The world endured a horror on Tuesday when ISIS released a video featuring the brutal execution by fire of a Jordanian fighter pilot captured after his plane went down in Syria last year.
For a time, it seemed as though ISIS had miscalculated by engaging in this atrocity. Jordan’s King Abdullah pledged an “earth-shattering” response and has already begun to execute ISIS-linked prisoners in Jordanian custody. The Jordanian people, originally leery of the kingdom’s decision to join the coalition of nations executing airstrikes over Syria, rallied around their king and applauded the instinct to seek revenge for this heinous attack on a native son. In the near-term, it seemed that the attack on Jordan by ISIS would have the effect of shoring up support for the anti-ISIS campaign among Arab coalition member states.
It was not long, however, before it became clear that ISIS had perhaps not miscalculated. If the Islamic State’s goal was to destabilize the coalition’s Arab member states by targeting them specifically, the group might have succeeded.
In the immediate wake of the Jordanian pilot’s capture in late December, it was recently revealed that the United Arab Emirates suspended airstrikes fearing for the safety of their pilots. The UAE has reportedly demanded that the United States commit to inserting search-and-rescue units and Osprey vertical takeoff aircraft in Northern Iraq before Abu Dhabi commits to reengaging in the fight against ISIS.
According to The New York Times, the UAE’s representatives were terse in their exchanges with American officials over how they have conducted the war against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
In a blunt exchange last week in Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates’ foreign minister, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, asked Barbara Leaf, the new American ambassador, why Central Command, in his country’s view, had not put proper assets in northern Iraq for rescuing downed pilots, a senior administration official said.
“He let her have it over this,” the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly on the issue. It was Ms. Leaf’s first courtesy call on the foreign minister.
The exchange followed a month of disputes between American military officials and their counterparts in the United Arab Emirates, who have also expressed concern that the United States has allowed Iran to play a growing role in the fight against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS and ISIL.
“The divide between the United States and the United Arab Emirates is significant because the country has been the United States’ most stalwart Arab ally in the fight against the Islamic State,” The Times noted.
That’s right. The UAE was among the first Arab nations to join the anti-ISIS coalition. What’s more, the resurgent Arab state has recently joined with Egypt in executing strikes against Islamist targets in Libya, and they did so without even notifying the United States of the plan prior to its execution. That suggests that the UAE is less concerned about the safety of their pilots, though that is a pressing consideration for every nation involved in the air campaign, than they are in the United States facilitating the expansion of Iranian influence over much of Iraq. The United States can only guarantee the safety of the pilots executing strikes over Syria if it were to substantially increase its military footprint in Northern Iraq.
While American relations with other Sunni Arab states like Egypt and Saudi Arabia have grown strained, America maintains close ties with the UAE and its continued participation in the coalition fighting a Sunni-led insurgency is critical for the maintenance of its legitimacy.
In addition, if ISIS is successful in drawing Jordan further into the conflict in Syria, it is also likely that the present zeal for revenge against the Islamist militants making up ISIS will rapidly wane. Getting in is always far easier than getting out.
When considering these variables, perhaps ISIS hasn’t miscalculated at all.