Jordan’s army foiled a plot on Monday by dozens of infiltrators from Syria linked to pro-Iranian militias, who crossed its border with rocket launchers and explosives.
Jordan’s State broadcaster said the army blew up a vehicle laden with explosives as it resisted the biggest armed cross-border operation to smuggle weapons and drugs in recent years.
The army earlier said the infiltrators had fled back across the border after injuring several army personnel in the latest of several major incursions since the start of the month that has left one Jordanian soldier and at least a dozen smugglers dead.
Intelligence sources said Jordanian jets launched rare raids into its northern neighbor Syria against hideouts of Iranian-backed drug smugglers in retaliation against the smuggling operation. Iran controls thousands of fighters in Syria for more than a decade, when it got involved in the country’s civil war to support the Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad.
They said the bombing targeted homes of leading drug dealers and farms that intelligence showed were safe houses for the heavily armed traffickers who have also used drones to drop their hauls.
Earlier officials had said the Jordanian army was considering conducting pre-emptive strikes inside Syria against those militias linked to the drug trade and their facilities in a bid to stem what they say is an alarming rise in cross-border incursions.
Jordanian officials, like their Western allies, say that Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah group and pro-Iranian militias who control much of southern Syria were behind a surge in drug and weapons smuggling.
“Jordan knows the country that stands behind this. It’s Iran that is sponsoring these militias. These are hostile military actions against Jordan on its territory,” said Samih Maayteh, a former minister briefed by officials on developments.
Iran and Hezbollah say the allegations are part of Western plots against the country. Syria denies complicity with Iranian-backed militias linked to its army and security forces.
UN experts and US and European officials say the illicit drug trade finances a proliferation of pro-Iranian militias and pro-government paramilitary forces created by more than a decade of conflict in Syria.
War-torn Syria has become the region’s main site for a multi-billion-dollar drug trade, with Jordan being a key transit route to the oil-rich Gulf states for a Syrian-made amphetamine known as captagon, Western anti-narcotics officials and Washington say.
The army which said it had seized nearly five million pills of captagon on Monday in one of the largest hauls in recent years, warned it would “continue to track these armed groups and prevent any attempt to undermine the kingdom’s national security”.
“The last few days have seen a spike in these operations that are changing from infiltration attempts and smuggling to armed clashes with the goal of crossing the border by force and targeting border guards,” the army statement added.
Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi last week told Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossien Amir-Abdollahian during a meeting in Geneva that Tehran should do more to rein in militias it finances that are active along the Syrian-Jordanian border, officials say.
The raids by Jordanian jets come as the monarch, a staunch US ally, discussed bolstering the country’s defenses with the top US commander, General Charles Q. Brown, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Jordan has been promised more US military aid to improve security on the border, where Washington has given around $1 billion to establish border posts since the Syrian conflict began in 2011, Jordanian officials say.
Report by Reuters