyad Ismoil, a Jordanian citizen who assisted in the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993, back to the US.
But in the case of Tamimi, the Jordanian courts claimed the treaty had not been ratified by the parliament and refused to hand her over. This despite the fact that, in 2017, a criminal complaint was unsealed against Tamimi in the US against Tamimi for conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction against US nationals.
But in 2020, it seemed that things were going to change.
During his confirmation hearing to be US ambassador to Jordan, Henry T. Wooster told Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) that the US would apply pressure on Jordan to extradite Tamimi:
The United States has multiple options and different types of leverage to secure Ahlam Aref Ahmad al-Tamimi’s extradition. We will continue to engage Jordanian officials at all levels not only on this issue, but also on the extradition treaty more broadly. US generosity to Jordan in Foreign Military Financing as well as economic support and other assistance is carefully calibrated to protect and advance the range of U.S. interests in Jordan and in the region.
If confirmed, I would explore all options to bring Ahlam Aref Ahmad Al-Tamimi to justice, secure her extradition and address the broader issues associated with the extradition treaty.
This was the day before Jordan's King Abdullah II was scheduled to speak to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and House Foreign Affairs Committee via video.
Whatever was said during that meeting with the Jordanian ruler, nothing was done afterward to follow up on the promise to pressure Jordan to hand over the terrorist.
* * *
It is not as if the US does not have leverage. According to the US State Department website, the US is Jordan's largest provider of assistance, providing more than $1.61 billion in 2021 alone.
After lengthy negotiations, the US and Jordan signed
a new defense agreement in January 2021, allowing US forces free entry into Jordan, including both aircraft and vehicles.
|Islamist member of Jordanian parliament Saleh al-Armuti|
Islamist lawmaker Saleh al-Armuti decried the lack of parliamentary oversight and called on the government to cancel the accord, claiming it “violates the constitution and affects Jordan’s sovereignty.” But [Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman] Safadi pushed back, saying the agreement “in no way affects Jordan’s sovereignty, and everything it contains is subject to Jordanian law and is compatible with international law.” [emphasis added] [Source: Al-Arabiya, March 21, 2021]
There is no indication the Jordanian courts are going to try to claim this agreement is invalid.
At a time when the US is struggling in the Middle East in competition with both Russia and China, a recent poll finds that the US has the inside track when it comes to Jordan.
A modestly larger proportion of Jordan’s public says good relations with the United States are either very (18%) or somewhat (34%) important. This is roughly on a par with China, as has been the case in other recent polls. But the United States has a clear advantage over either Russia or China, or any other foreign nation, in several key subcategories. A plurality (43%) pick the United States as “the country that can best help protect us against our foreign enemies.“ A smaller plurality also see the United States as the outside power that “can best promote human rights and democracy in our country” (37%). [emphasis added]
Jordan's trust in the US is in sharp contrast with the Arab states in the Gulf who see themselves as abandoned by the US -- and facing the Iranian threat alone, with the help of Israel.
On the one hand, Jordan does not perceive Iran as a threat on the level that the Gulf Arab states do. According to the poll, only 17% of Jordanians responded that good ties with Iran were "somewhat important" and they are evenly split, at 47%, as to whether "a renewed nuclear deal with Iran" is good or bad for the area.
Iraqi Prime Minister Al-Kadhimi (R), Egyptian Pres Al-Sisi (L) and King
Abdullah II of Jordan (C) attend a Tripartite Summit in Baghdad, Iraq
June 27, 2021 [Source: Iraqi Prime Ministry Press Office/Anadolu Agency]
But maybe Jordan is not that sanguine about Iran. It is making a point of forging ties with Iran, just as Saudi Arabia has opened up to the idea of talks with Tehran.
Writing for the BESA Center, Dr. Edy Cohen notes:
Because Iraq is a puppet state under Iran’s control, this agreement represents King Abdullah’s “coming out of the closet” with the Islamic Republic. Exporting Iraqi oil through Jordan to Europe is simply exporting oil controlled by Iran, which rules Iraq through its network of Shiite militias and controls the country’s resources.
The day after the announcement, Jordanian state media began promoting full financial cooperation with Iran.
In addition, there is talk of allowing up to one million Iranian religious tourists to visit the village of Kerak to visit the shrine of Jaffar Ibn Abu Taleb and according to the Jordanian press, Iran has proposed building an airport in Kerak.
Nevertheless, a Jordanian TV broadcast at the time warned of the dangers of allowing Iranians into the country as tourists.
Rhode draws attention to how Tehran became the dominant force in both Lebanon and Syria. It seems to be using the same strategy to take over Jordan. In doing so, “Iran is attempting to surround Israel and Saudi Arabia further.”
At a time when the US is clearly making a point of supporting Jordan as an ally (unlike the Gulf Arabs), King Abdullah is playing with fire.
By contrast, Jordan is anything but friendly with Israel, despite their peace treaty. In his poll, Pollock found that
Israel remains even more unpopular than Iran among Jordanians today. A mere 10 percent or so, young and old alike, have even a “somewhat” favorable opinion about the late 2020 Abraham Accords between Israel and four other Arab states (the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan). And the same very low percentage of Jordanians agree, a quarter-century after their own formal peace with Israel, that “people who want to have business or sports contact with Israelis should be allowed to do so.”
|The FBI wants Ahlam Tamimi but Jordan says no|
While the US government has not publicly explained its reticence to enforce the treaty, the excuse offered by some is the concern that forcing the issue is too controversial, especially among those Jordanians with Palestinian roots.
According to this theory, due to the popular support of Tamimi in Jordan, extraditing her to the US to face justice could lead to the fall of the kingdom.
The US consistently justifies aid to Jordan by claiming that Amman is a US ally in the Middle East. If that is true, then at the very least the US should be able to publicly address the issue of Tamimi instead of avoiding and ignoring it.
In the fight against terror, the US has the opportunity to get a win. As an ally, Jordan should be willing to prove itself.