Syrian Crisis Threatens Jordan’s Stability, Security

While Jordanian officials remain optimistic that a political solution will succeed in Syria, there are growing concerns that the Syrian war will threaten the country’s stability and security.

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us-jordan relations, syrian, assad

May 14, 2013

Circumstances seem to have caused Jordan to grow concerned over the ongoing conflict in its northern neighbor, Syria. They also push the kingdom to fear that the bloody conflict might reach its territory, or that radical Islamists in the ranks of the armed opposition could threaten the kingdom’s security.

Amman is fearful as a result of conflicting information on Syria’s stockpile of chemical weapons, and the [possibility that] the country could fragment into conflicting sectarian statelets later in 2013.

While he was hosting the new members of parliament at al-Hummar Palace (west of Amman) last week, King Abdullah of Jordan said, “We have taken all measures to guarantee the kingdom’s security and stability,” without giving details on these measures.

He noted that Jordan has made intensified diplomatic efforts to find a comprehensive political solution that “prevents the partition or collapse of Syria.” During his recent visit to the United States, the king presented several undeclared scenarios in this regard. This comes while Jordanian officials sent final signs to the regime of [Syrian] President Bashar al-Assad, via Iran’s Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, who visited Amman a few days ago.

Amman is afraid of the possibility that the Muslim Brotherhood could rule in Syria in the post-Assad phase, which would probably encourage the group’s Jordanian branch — the most prominent opposition movement in the country.

Members of the delegation that accompanied the king in his visit to Washington told Al-Hayat that the king “demanded the US administration to lead a strong political movement that tightens the noose on Assad, [pushing him to] abandon power by 2014, and if Assad refuses to give up his position, the moderate Syrian opposition (the Free Syrian Army) should be enabled to settle the confrontation on the ground, by providing it with training, arms and air cover, if necessary.”

They added that the US-Jordan talks “revealed a severe division on the Syrian situation within the ruling circles in Washington, and confusion in defining its strategic interests.”

They said that US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel stands as a bulwark against any military intervention, unless it is proved that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons. The meetings showed the enthusiasm of US Secretary of State John Kerry for a US intervention that simulates the way they went about Yugoslavia, that is, aerial strikes paralyzing the regime.

Washington and Moscow hope to convene an international conference to find a political settlement to the Syrian crisis, which will be based on the Geneva Accord that was reached at the end of June 2012.

Yet, the initiative — even if it calls for the formation of a transitional government with full powers — does not explicitly express the fate of the Syrian president.

They pointed out that the king warned US officials that Syria may disintegrate into conflicting sectarian statelets, if its crisis is not resolved before the end of the year.

Political analyst Fahd Khaitan, a member of the accompanying delegation, said that the king “fears that neglecting the Syrian situation could lead to a disaster.” Khaitain noted that the possibility of a political solution has “started to become slimmer,” and that “there must be a strong US position” to reach an understanding with Russia, in order to achieve a comprehensive political solution.

He added, “The US-Jordanian meetings stressed the need to organize the Syrian opposition, unify its positions, work intensively with the moderate national parties, and politically and militarily rehabilitate them, if necessary. Yet, Jordan emphasized its rejection to a direct military intervention, under any circumstances.”

The Jordanian government repeatedly said that the mission of US troops on Jordanian territory is “limited to training and planning, in order to assist in dealing with the potential threat of chemical weapons.”

There are three chemical weapons storage facilities near the Syrian-Jordanian border, according to Jordanian intelligence.

Last week, Iran’s foreign minister visited Amman, met with senior officials and gave them a message demanding that they remain neutral toward any potential military action against Syria. This is in order to prevent the infiltration of Islamist militants to its territory and look for joint political solutions to resolve its crisis. This was confirmed by diplomatic sources that spoke to Al-Hayat.

The sources said that Salehi’s meetings with Jordanian officials “did not make any significant achievements in the Syrian crisis or in cooling relations between the two countries.”

Over the past years, Jordan has not appointed an ambassador in Tehran. It did, however, maintain its embassy there. The same applies to the Iranian embassy in Amman.

The same sources said that Jordan “gave the Iranian official verbal and final signs [to be delivered] to the Syrian regime. These signs emphasize Jordan's position calling for a comprehensive political solution that is committed to a limited period of time not exceeding the end of the year.”

Through the visit, Jordan clearly sought to hear any new initiatives and get outstanding answers from the Iranian allies of Assad.

Some Iranian websites attacked the visit, including Iran Berto, which said that the visit “is linked to the potential Jordanian role, [seen] as an introduction to any military action against Syria.”

Former spokesman for the Jordanian government, Minister Samih Maaytah, told Al-Hayat that Jordan “has become a key player in reaching a comprehensive political solution.”

He explained that his country “seeks to remain optimistic about the chances for success of a political solution. However, they will not rule out the idea of ​​resorting to a military escalation if the Syrian regime insists on its position.”

Jordan currently hosts nearly 540,000 Syrian refugees, the majority of whom are poor. This is equivalent to nearly 10% of Jordan’s population, which stands at 7 million. While some refugees live in camps, the majority reside in Jordanian towns and cities.

In Al-Zaatri refugee camp in the north of the country — which is the largest Syrian refugee camp in the world, according to the United Nations — the war has left its scars on residents.

Ahmed Daraawi (58), who fled a southern Syrian village with his family, said, “We hope to return home, and that the Assad regime falls sooner rather than later. Life in this prison (the camp) is no longer bearable.”

Mohammed Aba Zayd (46), who fled the heavy shelling on the village of Busra al-Harir, near Daraa, with his wife and six children, said, “We have suffered from hunger and deprivation. My children have chronic chest disease, and one of them has suffered from acute kidney failure.”

Jordan’s position is very risky regarding the Syrian regime, which accused it more than once of sending sleeper cells into its territory. Moreover, it fears that radical militants will rise to power in Syria. These extremists view the Hashemite Kingdom and the Syrian regime alike with hatred.

In the city of Zarqa — located a few kilometers from Amman, and considered the stronghold of Salafist groups — jihadist leader Munif Samara told Al-Hayat that the Jordanian government “fears the Jordanian jihadists will return and declare [their intent to] fight here.”

He added that the full control over the Syrian-Jordanian border has “limited the flow of hundreds of militants over the last weeks and days.”

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