Headlines, Human Rights, Middle East & North Africa

MIDEAST: U.S. Takes Aim Over Jordan’s Shoulder

Jon Elmer

MUWAQQAR, Jordan, Nov 17 2009 (IPS) - In the bleak and seemingly endless desert expanse that unfolds east of Jordan’s capital city, Amman, lies a crucial cog in the ambitious regional designs of the U.S. and its allies in the Middle East.

The controversial police training centre in Jordan. Credit: Jon Elmer

The controversial police training centre in Jordan. Credit: Jon Elmer

Commonly known by its acronym JIPTC, the Jordan International Police Training Centre is ground-zero for the transformation of U.S.-allied security forces not only for the Kingdom of Jordan, but also for Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian Territories.

Under the regime of King Abdullah II, this country of six million strategically located at the heart of the Middle East and bordered by Iraq, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Syria and the West Bank, has developed itself as something of a “Green Zone” in a tumultuous region.

As Gen. Craig McKinley, chief of the National Guard Bureau in the U.S. said during a joint training mission and tour of Jordan late last month, the country has become “the lynchpin” in the efforts to create a “peaceful central command region.”

JIPTC is staffed mostly by Jordanians, but the trainers are military and police officers from more than a dozen countries – primarily Canada, the United Kingdom and the U.S. – as well as private contractors, such as DynCorp.

The relatively unassuming base, surrounded by blast walls and concertina wire, is comprised predominantly of temporary portable buildings spread out across a five square kilometre facility. The sprawling desert environment is well suited for its multiple shooting ranges for a programme that planners say is three-quarters hands-on training, and only one-quarter classroom instruction.

Since graduating its first class in November 2003, JIPTC has trained more than 50,000 police officers bound for Iraq. More recently, the academy has trained four battalions of the Palestinian security forces, deployed under the auspices of United States security coordinator, Gen. Keith Dayton, to back the “caretaker” government of Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad in the West Bank.

With little fanfare, JIPTC has Jordan’s regime playing a frontline role in the U.S. project to transform the Middle East.

“Jordan continues to be a key partner and to play a positive role in the region,” Gen. David Petraeus, the U.S. commander responsible for the region told a Senate Armed Service Committee meeting in April. “Jordan participates in many regional security initiatives and has placed itself at the forefront of police and military training for regional security forces.”

Mouin Rabbani, an Amman-based analyst told IPS that such a link is also problematic. “Jordan is one of the leading U.S. allies in the region, and it suffers the consequences of U.S. policy, perhaps more than others, because it’s situated literally between the two biggest American failures in the region: Iraq and Palestine.”

Gen. Petraeus has explicitly linked JITPC to attempts to legitimise the failed peace process in the Israel-Palestine conflict. “These efforts will likely prove critical in the continued development of legitimate security forces in Lebanon and the Palestinian Territories and, as a consequence, in the long-term viability of the peace process,” he told the Senate committee.

According to Rabbani, Jordan’s support for U.S. efforts in the failed peace process “raises questions about a strategy which is, for all intents and purposes, wholly and exclusively aligned with one external would-be mediator that’s seen increasingly as irretrievably hostile to Palestinian and more general Arab national aspirations, and completely wedded to Israeli interests.”

In Gen. Dayton’s first substantial interview with an Israeli newspaper regarding his role in training the Palestinian forces, he was clear about his objectives. “I’m here to advance America’s interests, but I’m also here because of the relationship between your country (Israel) and mine,” he told Ha’aretz.

The Palestinian forces have an open agenda to target Hamas and other Palestinian factions. In May, six people were killed when Dayton’s forces attacked Hamas activists in the West Bank town of Qalqilya, sparking a gun battle that lasted several hours and took place without Israel’s interference. Hamas characterised the attack as “an awful crime” committed by “collaborators”; while Abbas declared that his forces would continue to strike opposition groups “with an iron fist.”

Gen. Dayton, in his only major policy speech to date, told the stridently pro- Israel think tank, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), that JIPTC-trained Palestinian security forces had engaged in a series of violent raids that were “surprisingly well coordinated” with Israel. Dayton characterised the results as “electric.”

“They have caught the attention of the Israeli defence establishment for their dedication, discipline, motivation, and results.” Dayton added, “the Jordanian-trained guys are the key.”

Staging security training in Jordan cuts to the heart of the problem with the credibility of these indigenous forces among their people. It is presumed that they cannot be trained in their local milieu because they lack political legitimacy.

To this end, Dayton told the WINEP audience: “You might ask, why Jordan? The answer is pretty simple. The Palestinians wanted to train in the region, but they wanted to be away from clan, family and political influences. The Israelis trust the Jordanians, and the Jordanians were anxious to help.”

The JIPTC-trained forces find themselves at the centre of a bitter factional divide. Hamas won a decisive electoral victory in 2006, but has been forced underground in the West Bank since sweeping Israeli arrests of many of its elected members, and the subsequent takeover by Fayyad’s regime in Ramallah.

The West Bank elected 52 of Hamas’s 74 members of the 132-seat Palestinian Legislative Council, while Fayyad’s party, The Third Way, received less than three per cent of the popular vote, which translated into two seats. Abbas’s Fatah party tallied 45 seats. However, since assuming power, Abbas and Fayyad’s West Bank regime has been the beneficiary of more than 1.8-billion dollars in U.S.-encouraged international aid for a population of 2.5 million, while Hamas and the Palestinians in Gaza have been subjected to a crippling boycott.

Upwards of 1,000 Palestinians have been arrested by Dayton’s security forces, mostly Hamas members. Many of those arrested face dubious charges, if any, and the judicial process has been the source of significant criticism by Palestinian human rights groups.

All this has served to cast doubt on the legitimacy of Dayton’s security project, while the Hamas-Fatah division has all but stricken the feasibility of holding presidential elections in the Palestinian Territories, now a year overdue.

Meanwhile, U.S President Barack Obama announced in June a 150 million dollar military aid increase to Jordan, bringing the annual total to more than 513 million dollars. The increase came on top of the Bush Administration’s 2007, ten-year, 50 billion dollar military aid package to the region’s allied regimes, including Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the pliant Gulf states. The deal included a 30 billion dollars weapons package to Israel through 2017.

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