US sends forces to Jordan amid buildup in “defense of Israel”

Warplane mid-air appears to be landing in an open field in a dimly lit sky

An American F-15 fighter jet deployed as part of President Joe Biden’s regional buildup following the 7 October resistance offensive that routed Israel’s army.


This article has been updated since publication to include reaction from the Jordanian government.

Jordan has strongly condemned Israel’s genocidal war on Gaza and its diplomats were instrumental in passing a UN General Assembly resolution on Friday calling for a ceasefire.

The country’s King Abdullah was quick to order humanitarian aid for Gaza even before any such supplies started to trickle in.

The monarch has also been calling for an end to Israel’s bombing campaign in Gaza and for a lifting of Israel’s suffocating siege on the territory.

He has also warned that Israeli attempts to forcibly displace Palestinians would be a war crime.

And Jordan’s Queen Rania has garnered warm praise at home and abroad for her forthright condemnation of Israel’s “butchery at a mass scale” of Palestinian civilians, in a recent interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour.

“Why is it that whenever Israel commits these atrocities it comes under the banner of self-defense, but when there’s violence by Palestinians it is immediately called terrorism?” Queen Rania asked.

“There’s real double standards here that we’re seeing,” she added, undoubtedly channeling the sentiments of millions of Jordanians.

Jordan must “act in line” with its policy

At the same time, reports that Jordan is permitting the United States to station additional military forces on its soil as Israel exterminates Palestinians in Gaza are generating disquiet.

At a protest near the Israeli embassy in Amman on 24 October, Jordanians expressed opposition to the American military presence in their country. One sign read, for example, “no to US military bases,” and another condemned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Joe Biden as “partners in crime.”

The Arab Organisation for Human Rights in the UK has also criticized Jordan “for allowing the US to use its territory” to transport military equipment into the region as part of an American deployment to defend Israel.

The group urged Amman “to act in line with its policy and the strong statements issued by the Jordanian government confirming that it is against the unjust war launched by Israel with Western support on the Gaza Strip.”

“It is unacceptable for Jordan to call in public to stop the war, while allowing US military support for Israel,” AOHR UK states.

That is a sentiment likely to be widely shared across the region, including by Jordan’s own population.

“The defense of Israel”

But what role is Jordan playing in the US military buildup ordered by President Biden following the 7 October offensive by Gaza-based Palestinian resistance fighters who routed Israel’s vaunted army in a matter of hours?

The regional US deployment is intended to “assist in the defense of Israel,” Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin explained on 21 October.

It includes positioning two aircraft carrier strike groups in the Eastern Mediterranean, bolstering air defenses across the region as well as placing “an additional number of forces on prepare to deploy orders,” Austin announced.

Meanwhile, by last Sunday, more than 60 American and Israeli cargo aircraft had landed in Israel as part of an airlift ordered by Biden to ensure that Tel Aviv does not run out of bombs to drop on Palestinian families in Gaza.

“Most of them are civilian aircraft leased to carry weapons and spare parts,” according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

This number is certain to have increased significantly in recent days.

Warplanes in Jordan

In the same 24 October article, Haaretz reported that US military transport aircraft have been landing all over the region.

Citing open-source information, the newspaper said eight heavylift planes which took off from supply centers in the US and Europe landed at a Jordanian base.

The Wall Street Journal also reported on 24 October that the US was “scrambling to deploy nearly a dozen air-defense systems to countries across the Middle East ahead of Israel’s expected land invasion of Gaza,” listing Jordan as one of six Arab states where the US would station Patriot surface-to-air missile systems.

And according to a 16 October Haaretz report, “a squadron of US F-15E Strike Eagle bombers based in Britain was deployed … at the Muwaffaq Salti Air Base east of the Jordanian capital of Amman,” along with a squadron of A-10 ground attack aircraft and Florida-based American special forces.

Consistent with these reports, the United States Air Force announced on 14 October that a day earlier, “the 494th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron’s F-15E Strike Eagle aircraft arrived in the US Central Command area of responsibility.”

The Air Force Times noted that the F-15s were deployed “as the US looks to bolster its position in the region amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the militant group Hamas.”

The US military did not disclose the specific country to which the fighter jets were deployed, but the US Central Command area – also known as CENTCOM – spans a number of countries including Jordan.

CENTCOM published pictures of the aircraft arriving in the region:

An account on the social media platform X (formerly Twitter), identifying itself as belonging to a French aviation spotter in Jordan, geolocated the aircraft to the Muwaffaq Salti Air Base, east of Amman, using the CENTCOM photos and other publicly available images.
The Aviationist website reported that OSINT – open-source intelligence – trackers “were quick to verify the rumor” about the destination of the American warplanes.

“The aircraft, in fact, landed at Muwaffaq Salti/Al-Azraq Air Base in Jordan, one of the usual deployment locations for US aircraft in the area,” The Aviationist stated.

Days earlier, Eurofighter warplanes from Germany’s Luftwaffe arrived at the same Jordanian air base as part of previously planned exercises called Desert Air 23.

Avi Scharf, the former editor-in-chief of Haaretz and now the newspaper’s national security, cyber and OSINT (open-source intelligence) editor, documented at least 15 American heavylift aircraft, two fighter squadrons and special forces arriving in Jordan since 7 October.
Separately on 24 October, the Pentagon announced it had deployed a squadron of F-16 fighter jets to the CENTCOM area “to help protect US troops.”

It did not name the country where the New Jersey-based warplanes would be stationed.

Jordanian denials and explanations

On Sunday, the Jordanian official news agency Petra, citing a source in the Jordanian armed forces military command, reported that “there is no truth to what has been published on some social media sites about the use of Royal Jordanian Air Force bases by American aircraft that are supplying the Israeli army with supplies and ammunition to be used in bombing operations in Gaza.”

The statement added that such “rumors” were intended to cast doubt on “Jordan’s firm stance towards the Palestinian cause and the reputation of the [Jordanian] armed forces whose field hospital continues to receive the injured and the wounded in Gaza.”

The Jordanian military source added that the intent of those spreading such claims is to “undermine national security and stability” and derail Jordan’s efforts to achieve an immediate ceasefire and deliver more aid to Gaza.

While the Jordanian military clearly denied – and plausibly so – any arms transfers through Jordan to Israel, what it pointedly did not deny is the reported arrival of at least two squadrons of US warplanes in Jordan.

Jordan confirms Patriot deployment

Also on Sunday, Jordan confirmed the arrival of the US Patriot missile system in the country.

Military spokesperson Brigadier-General Mustafa al-Hiyari told the country’s national television that Jordan had requested the air defense missiles from Washington.

Al-Hiyari asserted that Jordan wanted the Patriots to counter drones which “have become a threat on all our fronts,” especially because “drones are used for smuggling drugs.”

He added that Jordan had asked the Americans to deploy the Patriots because “this system is an expensive system and there’s no way to provide it with local resources. We need a strategic partner.”

Al-Hiyari also said that there were possible threats to Jordan of ballistic missiles from all directions, without citing any country that has ever threatened Jordan in this manner.

These explanations are likely to be viewed with skepticism.

As the Congressional Research Service – an official body that provides information to US legislators and the public – acknowledged in a recent publication, the Patriot “system and its interceptors are both expensive and limited in supply.”

That was one of the key factors that led to hesitation over whether to send the system to Ukraine.

Approving Patriots for Ukraine would mean withdrawing them from other regions of the world where the supply was already stretched, the Congressional Research Service observed.

“If they are withdrawn from the US homeland, that could impede training or modernization cycles,” it added.

After an initial refusal and then a lengthy debate, the US in December agreed to send a single Patriot battery to Ukraine.

When the first Patriot battery did arrive in Ukraine in April, it apparently came from the German military’s stock.

In other words, given how difficult it was for the US to spare any Patriots for Ukraine – a war the United States considers its top priority – it is very unlikely that Washington would send any to Jordan merely because Amman asked for them, especially for purposes like drug interdiction or a missile threat that is merely hypothetical.

Al-Hiyari also reiterated the military’s denial that any weapons transfers had taken place.

“Be sure that not a single bullet was transferred towards the Israeli army from Jordanian airports,” he said

Jordan-US defense agreement

Al-Hiyari asserted, “We do not have American bases … on Jordanian soil,” and said that any American military presence in Jordan was solely for training Jordanian forces and providing maintenance and upgrades for equipment.

However in January 2021, Jordan and the United States signed a “Defense Cooperation Agreement.”

That agreement provides the US military with “unimpeded” rent-free use of Jordanian facilities and free movement of US military personnel, vehicles, aircraft and equipment in and out of Jordan and throughout its territory at Washington’s discretion.

The agreement allows that facilities “may be designated as either for exclusive use by US forces or to be used jointly by US forces and Jordan.”

While the agreement stipulates that any bases used by the Americans remain Jordanian property, it gives the United States near-total control over the facilities and how they are used.

Moreover, the US Department of Defense allocated more than $140 million in 2018, “in Air Force construction funds to expand the ramp space at Muwaffaq Salti Air Base,” according to the Congressional Research Service.

“In summer 2021, the US Department of Defense announced that equipment and materiel previously stored at a now-closed US base in Qatar would be moved to Jordan,” the congressional research report added.

US-Jordan ties

While these latest deployments are part of Biden’s regional military buildup, Jordan has long been a base for US military personnel.

As of June this year, months before the current escalation in Gaza, the White House confirmed in a letter to Congress that nearly 3,000 US military personnel were deployed to Jordan – a fact rarely officially acknowledged in the country itself.

Over the past 15 years, US aid to Jordan has tripled, according to the Congressional Research Service.

“Jordanian air bases have been particularly important for the US conduct of intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance (ISR) missions in Syria and Iraq,” according to the research report.

The United States never officially acknowledged its use of the Muwaffaq Salti Air Base until after the 2021 agreement, but the Congressional Research Service cites reports that “satellite imagery shows it has hosted US Air Force (USAF) unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and fast jets since at least 2016.”

Huge protests

Jordan’s close political, economic and military ties with Washington, the main enabler of Israel’s genocide in Gaza, sit uncomfortably with the reality that Jordan’s population staunchly and overwhelmingly supports the Palestinians in their war of liberation from Israeli occupation, colonialism and apartheid.

In 2017, a Pew Research Center survey found that Jordanians held the most negative views of the United States of any country in the region, with 82 percent viewing it unfavorably. There’s little reason to think those numbers would have improved since then.

An opinion survey commissioned by the pro-Israel think tank the Washington Institute for Near East Policy in June, found that 84 percent of Jordanians “stand opposed to having business deals with Israeli companies even if it would help their economy.”

The survey also found that “a majority (60 percent) of Jordanians view Hamas firing missiles at Israel at least somewhat positively.”

Those views too are hardly likely to have shifted in a positive direction for Israel.

Since Israel’s extermination campaign in Gaza began earlier this month, there have been large and near-constant protests in Amman

A particular focus of the protests has been the al-Kalouti mosque, less than a mile from the Israeli embassy. The mosque is the closest Jordanian security forces allow protesters to get to the Zionist state’s diplomatic mission.

On the few occasions protesters tried to get closer to the embassy, Jordanian forces fired tear gas and beat them back.

On Friday, Jordanians held a massive protest in downtown Amman demanding cancellation of the Jordan-Israel peace treaty, one day after the 29th anniversary of its signing.
Amid outrage across the region at its barbaric slaughter of civilians in Gaza, Israel evacuated its embassies in several countries last week, including Jordan, Bahrain, Morocco and Egypt.

Yet despite the growing anger at the relentless savagery of the Washington-backed mass murder of Palestinian civilians in Gaza, not a single Arab country that has formal relations with Israel has officially broken them off.

Tamara Nassar is associate editor and Ali Abunimah is executive director of The Electronic Intifada.