Iran has made economically and financially strangled Jordan a tempting offer: to provide the Jordanian people with free oil for 30 years. Jordan’s oil bill of $2.5 billion a year is one of the biggest drivers of the budget deficit, and oil subsidies have been the heaviest burden on successive governments’ budgets.
However, reducing these subsidies was one of the main reasons for widespread protests and uprisings against the government. Since the start of the Arab Spring, the Jordanian regime has resisted many popular movements, which have been until recently limited to demands to “reform the regime.”
Demands for the regime’s ouster only began after the government was forced to end fuel subsidies. This measure took a toll on vast segments of society, particularly those in the low-income bracket, which is the largest socioeconomic group in the kingdom. This means that the Arab Spring isn’t threatening the status quo in Jordan. However, fuel prices are the factor that raised these threats to such an extraordinary point.
Over the past two years, Jordan’s neighbors have been observing the tide of the Arab Spring in Jordan’s cities. The Jordanian people share with the rest of the Arab Spring countries demands of combatting rampant corruption, achieving social justice, promoting democracy and conducting real reforms of their political regime.
However, the real deterioration seems to reside in the fuel bill, among others. The Jordanian regime is currently standing at a crossroads, especially since no magic solutions are looming in the horizon. In short, the survival and sustainability of the regime is now at stake.
Over the last two years, neighbors of Jordan, particularly the Gulf countries, have not done what was hoped of them to support the Jordanian government and people and maintain the country’s stability,which everybody agrees is important.
Then, after all that, Iran comes along and throws Jordan a lifeline in the form of a great and tempting offer. It doesn’t take a lot of intelligence and analysis to realize that the Iranian offer is not a gift, free of political aspirations. Iran seeks to expand its regional influence, which it believes is threatened by the Syrian revolution, and it wants to find an alternative foothold in the region.
Iran is directly present in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Lebanon and indirectly — by means of supporting local parties — in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia’s eastern provinces.
Iran now wants to add Jordan to its regional areas of influence. The offer says that all what Iran wants in return is for Jordan to open the door for “religious tourism” and allow Iranians to visit the shrines of Prophet Muhammad’s companions in Jordan.
Of course, it would be naive to believe that Iran is willing to spend billions in Jordan and give the country an annual grant equal to what the United States gives Egypt just so that Jordan permits Iranian pilgrims to visit these graves.
Iran also knows that everyone is aware of its offer’s true intentions, that the Jordanian government and people know Iran’s tentacles now extend to them as well. But despite the perception that it is attempting to exploit this critical period in Jordan, Tehran is boldly making this offer.
It is as if it wants to say to Jordan: "You are at a crossroads, and you have to choose between stability and the preservation of the regime or accepting Iranian help and gradually allowing more Iranian influence in Jordan.
During moments of life-and-death struggle, nations and political regimes behave like living organisms. They are willing to do anything to survive. They no longer have any taboos and may instantly switch alliances. History shows that nations are willing to do anything in order to survive. So it should not be surprising that there are voices inside the Jordanian government and among the Jordanian people that welcome the Iranian offer as a long-term solution for Jordan’s crises. Those voices will claim that the Arab countries, especially the Gulf states, have abandoned Jordan in the face of the storms of the Arab Spring.
The ray of hope represented by inviting Jordan and Morocco to join the Gulf Cooperation Council quickly faded when that invitation was rescinded. Jordan, which for decades gave the Gulf states human resources in education, medicine and engineering, now finds itself abandoned. In spite of the financial support that the Gulf countries used to provide it, Jordan has never achieved security and stability.
In contrast to the Gulf foot-dragging, Iran provides support for other countries in order to further its regional influence. When Iran supports a certain country in spite of Iran’s weak economy as compared to GCC economies, its support is strong, solid and effective. The examples of this are numerous: Syria, Iraq, Hezbollah, the Houthis in Yemen and others.
Jordanians in favor of the Iranian offer will use Iran’s support for the Syrian regime as an example. They will point out how Iran considers the war in Syria its own and fights it with all its strength through funding, weapons and diplomatic support, while Arab and Gulf support for the Syrian revolution doesn’t rise to that level. The conclusion will thus be the following: When Iran supports a country, it gives it solid and unhesitating backing.
So the big question in Jordan today is directed specifically at the Gulf states. What will be their response to the Iranian offer? Will they offer a serious alternative that will settle the matter? Or will they be hesitant and maintain their timid and inadequate support?
It is true that the Gulf does not believe that Jordan will become an Iranian ally overnight, but if Jordan merely accepts the Iranian offer, even if unconditionally, then Iranian influence will inevitably grow in the region.