Jordan: Fears of getting sucked into Syrian crisis

26-06-2013 05:33 PM

By Osama Al Sharif/ Arab News

There are growing concerns among Jordanians that their country is slowly being sucked into the Syrian quagmire. Top officials have repeatedly stated that Jordan will not be used to launch a pre-emptive strike against the Syrian regime of President Bashar Assad.

On Saturday Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour told foreign journalists that the 900 US troops who are now stationed in Jordan are not part of a plan to wage war on Syria. He said that Amman is against any foreign intervention in Syria and will not allow any party to intervene in that country using Jordanian territory. The US says the troops are to remain in Jordanian territory until the security situation will allow their departure.

But only a week ago he told local journalists that that no American troops will remain in the kingdom after the “Eager Lion 2013” military exercises had ended. Earlier military officials brushed aside any connection between the annual exercises and talk about a military operation in Syria. But more than a month ago senior officials had denied that Jordan had requested Washington to send Patriot missile defense system to the country. Later they confirmed that such missiles, in addition to F-16 fighter jets, would remain in Jordan for an indefinite period upon the request of the Jordanian authorities.

And last week King Abdallah said, in a nationally televised speech before a group of cadets in a graduation ceremony at Mutah Military Academy, that the kingdom is able “at any moment” to protect its national interests. “If the world does not mobilize or help us in the issue (of Syria) as it should, or if this matter forms a danger to our country, we are able at any moment to take measures that will protect our land and the interests of our people,” he said.

Jordan currently hosts half a million Syrians and runs two refugee camps in the northern part of the country. Amman is an active member of the so-called “Friends of Syria” core group, which last May convened in the Jordanian capital. Relations between Syria and Jordan are tense at best and the latter has threatened to expel the Syrian ambassador to Amman because of his “un-diplomatic” behavior. Jordan’s economy has suffered as a result of the influx of Syrian refugees.

In addition, Jordanians are fearful of a sectarian confrontation that is now taking place in Syria between the predominantly Sunni opposition and the Shiite backers of the regime, namely Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah.
King Abdallah had warned, on more than one occasion, of a spillover of the Syrian war into neighboring countries. He supports a political solution in Syria.

But Jordan has been accused by Assad of allowing Jihadists to cross joint borders to join the opposition fighters. While Amman never admitted this, international media reports suggested that Jordan had allowed weapons heading for the opposition to pass through its territory. Recently there have been reports that the CIA is training Syrians in Jordan, but Ensour on Saturday firmly denied them.

The problem for Jordan is multifaceted. If the Syrian regime manages to quell the opposition and wins, it will seek reprisals against states that stood against it. Jordan, which shares hundreds of kilometers with Syria, is the most vulnerable among Damascus’ neighbors. Aside from economic repercussions, Amman could become a target of state terrorism.

On the other hand, if the regime falls Jordan will worry about geopolitical, demographic and economic changes. The fact that there are many radical Islamists associated with the opposition, such as Al-Nusra Front, may bring sectarian violence closer to home. Jordan is predominantly Sunni country with an active Salafist movement. The Salafists of Jordan have reiterated that many of their volunteers are fighting with the Syrian opposition.

Even if the crisis continues Jordan will feel the heat from the Syrian conflict in many ways; more refugees, the repatriation of militants, sectarian tensions, regional instability and additional economic burdens.

And now that the prospects of a political solution, in the form of a second Geneva convention, appear dim, the anti-Assad coalition has agreed in Doha this week to send “balance changing” weapons to the opposition. Jordan’s position on this issue remains unclear.

Regardless of how the Syrian crisis unfolds in the coming weeks, Jordan is feeling uneasy. The king’s reference to the Jordan’s ability to defend itself and the presence of US troops and jet fighters in the country have raised fears that Jordan is more vulnerable today to unfolding events in Syria than it has ever been. For now there is a semblance of calm in the country, but under this thin layer of tranquility there is a grave sense of apprehension.

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