The Jordanian government has canceled a planned visit by Palestinian Foreign Minister Mohammed Zahar after claiming that "'rocket launchers, explosives and automatic weapons' had been seized recently by Jordanian security forces from a Hamas arms cache they discovered on Jordanian soil." The government went beyond claiming that Hamas was using Jordanian territory as a staging ground for attacks on Israel: "the government spokesman also suggested that Hamas activists had planned sabotage on Jordanian soil, saying its members had been undertaking "surveillance activities for several vital targets in Amman and other cities"." Hamas denies it all, saying that they have never targeted Jordan and didn't start now. The Jordanian Parlimament issued a strong statement, taking the controversial position that they were against any threat to national security. Some columnists and editorial boards have sounded the appropriate outrage and support for the government's position. And no doubt this will be taken as another bit of evidence of the malevolent intentions of the new Hamas-led government.
But... the whole thing is very, very odd. Both al-Jazeera and al-Arabiya report skeptically on the official claims, highlighting both Hamas's denial and popular doubts amongh both Jordanians and Palestinians. It seems very unlikely that a beleaguered Hamas-led government, desperate to secure Arab and Muslim funding and eager to reassure suspicious Arab governments, would take this moment to plan attacks against Jordanian targets.
It's much more likely that this has to do with two things: relations with America and the government's unease with the potential power of the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood and Islamic Action Front. Snubbing Hamas's foreign minister and presenting evidence of its malevolence obviously serves King Abdullah's relationship with his primary constituency - the one in Washington. He's always careful to cultivate that as a principle concern, and you don't have to be especially cynical to see the government's dramatic announcement as a way to wave some more "war on terror" credentials while finding an excuse to satisfy Washington's desire to isolate the Hamas government. Fear of Islamist success is a useful way to blunt any American pressures which exist to open up the political arena - a time honored strategy of Arab leaders which is back in style.
Domestically, Hamas's victory, along with the Muslim Brotherhood's showing in Egypt, has upset the long-standing balancing act between Jordan's regime and Islamists. Harassment has been ramping up for a while, especially since the 'war on takfiri thought' declared by the King after the November terrorist attacks in Amman. Earlier this year, according to Curtis Ryan in a recent Arab Reform Bulletin piece, "the government charged IAF leader Jamil Abu Bakr with “harming the dignity of the state.” The charges stemmed from articles on the IAF website that criticized the government tendency to appoint officials due mainly to connections rather than expertise or parliamentary consultations. The charges were dropped the following month, but the sense of harassment remained."
Hazem al-Amin, one of the top journalists at al-Hayat, points out in the first of a two part article today argues that there has been a growing "Hamasist" trend inside the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood. Amin claims that this "Hamasist" trend is growing alongside the traditional "doves, hawks, and centrists", fundamentally reshaping the internal politics of the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood. He reads the victory of Zaki Saad in internal MB elections, along with the results of elections at various levels of the MB, as indicators of this rising Hamasist trend. I'm not sure if I agree with his whole analysis, but it's a fascinating and richly reported piece which deserves attention.
The Hamas victory in the Palestinian elections poses a unique new threat to Jordan's identity politics, Amin argues - correctly, I think. Amin argues that the identity consensus which has dominated Jordanian discourse since the early 1990s (which I've written about frequently) could be breaking down in the face of this rising Hamasism in the MB and the Jordan First trend in the government. I've seen more and more of this kind of talk as well - just the other day, Jamil al-Nimri wrote a piece in al-Ghad defending the legitimacy of public discussion of the future of the relationship between Jordan and the West Bank... something which has not really been a legitimate topic of discussion for a long time.
Going after Hamas carries risks, of course, since Jordan's Islamists are popular and powerful, and support for Hamas is extremely widespread (according to the most recent published survey by the Center for Strategic Studies, shortly after the Amman terror attacks, 73.5% of all Jordanians and 84% of opinion leaders saw Hamas as a legitimate resistance movement). Trying to tar Hamas with the 'terror inside Jordan' brush looks like a fairly crude attempt to harness the outburst of patriotism and revulsion against Zarqawi which the government enjoyed after the November hotel bombings. Maybe it will work, maybe it won't.
Anyway, that's how I read the government's allegations about Hamas: little to do with any actual evidence of Hamas planning terrorism inside of Jordan, a lot to do with pleasing the US and attacking the Muslim Brotherhood's domestic position.
UPDATE: this Petra press release, cited by the usually excellent Jordanian blogger Khalaf, as evidence of Hamas admitting responsibility for the terrorist plot, seems to me anything but. The Hamas spokesman said that they would look in to the Jordanian allegations but forcefully denied any official involvement and reaffirmed the Palestinian interest in close ties with Jordan.