Obama administration had rejected the sale
A bipartisan group of US House members is urging President Donald Trump to green-light sales of high-tech armed drones to Jordan and the United Arab Emirates, a sale that was turned down by the Obama Administration.
The drones are the MQ-9 Reaper, an upgraded version of the US Predator drone. The previous administration opposed the sale, saying that technology should not be shared beyond close allies under the terms of the Missile Technology Control Regime, which aims to limit the spread of missile technologies and drones. But now the lawmakers are arguing that Jordan is a close ally in the war on drones, and that if Jordan does not buy them from a US company, it will go looking in China. Jordan is part of the US-backed coalition fighting Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
“I met the commander of the Jordanian Royal Air Force and he told me that Jordan needs drones for the protection of its border with Syria,” Mohammed Naguib, a Palestinian military expert told The Media Line. “They are using helicopters right now but it is not enough. This is a real security challenge for Jordan.”
In 2015, Islamic State captured and burnt to death a Jordanian air force pilot, Muath al-Kasasbeh, after his F-16 crashed over Syria. His killing provoked widespread outrage in Jordan.
“After that, Jordan suspended its operations with the coalition against ISIS,” Naguib said. “They cannot bear another crash like this one and another pilot taken hostage. The best thing for them is to use drones like the Israelis do in the Gaza Strip.”
The border between Jordan and Syria is more than 500 miles long. Along with terrorists, drugs are also being smuggled from Syria to Jordan. Jordan receives $800 million in US military aid. Since the election of President Trump, Jordan’s King Abdullah has flown to Washington twice to meet the US President and lobby against any cuts in aid.
The Trump Administration has already shown that it might be more open to these types of weapons sales than the Obama administration. For example, Trump announced it would remove the human rights conditions it had attached to selling F-16s to Bahrain. It also said it wants to move forward with the sale of fighter jets to Nigeria.
The proposed sale comes as Jordan is facing growing economic pressure due to less foreign aid from the Gulf, and growing unemployment.
“Jordan does not have a productive economy,” Maha Yahya, the director of the Carnegie Center for Middle East Peace told The Media Line. “More than 40 percent of Jordan’s workers are state employment, meaning they work in the public sector.”
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) recently agreed to lend Jordan more than $700 million on the condition that Jordan trim its state employment rolls, as well as cut subsidies on basic goods such as bread. Whenever Jordan tried to do that in the past it led to riots, and the subsidies were quickly returned.
Jordan is also strained by the flood of Syrian refugees – 700,000 according to the UN and up to 1.5 million by the Jordanian government. The government has been struggling to feed and clothe the refugees, as well as provide education.
At the same time, Yahya says, Jordan remains stable and King Abdullah firmly in place.
“When you talk to Jordanians they may be angry, but they always say, “We don’t want to be like Syria,” she said. “They want reform, not to get rid of the King.”