The “Saudi Dilemma” Mires Jordan in Syrian Quagmire
What exactly is the nature of Jordan’s position on the Syrian crisis? Is the Jordanian role in Syria really that ambiguous? Or is it known and just being deliberately overlooked?
Over the course of the crisis in Syria, Jordan’s role in its neighbor’s conflict has been ambiguous. At times, Jordan appeared inclined to support the regime in Syria. But at various other junctures, Jordan seemed to be drawn into the vision of its traditional allies, who want greater Jordanian involvement in the bid to topple Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
In recent months, what can be called an Emirati-Jordanian-Saudi alliance began to emerge, giving several indications that Jordan was lining up behind the Saudi plan to overthrow the Syrian regime from inside Syria. In practice, this means an unfettered influx of Saudi-funded, advanced weaponry through Jordan to Syria.
Furthermore, Jordanian combatants in Syria have said that they clearly felt that restrictions on them had been eased, whether in crossing the border or acquiring guns, not to mention the public boasting by some businessmen in Jordan of having raised large amounts of money for the militants in Syria.
Salman Bin Sultan: Amman’s Permanent “Guest”
The biggest evidence yet of the Jordanian shift is the long sojourn of Saudi Prince Salman bin Sultan, the newly appointed deputy defense minister. Salman was spotted in several places in Jordan surrounded by bodyguards, even as he personally supervised logistical preparations for Syria-bound fighters.
The prince is now residing in Amman and is known in business circles in Jordan as the go-to man when it comes to sending weapons to the Syrian opposition. Meanwhile, there are many reports indicating that Jordanian officials are directly implicated in purchasing weapons through middlemen who are used as a front for such operations.
The prince is now residing in Amman and is known in business circles in Jordan as the go-to man when it comes to sending weapons to the Syrian opposition. It is worth noting that Salman was also part of the so-called Syrian crisis management cell, which consisted of Jordan, the United States, Britain, France, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia. In the same vein, sources mention that the Saudi prince found Jordan to be fertile ground for his schemes.
Salman, who is Prince Bandar bin Sultan’s half-brother, found that there was agreement among the majority of the representatives of the crisis management cell on the subject of sending weapons to Syria, and also among the direct representatives from the Jordanian side, who expressed their desire to directly engage in the bid to topple the Syrian regime.
According to sources, the idea of military intervention is very popular among some members of the Jordanian diplomatic corps. Some high-level figures involved in the military scene seem very enthusiastic for decisive action in Syria, believing that complying with US plans is the gateway for securing any future role for Jordan.
The Jordanian Wing Coordinates With the US Push
The statement made recently by the Jordanian prime minister, regarding preparations for chemical warfare, clearly indicates that an important wing in the Jordanian government has endorsed the Saudi-American vision for Syria. It is intriguing that an alleged chemical attack took place in the Ghouta area near Damascus, less than two days after the Jordanian prime minister forestalled such eventualities.
To be sure, it is highly improbable that the Syrian regime would stage such attacks, given the current international climate and the presence of a UN team in Damascus to investigate previous instances of alleged chemical attacks. It is therefore likely that the Saudi-led camp may be involved in Ghouta’s incidents, whether in terms of preparation or execution.
As the proposed Geneva II peace conference appeared likely to be postponed, there were statements from Washington DC on US military presence along the Jordanian-Syrian border, as well as advanced weapons systems and even calls for deploying drones in Jordan under various pretexts. In this regard, official Jordanian statements at all levels betray the confusion in official circles.
For instance, an official Jordanian statement claimed that the weapons in question were there to protect refugees, while another said that the preparations were meant to counter chemical weapons in Syria. Concerning the latter point, another Jordanian statement purported that these preparations were not intended to be against the Syrian regime.
Jordan, which has stood behind the Saudi vision in Egypt, has no choice but to remain part of the Saudi-led camp, especially in relation to Syria. Generally speaking, practical US moves on Syria have created an ambiguous climate in Jordan’s political establishment, as evident from the inconsistent statements mentioned earlier. All this demonstrates the extent of divergence in the ranks of the Jordanian leadership, now divided into three camps: one that fully complies with US plans; one that is in a clear state of confusion; and a third that categorically refuses to be used as a tool for foreign plans.
All parties are concerned that the US may be planning to take steps aimed at fully implicating Jordan in a planned Syrian endgame, with the US administration attempting to carve out an opposition-controlled zone in Syrian territory. Most observers following the Syrian crisis maintain that this proposed zone will be in the northeast Jazira area.
Jazira has a strategic location along the borders with Turkey and Iraq, and is an agriculturally rich area producing crops like wheat, cotton, and rice. The region also has sizeable oil resources. In addition, the US administration believes it could use the social and ethnic composition of Jazira to its advantage.
Some may understand the US bid to exploit Jordan militarily, which has been gaining momentum recently, as the natural result of recent regional shifts, including in Egypt, not to mention the climate of apprehension that governs US relations with its allies, particularly in the Arabian Gulf.
For instance, the Saudis have recently come to realize that fully complying with the US vision may reflect negatively on them, and this may explain the Saudi position on the crisis in Egypt. There, the Saudis did not wait for the American side to formulate its stance on the developments taking place.
Jordan, which has stood behind the Saudi vision in Egypt, has no choice but to remain part of the Saudi-led camp, especially in relation to Syria. But while the Saudis are pursuing a policy of their own in Egypt, it is in complete agreement with the US in Syria. This is the heart of the “Jordanian dilemma.”
Meanwhile, these same rapid regional shifts have convinced the US that it should cling strongly to its last remaining card in the regional equation, namely, Jordan. One consequence is that the US wants to transform Jordan into a forward US military base and implicate it further against Syria.
The Dangers of the Saudi-Jordanian Alliance Internally
The emergence of a Saudi-Jordanian alliance may take a negative toll on Jordan internally, especially since the Syrian dossier has changed hands from Qatar to Saudi Arabia, which is likely to cause the Syrian crisis to spread beyond Syria’s border in a dramatic fashion.
In Syria as well, the Saudis have thrown into the mix Iraqi and Lebanese factions. Consequently, Jordan may be putting itself on a collision course with groups based in its neighboring countries, and may find itself the target of direct attacks. This is a source of concern for some circles in Jordan, since they believe that US adventures and alliances ultimately only give priority to US interests.
In the meantime, the biggest challenge for Jordan will be to cope with the repercussions of these adventures in Syria, which will also put Amman at the heart of the intrigue in negotiations over the Syrian crisis and the Palestinian issue, in a manner that will no doubt be inconsistent with Jordanian national interests.
Dr. Amer Al Sabaileh
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.