On Tuesday, ISIS released a video showing the execution of Muath al-Kaseasbeh, a Jordanian air force pilot who had been held prisoner by Islamic State forces since December.
For many Jordanians, Kaseasbeh, who was captured by ISIS in Syria while taking part in U.S.-led coalition airstrikes against the Islamist extremist group, had become a symbol of Jordan's polarizing participation in the campaign against the Islamic State.
"I firmly ask whomever has sent Muath to fight outside the borders of Jordan, on a mission unrelated to us, to make strong efforts to bring back Muath," his father told reporters before news of his son's death emerged. This sentiment was echoed by many Jordanians prior to the release of the video.
In other words, for some, the blame for Kaseasbeh's captivity didn't necessarily fall on ISIS, but rather on the government that had sent him on a bombing mission in the first place. By extension, the pilot's ordeal was a consequence of Jordan's close alliance with the West.
Just hours before ISIS released its snuff film, Jordan's unpopular orientation toward the West was on display: Jordan reinstated its ambassador to Israel in Tel Aviv for the first time since the fall, and Nasser Judeh, Jordan's foreign minister, held a press conference with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.
As Kerry announced the signing of a bilateral-assistance Memorandum of Understanding with Jordan, he concluded with praise for Washington's partnership with the country, one of six Arab nations in the U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State:
And finally, we are both members of the coalition to disrupt and defeat the terrorist group known as Daesh, or by some people as ISIL. In that connection, the people of Jordan need to know that all Americans will join with them in praying for the early and safe return of Lieutenant Moaz al-Kasasbeh. And we call upon his captors to release this brave man so that he could return to his family and his homeland, to at least provide proof of life, which Jordan has asked for.
Jordan's King Abdullah "is, emotionally and dispositionally, the most pro-American ruler in the Arab world," Jeffrey Goldberg wrote in 2013. In addition to battling ISIS, Abdullah has kept his country's (unpopular) peace treaty with Israel intact despite ruling over a population that is more than half Palestinian by origin. And, even through the Arab Spring and its aftermath, Jordan has maintained a modicum of stability despite the chaos and carnage in neighboring Syria and Iraq. By capturing a pilot, ISIS could have undermined that stability.
As CNN reported, ISIS's execution video began with a denunciation of Abdullah: "The king is derided as an 'ally [of] the crusaders' for working with the U.S.-led military coalition against ISIS in Iraq and Syria." (Abdullah happened to be on a trip to Washington, D.C. on Tuesday when the video was released.)
But the video seems to have backfired for ISIS not only because Kaseasbeh had apparently been killed a month earlier and his government had ostensibly been negotiating a prisoner swap with the terrorist group ever since, but also because the pilot had been savagely burned alive inside a cage.
Reports of Kaseasbeh's grisly murder have not produced a wave of anger at Abdullah. Instead, denunciations of the execution have rung out from across the Muslim world and public opinion within Jordan seems to have swung wildly against ISIS. "I expect the government to seek revenge ... for the blood of Muath against this horrid organization ... this organization that is far from Islam and the spirit of Islam," his father said on Wednesday, in a departure from his earlier remarks.
Jordan's response to Kaseasbeh's death has been swift; the government hanged two prisoners on Wednesday and Abdullah speedily returned to his country, where he was greeted by throngs of cheering crowds.
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