Friday,22 June, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1345, (18 - 24 May 2017)
Friday,22 June, 2018
Issue 1345, (18 - 24 May 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Enter Jordan?

Debate has started about Jordan’s intention to intervene in Syria despite the risk this presents for the government in Amman

Enter Jordan?
Enter Jordan?

Statements by Jordan’s King Abdullah II indicating that his country could intervene militarily in Syria have caused an uproar and triggered a war of words between Jordan and Syria.

Military movements on the border between the two countries have also raised suspicions about Jordan’s intentions, especially since some Syrian armed opposition groups have close political and military ties with Jordan.

The uproar started earlier this month when the Jordanian monarch said that “we will not allow developments in Syria to threaten Jordan. We will continue our policy of deep defence without the need to send the Jordanian army into Syria. The target is terrorist groups, most notably the Islamic State (IS).”

For five years Jordan has been adamant about finding a political solution to the Syrian conflict and has reiterated that it will not become directly involved in what is taking place on the other side of the border, despite fighting in Syria reaching border towns and villages.

While the country does not want to become involved in a conflict between regional and international rivals, King Abdullah declared that Jordan intended to reach “deep” into Syria if it perceived a threat to its territory.

Jordan said it would move northwards at a sensitive point of the Syrian conflict. The declaration has been taken as more than a show of force or a warning to forces in Syria that control the area separating Syria, Jordan and Israel where Syrian regime forces are fighting armed opposition groups alongside forces loyal to Iran.

Syrian Foreign Minister Waleed Al-Muallem warned that if Jordanian troops entered Syrian territory they would be considered “hostile,” while Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad declared Jordan “has been part of the US plot since the start of the war in Syria, and it is simply obeying US orders.”

Al-Assad claimed Jordan “is not an independent state and follows American orders. If the Americans want to use the northern area of Jordan against Syria, they will.” He further claimed that Jordan “is planning to deploy troops inside Syria in coordination with the US”.

Jordan issued a response from Minister of Information Mohamed Al-Moumani who described Al-Assad’s statements as “untruthful claims that indicate a dangerous misconception of the reality of the Syrian crisis”.

This is not the first time that the Syrian regime has accused Amman of plotting a ground invasion of Syria. This time, however, it coincided with military movements that favour the Free Syrian Army (FSA) at the expense of IS in several locations on the southern and eastern fronts in Syria.

There are also various military movements on the Syrian-Jordanian border and Jordan’s participation in the “Eager Lion” exercises with the US in preparation for launching Operation Yarmouk Shield in Deraa near the Jordanian border, which will be similar to Operation Euphrates Shield launched by Turkey on its Syrian border.

After IS lost much of the territory under its control in Syria in recent months, FSA fighters trained and armed in Jordan with the help of the US have launched attacks against the radical group. US and Swedish troops have participated in the attacks, and an operation to flush out jihadists from the Al-Hamad Desert has begun, an area in the southeast corner of Syria that begins some ten kilometres from Jordan.

According to FSA sources, when King Abdullah was in Washington recently an agreement was reached to create a force of Syrian opposition factions with the support of five countries that would be given modern arms and equipment. This force will head towards the town of Deir Al-Zor to liberate it from IS control, meaning southern and eastern Syria will come under US control.

There have been recent reports saying that Jordanian and US troops are present on the Jordanian-Syrian border, which could be a prelude for a campaign by rebels supported by Jordanian troops on the ground and Coalition forces.

Jordan is a small country whose strength comes from its relationship with the US, Britain and Saudi Arabia. Alone, it cannot impose solutions or conditions, but through its alliances with these countries it could be in a position to impose its ideas in the way that has been done by Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia and other countries in the region.

Jordan is trying to reconcile its principles of a political solution and non-military involvement and the pressure that have come from its allies amid a delicate political and economic situation.

Syrians are now talking about “zero hour” for Jordanian intervention in their country at the behest of the US. Its role in the coming battle will likely be limited to providing air cover for the armed opposition, since Amman has close ties to this. In the past, the FSA assisted the Jordanian forces in fighting off an attack by IS.

Jordan insists that the military movements near its border aim to prevent the expansion of IS and that it has been mobilising its troops as a pre-emptive move. It further argues that the militia group Khaled’s Army, which has pledged loyalty to IS, controls several villages in the Syria-Jordan-Israel triangle. Some Syrians believe, however, that it is taking these measures in order to create a safe zone on the border.

The Jordanians face other problems as southern Syria is teeming with militias friendly to the Syrian regime and Iran, most notably Hizbullah, Iraqi militias, and to a lesser degree Afghan militias, all of them directly linked to Iran.

Akram Khalif, a commander in the FSA, said that “Hizbullah militias are close to the Jordanian border, as well as to Israel. The US and its Gulf friends believe it is time to clip Iran’s wings in Syria.”

Jordanian officials believe the militias can be “neutralised” through Russian channels, especially since Amman and Moscow are on good terms. Pro-Iranian and Syrian regime militias are more dangerous than IS in Israel’s view, especially since they now have a greater presence around Al-Qanitra and the Western Deraa Province.

This could pose a threat to Israel’s border with Syria, making it more likely that IS and the Iranian militias will be expelled at the same time and benefitting both Jordan and Israel.

Many Syrians believe Jordan does not have the luxury of refusing a role in Syria if the US has asked it to play one, especially as the south of the country is one of the four zones of “de-escalation” decided at the Astana Conference earlier this month.

“If Jordan is asked, it will not involve its ground troops because of its sensitive domestic situation in terms of population and security,” according to Iyad Barakat, a colonel in the FSA.

“Many FSA factions in Syria are directly connected with Jordan, which has the power to put them under siege militarily or financially. The role of the Jordanian army will be to protect its border and prevent infiltration, and perhaps also to carry out air strikes, provide military bases, and give logistical support for attacking troops. If it does more than this, Jordan will sink in the Syrian swamp.”

Israel wants to eradicate IS, the Iranian militias and the Syrian regime on the southern front in Syria. It is looking for Syrian armed opposition groups that will accept the role of protecting Israel’s border, similar to those it earlier recruited in southern Lebanon.

Jordan is thus walking in a minefield. Any overlap of roles or mixing of agendas will expose it to an onslaught of accusations, smear campaigns and threats by radical groups, the Syrian regime and Iranian militias. This makes it difficult for it to take any steps in any direction and prevents it from embroiling its armed forces in the Syrian crisis.

Jordan will gain nothing by crossing into Syria, and it will only do so if it is forced to by the US. However, it will enter into a confrontation with the Syrian regime if the armed opposition chases out IS and takes over areas under its control and regime forces and Iranian militias then move to take back land from the opposition after the defeat of the terrorist group.

US policy now seems to be trying to confront everyone through intermediaries, confronting IS and the Iranian militias through Jordan, which in turn is resorting to a Syrian intermediary. This will be a long and bloody confrontation, and the main price will be paid not by the Americans or Jordanians, but by the Syrians alone.

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