The video showing the burning alive of Jordanian pilot Moaz al-Kasasbeh in a cage by the Islamic State (IS) may be the turning point in public opinion across the Arab world, certainly in Jordan. While Jordan immediately executed two al-Qaeda convicts, including failed female suicide bomber Sajida al-Rishawi, King Abdullah II curtailed an official visit to the US and vowed to pursue the IS till his military “runs out of fuel and bullets”. As part of the US-led coalition against the extremists, the stakes are high for Amman — and both Abdullah and his armed forces suddenly have a consolidation of public support.
Jordan had sought to secure Kasasbeh’s release in a swap involving Rishawi, but the pilot is believed to have been executed in early January. Also, the IS seemed more interested in the ransom for the two Japanese prisoners, one of whom was executed last week and the other presumably earlier. The IS’s execution videos are not meant to convince the international community about its brutality. They are, rather, an asymmetric messaging that seeks to create a sense of fear among the Arab public when, on the ground, the IS is suffering reverses — like its recent defeat in Kobani by the Kurdish Peshmerga — and cannot compete or invest in military hardware. And it isn’t that the videos aren’t having their effect — in Jordan, many are also asking Amman to quit the coalition, citing the UAE’s withdrawal after Kasasbeh’s capture in Syria last December.
Abdullah’s photos on social media — in air force gear, purportedly preparing to participate in air strikes — are reportedly old, but the US is still unable to undertake a successful hostage rescue mission in IS territory. The CentCom and the coalition will need to work out viable operations for hostages who remain in IS hands.