Although he has been ruler of Jordan since 1999, his profile rose this week after the harrowing death of a Jordanian pilot at the hands of IS militants.
The videotaped immolation of Lt. Moaz el-Kasasbeh prompted a defiant statement of revenge, from the king, manifested so far in the execution of two convicted Iraqi terrorists and a robust involvement by the Jordanian Royal Air Force in U.S.-led coalition airstrikes on IS targets in Iraq and Syria. Abdullah, 53, leads a progressive, Western-leaning Muslim country that is nonetheless a constitutional monarchy and among the smallest and poorest in the Middle East, with a reputation for a lack of freedom of the press. He commands a military force considered among the strongest in the Middle East, yet his rule is regarded as vulnerable -- to Syria, to IS and to criticism within his country.
Photographs of the king, on the royal website and elsewhere, portray him in military fatigues with a no-nonsense attitude of leadership. This week, his reputation as a forceful enemy of IS has grown, as Western powers have been conflicted over policy. Declaring al-Kasasbah a martyr and condemning IS as a perversion of Islam, Abdullah is the singular figure to emerge in the Arab world as the personification of all that IS -- with its goal of a Middle Eastern caliphate and medieval adherence to Islamic ideas -- opposes.
Abdullah himself is a confluence of East and West. Born in 1962 to King Hussein and his British wife, the former Antoinette Gardner and later Princess Muna al-Hussein, he was educated in Jordan, at private schools in England and at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, Britain's West Point. He attended Oxford and later, Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.
A trained member of the Jordanian Army's Special Forces, he is qualified to fly Black Hawk helicopters.
He qualifies as the modern world's view of a sophisticated man of action, and had an uncredited walk-on role in a 1996 "Star Trek" episode.
Then there is his royal Muslim side.
His family claims he is a 41st-generation descendant of the Prophet Mohammed. When the "Arab Spring" shook the Middle East in 2011, Jordan adopted liberalized laws regarding public freedom, but left in place laws blocking access to over 300 news websites, claiming the necessity to protect security. Although a half-million Syrian refugees have entered Jordan, some were deported after a refugee camp protest.
The king is a curious mix of Islam, the West, Hollywood and modern public relations. In his fury over IS, U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter, Jr., R-Calif., said Abdullah told him: "He said there is going to be retribution like ISIS hasn't seen. He mentioned 'Unforgiven,' and he mentioned Clint Eastwood, and he actually quoted a part of the movie."
Photographs of the king in battle fatigues, posted on social media this week but actually taken eight months ago, prompted Internet rumors he would participate in aerial attacks against IS. The rumors were untrue, but no one doubts their plausibility.