As Specter of Wider War Threatens, Jordan Targets ISIS with New Airstrikes

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As Specter of Wider War Threatens, Jordan Targets ISIS with New Airstrikes

Analysts warn that a rush to revenge will only deepen militarization and violence across the region.

Planes belonging to the Jordanian Royal Air Force fly over the headquarters of the family clan of pilot Muath al-Kasaesbeh in the city of Karak Feb. 4, 2015. (Photo: Reuters)

The Jordanian government appears to be escalating the country's participation in the U.S.-led war on ISIS, launching air strikes and executions in the wake of the burning death of Jordanian pilot, First Lt. Moaz al-Kasasbeh, which was revealed earlier this week.

An anonymous Jordanian official confirmed to AFP on Thursday that the military had launched a strike against ISIS following al-Kasasbeh's execution but did not specify in which country the attack occurred. Jordan has conducted numerous strikes within Syria, as journalist Chris Woods documents, but has not yet bombed targets inside Iraq.

Analysts, however, warn that the heavy response merely plays into the hands of ISIS, which they say has a direct interest in the ratcheting up of tensions and violence across the region.

The bombing follows vows of retaliation from top Jordanian officials, including King Abdullah II, for the execution of al-Kasasbeh.

On Wednesday, the state executed two Iraqi prisoners—Sajida al-Rishawi and Ziad al-Karbouli—both allegedly affiliated with Al-Qaeda in Iraq (which preceded ISIS). The killings were condemned by Human Rights Watch in a statement: "To execute death row inmates in response to external events alarmingly suggests that retaliation against third parties is driving policy, rather than justice based solely on fairness and individualized guilt."

Experts warn that a rush to retaliation will only deepen militarization and violence across the region.

According to Lina Khatib, director of the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, Jordan's revenge "marks a major shift in the war against the Islamic State. It is a shift that is likely to change the nature of the actors in the Syrian conflict as ISIS and al-Nusra move closer to one another. It is also a shift that will trigger wider regional repercussions, and drag members of the anti-ISIS coalition into an open-ended confrontation on a wider scale than before. In the midst of all this, the moderate Syrian opposition risks becoming extinct."

Rami Elamine, Arab-American activist and writer for War Times, told Common Dreams that ISIS knew the execution would lead to "military mobilization and war against them."

"This is what they want," said Elamine. "This is how they grow and flourish. Because despite the lies that only militants are being killed in air strikes, drone attacks, etc., we know that it’s mostly innocent people who are being killed. Innocent civilians whose brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, and cousins are going to flock to (ISIS), Al Qaeda and their ilk to avenge the deaths."

Scott Ritter, author and former United Nations weapons inspector, concurs: "Rather than serving as a tipping point for mobilizing public sentiment in the Sunni Arab world against ISIS, it seems that a case can be made that the actions of ISIS seem geared toward achieving the exact opposite reaction — the mobilization of angry, disenfranchised Sunni Arab youth inside Jordan against the actions of their King, creating the kinds of social rifts ISIS thrives upon."

"Jordan should proceed cautiously before agreeing to any expansion of its role in the anti-ISIS coalition," Ritter urged.

Jordan's air strikes come a few days after an announcement that the U.S. is boosting aid to Jordan from $660 million to $1 billion per year.

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