Israel ready to help Jordan fend off Iraq insurgents if asked

Fri Jul 4, 2014 9:05am EDT

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By Dan Williams

JERUSALEM, July 4 (Reuters) - Israel is ready to meet any Jordanian request to help fight off Islamist insurgents who have overrun part of neighbouring Iraq, an Israeli official said on Friday, although he believed Jordan was capable of defending itself.

Jordan is one of two Arab countries - along with Egypt - to have full peace treaties with Israel and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday praised Amman's stability while echoing Western powers in pledging support to safeguard it.

Asked to elaborate on the statement, Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz said potential Israeli assistance could include sending troops or arms, though he saw that as unlikely.

"We have an interest in ensuring that Jordan does not fall to, or be penetrated by, groups like al Qaeda or Hamas or ISIS," he told Reuters.

"If, God forbid, there is a need, if such a request comes, if there is an emergency situation, then of course Israel will extend all help required. "Israel will not allow groups like ISIS to take over Jordan."

ISIS, or ISIL as it also known, are radical Sunni Islamist insurgents who have seized much of northern and western Iraq, which has borders with Syria and Jordan.

Steinitz drew a comparison with Israel's willingness to intervene during 1970 border skirmishes between Syria and Jordan as Amman cracked down on Palestinian guerrillas on its turf.

"Israel said it would take action against the Syrian tank brigades that invaded Jordan, but what happened is exactly what I assess would happen now, too - the Jordanian army managed on its own to to halt the Syrian advance and destroy dozens of Syrian tanks and the Syrian army withdrew."

Today's Jordanian military similarly did not require help, Steinitz said, "as they are sufficiently professional and determined".

Following in Egypt's footsteps, the Hashemite kingdom made peace with Israel in 1994. But the countries had maintained discreet security ties since the early 1970s, Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon said in a Feb. 19 speech in Jerusalem.

Jordan's embassy in Israel declined comment on possible security coordination with the Netanyahu government.

(Writing by Dan Williams, Editing by Jeffrey Heller/Mark Heinrich)

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