April 22, 2010

Rocket hits Jordan - whodunit?

Earlier today, a Katyusha rocket landed in the duty-free commercial zone of the port city of al-'Aqabah, Jordan. A second rocket landed in the Gulf of 'Aqabah near the Israel border town of Eilat. The obvious question is, who did it?

It might be easier to start with who didn't do it. The Jordanians claim that the rocket was not launched from Jordanian territory. If it had been, of course, there are Palestinian groups that operate in Jordan and could have fired the rocket. Given the inherent inaccuracy of the Grad/Katyusha rocket, it is conceivable that a rocket fired by a Palestinian group at Israel could have landed in al-'Aqabah, but the Jordanians are pretty reliable. If they say the rocket was not fired from their territory, it is most likely true. In the past, they have been forthcoming about attacks against Israel emanating from inside the small kingdom, including a 2005 rocket attack similar to this incident.

Looking around the area at other groups that use these type of rockets: Hizballah is in southern Lebanon, too far away. Hamas and most of Islamic Jihad is in the Gaza Strip, also too far to the north. I seriously doubt that any of the Fatah-related groups in the West Bank would be able to get far enough south from the West Bank into Israel proper to fire a rocket that landed in al-'Aqabah.

Let's look at where the rocket must have been launched from to impact in the northern part of the Jordanian port. Given the relatively short ranges of the Grad/Katyusha family of rockets (10 miles to 25 miles for the newest variants), if the rocket was not fired from Israel or Jordan, it had to come from either Saudi Arabia or Egypt - both are close enough. The Saudi border is less than ten miles from al-'Aqabah, but I have been to this area of Saudi Arabia. The chance of someone armed with a Katyusha getting that close to the Jordanian border seems remote to me.

That leaves Egypt, which I suspect is the actual launch location of the rockets. The east coast of the Sinai peninsula - part of Egypt - is on the Gulf of 'Aqabah, and that area has been the venue of attacks launched at Israel before. Yes, Israel - I seriously doubt that the Jordanian side of the border was the intended target.

The rockets, easily launched with as little as a makeshift stand and a car battery, missed their target and impacted across the border in al-Aqabah. The two port cities are side by side, separated only by a line on a map.

As to who actually did it, we may never know. If I had to make a judgment based on the scant information available, I would say that some group with enmity towards Israel - as we all know, there are a host of them - launched two rockets at Eilat, Israel. They missed and hit al-'Aqabah Jordan.