High tensions have been recently overshadowing the Gaza Strip, Lebanon, and Syria. This is due to Israeli threats to target resistance leaders, particularly those involved in financing and managing armed resistance activity in the West Bank. The resistance work is a multifront conflict. It begins with mobilization and guidance and progresses through funding, weapon availability, goal determination, and implementation date. The latter often contains letters exchanged between the Palestinian resistance and the Israeli occupation.
As a result, the purpose of this paper is to investigate only one aspect of this cycle, which is related to the transportation of weapons from Iraq and Syria to Jordan and their smuggling into the occupied West Bank. Furthermore, the Israeli accusation that Iran is behind the operation's management and financing, as well as the determination of Jordan's role and motives in supporting the cessation of weapons provided to resistance cells in the occupied West Bank.
Now, we are going to present some facts based on chronology from the oldest to the recent:
- Over the past three years, the Israeli occupation army and security forces have thwarted dozens of weapons smuggling attempts along the borders with Jordan. Most notably, the operation that occurred last year by a Jordanian parliament member, involving 200 handguns, as well as the monitoring of similar operations carried out by Jordanian security forces. The overall accusations have pointed to an Iranian role in these smuggling operations.
- On May 1, 2023, the foreign ministers of Jordan, Syria, Iraq, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia convened for a meeting, which resulted in a final statement of several recommendations. Most importantly, countering weapons smuggling from Syria and Iraq into Jordan.
- On May 8, 2023, the Jordanian Air Force launched two missiles into the Syrian territories and targeted a man who was accused by the Jordanian Intelligence of recruiting hundreds of Bedouin smugglers in support of the armed factions opposed to Iran. This came after days of threatening Ayman Al-Safadi, Jordanian Foreign Minister, with aerial strikes inside Syria in case Damascus could not curb smuggling operations (which were described as a drug war sponsored by Iran). According to Al-Safadi, this war jeopardizes Jordan and the Gulf's security.
- On July 3, 2023, Jordan's Foreign Minister, Ayman Al-Safadi, visited Damascus and met with Syria's President, Bashar Al-Assad, as well as other leaders. Together, they discussed the issue of smuggling weapons and drugs, accusing Iranian and Syrian bodies of organizing and financing smuggling operations.
- In July 2023, the Israeli military surveillance decided not to unveil details on foiling an attempt to smuggle arms and combat equipment through the Israeli-Jordanian borders in Al-Aghwar. The operation was deemed as "huge and exceptional". Thus, it was reported later that explosive devices made in Iran were on the way to resistance fighters in the West Bank.
- By the beginning of August 2023, Israel announced its intention to construct a security fence along the border with Jordan, allegedly preventing weapons smuggling into Palestinian territories, particularly the occupied West Bank.
- On August 5, 2023, interior ministers from Jordan and Iraq signed a Memorandum of Security Cooperation, encompassing provisions related to what was described as "Crimes of illicit human trafficking, smuggling and infiltration."
Jordan and Israel's joint and unilateral efforts in combating smuggling routes between Iraq and Syria on one side and Jordan on the other are a result of both Jordanian and Israeli authorities' political and security assessments of the ongoing flow of weapons across borders, eventually reaching the occupied West Bank. These efforts are motivated by a common concern about the consequences of continued arms trafficking in the region.
The arrival of weapons in the occupied West Bank directly affects Israel by bolstering the strength of resistance elements in an area dominated by Israeli settlements. This situation makes the protection of these settlements costly and challenging for the Israeli occupation, often necessitating the deployment of additional units from their military when tension escalates in the region.
Jordan, as a governing system, is tied to security agreements and understandings with Israel. These agreements align with Jordan's own interests and vision, which include preventing the escalation of Palestinian resistance within the West Bank, especially organizations like Hamas, whose activities have been banned in Jordan since 1999. Due to the sensitivity of the Jordanian population regarding any involvement in supplying arms to the West Bank, the Jordanian regime often portrays its efforts against smuggling as part of a broader campaign to combat drug trafficking from Syria and Iraq. It emphasizes that these efforts do not directly serve Israeli security interests.
Indeed, the recent timeline of events suggests that Jordan's diplomatic and security efforts with Syria and Iraq have been increasing, especially in the context of arms smuggling. However, the on-the-ground results do not necessarily indicate active cooperation from Syria and Iraq. This could be due to both countries being preoccupied with internal instability issues, or it may be a result of their reluctance to obstruct smuggling routes that transport weapons against Israeli occupation forces.
As a response to this, Israel and Jordan have taken additional unilateral measures related to increasing border security efforts. This has led to a growing Israeli inclination to establish a security fence along the border with Jordan as a means of enhancing security and curbing illicit activities.
Israel perceives that Iran has interests in smuggling weapons to support the Palestinian resistance, primarily to threaten Israeli security and potentially open new fronts of conflict. Israel also believes that it is in Iran's interest to exhaust Israel's resources and divert its attention away from completing preparations related to its nuclear program. Iran, on the other hand, remains publicly silent about its involvement or relationship with these smuggling operations. Still, it does not hide its open and armed support for Palestinian resistance against Israeli occupation forces.
In the end, the demand for border control and countering smuggling will remain a priority on the decision-making table for both Israel and Jordan. Despite all efforts, the data does not indicate the effectiveness of Jordanian-Israeli measures in completely curbing weapons smuggling. Smuggling operations are intricately tied to tribal, commercial, and security networks that operate based on principles that consider their actions a duty and an honorable commitment. They view supporting the Palestinian people's resistance against Israeli occupation as a worthy cause and believe it requires sacrifice on their part. This complex network of interests and motivations makes it challenging to entirely halt these smuggling operations.