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Jordan only joined Saudi anti-terror alliance because it was 'non-binding': Abdullah

Jordan's King Abdullah told US Congressional leaders they should be 'realistic' about what Saudi Arabia's anti-terror alliance can achieve
Jordan's King Abdullah (R) welcomes Saudi Arabia's Deputy Crown Prince and Defence Minister Mohammed bin Salman at the Royal Palace in Amman (AFP)

Jordan and other Muslim nations joined Saudi Arabia’s coalition against the Islamic State group (IS) only because it was non-binding, Middle East Eye can reveal.

At a meeting with US Congressional leaders in January, revealed for the first time by Middle East Eye last week, Jordanian King Abdullah II told American politicians to be “realistic” about the Saudi-led anti-IS coalition.

When asked about Saudi Arabia’s self-styled Islamic military alliance, which was announced in December and is comprised of 34 Muslim majority countries, Abdullah said that its non-binding nature was the reason why Jordan and other members agreed to join.

“This [the coalition] is more like a non-binding coalition to show we are against ISIL, so in that case we [the members] all signed up,” he said, using an alternative acronym for IS.

Abdullah said that separate to the Saudi coalition, he had tried to get Riyadh “to go to Cairo so that we can have an Arab Muslim face to the Coalitions against ISIL, but that didn’t get accepted for some reason”.

After Saudi Arabia rejected joining undisclosed talks in the Egyptian capital, Abdullah said they had gone for a “piecemeal approach” instead, adding that he had looked into setting up “task forces” to tackle IS and other similar groups.

Abdullah made the comments during a meeting with senior American politicians in January. Middle East Eye has obtained a detailed account of the meeting from a source close to the discussions who provided it on condition of anonymity.

The Saudi coalition was one of numerous topics covered by Abdullah in the meeting, which included the king confirming that British and Jordanian special forces have been deployed in Libya and Somalia.

He also revealed that covert Jordanian military operations in Syria are taking place, and he accused Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of sending “terrorists” to Europe.

Controversy over coalition

When Saudi Arabia announced its coalition to tackle IS in December, it raised eyebrows because of it appeared to have been pushed through very quickly.

Saudi Defence Minister and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman hastily pulled together a press conference at midnight on 15 December and declared that a military alliance had been established to target “global terrorism” in Afghanistan, Egypt, Libya, Iraq, and Syria.

Saudi Arabia launched the military coalition “to fight terrorism,” according to an official statement that accompanied its announcement, which added that a “a joint operations centre based in Riyadh” would “coordinate and support military operations”.

However, no military action has been attributed to the coalition since its formation.

The day after it was announced several members of the coalition said they had not agreed to the announcement.

Indonesia said that it needed more details, and later Jakarta announced that it “did not want to join a military alliance”.

Pakistan’s Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhry said he was “surprised” to read that Islamabad had been included, and other Pakistani politicians said that they first heard of the coalition from the media.

Another member, Malaysia, immediately ruled out making a military contribution.

The confusion that surrounded the coalition’s announcement led regional experts Giorgio Cafiero, founder of Gulf State Analytics, and Daniel Wagner, CEO of Country Risk Solutions, to denounce the alliance in the Huffington Post as a “house of cards”.

The coalition’s formation came at a time of increasing pressure for Saudi Arabia, which faced rising criticism in English-language media about its allegedly lacklustre attempts to combat IS and its ideology, which many have likened to Riyadh’s own ultra-conservative Salafist brand of Islam.

In Washington, Abdullah did not specifically go into detail about the Saudi coalition but, in answer to a question about it from Florida Representative Republican Ander Crenshaw, the king said he was seeking ways to “build up more Arab forces to go across the borders”.

He didn’t reveal how he planned to create such a force, but in a previous part of the conversation he did suggest that that British and Jordanian forces were working together to covertly carry out operations against militant group al-Shabab in Somalia.

“We started with al-Shabab, as they feed into Libya,” he said, referring to the chaos and conflict that has reigned in Libya since a NATO-backed 2011 revolution overthrew long-time leader Muammar Gaddafi.

Later, Abdullah said that he wanted East African countries to work together and take ownership of counter-terrorism, but with Arab oversight.

The Jordanian king has rich military experience, having trained as a special forces officer at Britain’s Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in 1980 before briefly serving as a British army officer.

Since becoming king in 1999, Abdullah has sought to develop Jordan’s military capacity, especially the country’s special forces. Jordan expert Sean Yom from Temple University has previously told MEE that this policy has caused Amman to become the “special forces capital of the Middle East,” suggesting they have the best special forces in the region.

In the Washington meeting, Abdullah declared that the fight against IS was the beginning of a third world war, which is against the “outlaws of Islam”. He added that the battle stretches from Indonesia to California.

Responding to his declaration, Representative Crenshaw agreed with the king, and said: “Jordan is in the middle of this world war.”

Crenshaw asked Abdullah how effective the Saudi anti-IS coalition was going to be compared with the US-led one, and he sought the king’s opinion on whether Washington should join Riyadh’s alliance.

Abdullah replied that “any coalition of those hot spots in the map should have a Muslim or Arab face to it as this is a Muslim war, but we have to be realistic about coalitions as many sign up, but getting to develop rapid deployment forces doesn’t get done.”

None of the American politicians present at the meeting responded to requests for comment.

Jordan’s Royal Court Political Director Manar Dabbas referred MEE to the government’s media adviser but said: “The discussions we had in Washington were off the record.”

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