Jordan Steps Up Support For Syrian Opposition

While Jordan has avoided directly provoking the Syrian regime by not overtly supporting the country’s opposition, this could all change with the arrival of Syrian opposition leader Ahmad al-Jarba.

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syrian, jordan, bashar al-assad

Aug 20, 2013

Last week, the head of the Syrian National Coalition (SNC) Ahmad al-Jarba visited Jordan. For three days, Amman hosted a significant number of Syrian opposition leaders who organized a series of unannounced political and military meetings, the latter of which saw the participation of Manaf Tlass and other senior Syrian army officers who have defected.

This development reveals a change in Jordan’s official position regarding the situation in Syria, especially after Jordan permitted Jarba to use Jordanian territory to enter Tel Shehab in Daraa and claim that the SNC will soon open a representative office in the Jordanian capital.

In spite of the Jordanian officials’ reservations about the term “representative office,” the recent cordiality extended to Jarba and to the opposition leaders in Amman reveal a shift in Jordan’s position, which still maintains minimum contacts with the Syrian regime out of fear of retaliation.

In this context, political sources in Jordan and Syria told Al-Hayat that over the past few weeks the Jordanian government has been under great pressure by Western and Gulf parties to gradually move closer to the “moderate” Syrian opposition, by providing its leaders with more political and logistical support on Jordanian territory, especially after Jarba became the SNC’s leader.

Jordanian official sources confirmed that Jordan was pressured. A prominent government minister told Al-Hayat, “It is true that we fear the scenario that will follow Bashar al-Assad’s [departure]. That [scenario] is represented by chaos and division. But we find ourselves obliged to support the moderate opposition, represented by Jarba, to counter the threat of radical organizations within the armed factions.”

During a charity event for Syrian refugees in the Jordanian capital, Jarba talked about his contacts with the Jordanian government and opening a representative office for the SNC. He asserted that there is a need to form the nucleus of a Syrian national army in northern and southern Syria. Jordanian security agencies have barred SNC leaders from taking any action aimed at overthrowing Assad through Jordanian territory.

During a meeting with a number of opposition leaders in the past few days, Jordan’s Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh confirmed his government’s move to support non-extremist Syrian forces.

It is not yet clear whether the change in the Jordanian position will affect the situation on the ground in Syria, especially after senior Free Syrian Army (FSA) leaders confirmed Amman’s refusal to allow weapons to reach the Syrian opposition through Jordanian territory.

But Rima Fleihan, a prominent Syrian opposition figure and a member of the SNC, told Al-Hayat that Jordan’s attitude is “looking more helpful day after day.” The leader of the FSA’s southern command, Bashar al-Zubi, told Al-Hayat that contacts between the armed opposition and Jordan are “still limited to facilitating the crossing of refugees, the wounded and aid ... What we hope today is that the change in Jordan’s position gets reflected in favor of the transfer of arms to the Syrian interior through [Jordan’s] territory.”

On the other hand, Jordanian political commentator Fahd al-Khaitan, who is close to the decision-making circles, told Al-Hayat that Amman has begun giving greater support to the SNC, especially after the arrival of Jarba as its leader. He added, “Jordan believes that Jarba is the most appropriate choice for the leadership of the coalition because he may contribute to the strengthening of moderate currents within the Syrian opposition at the expense of extremists.”

Regarding the possibility that the Jordanian position may shift from just political and diplomatic support to providing weapons, Khaitan said, “This kind of support may happen, but only within the solid arrangements with Saudi Arabia and America.”

It was recently announced that Jordan is seeking drones, which opened the door for speculation about the possibility of turning Amman, after Yemen and Pakistan, into another base for this type of US aircraft in order to counter the growing influence of “radical” organizations in Syria.

A Jordanian military source said that his country asked the US for drones because Jordanian officials are afraid that the al-Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra might threaten Jordanian territory after Assad’s fall.

He said that Jordan is concerned about the “growing size of Jabhat al-Nusra. And that this has spurred senior Jordanian officials to ask Washington for modern weapons, mostly drones, to monitor Jabhat al-Nusra’s members, whose influence near the Jordanian border has increased.”

The head of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey said a few days ago that Jordan has formally requested that the US provide Jordan with reconnaissance planes to help monitor its borders with Syria.

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