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Jordan, Italy bolster military ties amid regional instability

By Elisa Oddone - May 26,2015 - Last updated at May 26,2015

AMMAN — Jordan has bolstered its military cooperation with Italy while also setting the agenda for the upcoming joint military exercises spanning infantry, navy and air forces amid an escalating regional crisis.

Italian Defence Minister Roberta Pinotti and General Mashal Zaben, chairman of the joint chiefs-of-staff of the Jordan Armed Forces-Arab Army (JAF) and King’s military adviser, signed a memorandum of understanding in Rome in late April, paving the way for consultations and future drills to take place in both countries.

“Relations between Italy and Jordan are excellent,” Brigadier General and Italian Army
 Defence Attaché to Jordan Roberto De Masi told The Jordan Times recently. “Jordan and Italy agreed on conducting 40 bilateral activities this year, 15 of which will take place here in Jordan,” De Masi said.

On the wake of the long tradition of cooperation on the training field between the two countries which dates back to the late 1970s, 25 Jordanian cadets are currently attending Italian military academies, De Masi explained, as the country, due to its warfare expertise after taking part in military operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Balkans, offers first-hand know-how to trainees.

“We consider the defence cooperation between the two countries to be very promising, not only bilaterally but also under NATO auspices,” JAF Spokesperson Colonel Mamdouh Ameri said in an e-mail sent to The Jordan Times. “This is particularly important given the escalating regional crises and their extension to the countries south of the Mediterranean Sea, with ramifications of these crises in Europe in general, and Italy, in particular.”

Italy also pledged 24 wheeled tank destroyers for light to medium territorial defence and tactical reconnaissance to the Kingdom last year, while Jordan has since purchased 117 more used vehicles of the same kind. The vehicles are yet to be delivered.

“The procurement agreement of the vehicles was finally signed in the second week of May in Rome. However, the delivery date for both the 117 and 24 destroyers is still to be determined,” Ameri said.

How, where and when the vehicles will be deployed will be determined based on threat assessment, nature of terrain in the area of deployment and the mission's operational requirements, he added.

Because they are suitable to patrol vast areas of desert territories, the wheeled tank destroyers will likely be deployed along Jordan’s borders with Syria and Iraq, thus supporting the Kingdom in its fight against Daesh, according to the officer.

The Kingdom has bolstered its military presence along the Iraqi border in recent months over concerns that Daesh fighters may attempt to cross into Jordanian territory. Meanwhile, defences on the Kingdom’s 370-kilometre northern border with Syria have also been beefed up amid authorities’ fears that the return of Jordanian Islamist fighters could pose a national security threat.

“Both countries play a role in the stability and security of the region and spare no effort to maintain this role,” Ameri said. “Cooperation with Italy is very important to us, especially after the emergence of Daesh — the Arabic acronym for the Daesh in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS — and other terrorist groups have placed our region in a highly vulnerable position with repercussions of the vicious fighting also having significantly increased illegal immigration of refugees across the Mediterranean.”

Jordan is a prominent partner within the US-led international coalition campaign against Daesh, which controls large patches of land in Iraq and Syria. 

The only remaining Arab partner still active in the US’ air campaign, the Kingdom has intensified air strikes against Daesh’s positions in the aftermath of the brutal killing of pilot Muath Kasasbeh, reportedly on January 3.

Italian defence forces have also been involved in the international coalition since its launch last September.

“Italy was among the first countries to join the international coalition against Daesh,” De Masi said. “We have deployed in Kuwait one Boeing KC 767 airplane for refuelling, four Tornado airplanes for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance duties, and two UAV Predators. More than 200 army instructors are also training [Kurdish] peshmerga soldiers in Iraq’s Erbil.”

Estimates show about 50 Italians are fighting with Daesh inside Syria and Iraq, but the number of Western recruits is much larger if one includes European countries like France and the UK.

 

“The Daesh threat will not only affect neighbouring countries but will extend to the whole region and beyond,” Ameri said. “The war on terror goes beyond military action. We are currently combating terrorism on the military front as a short- and medium-term strategy, while addressing this phenomenon’s root causes at the social, political, economic and educational fronts is the long term strategy.”

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