Once again, Syria's leader Bashar al-Assad has pointed an accusing finger at Jordan, claiming that the security-concerned kingdom is planning to deploy troops in his war-torn country.
Assad made his allegations in an interview Friday with Russia's news website Sputnik during which he accused Jordan of coordinating its military deployment plans with the Washington. Assad was very brief in his allegations on Jordan only saying: "We have such information, but anyway Jordan was part of the American plan since the beginning of the war in Syria."
Amman's response to Assad was brief as well with the government spokesperson Mohammad al-Momani who dismissed the claims of the embattled president's as "baseless" and reiterating Jordan's push for a political solution to Syria's six-year-old conflict.
The story ended calmly at this stage with no escalation of rhetoric from Amman on Damascus simply because Jordan is used to such accusations from Assad and his officials. Since the early beginning of Syria's ongoing conflict, Damascus has been always accusing Amman of sending fighters and arms to rebels in southern Syria; not only to the Free Syrian Army but, strangely enough, to the Nusra Front and other extremist groups. But I really wonder here: Would the military situation in southern Syria be as it is now if Jordan, in cooperation with the U.S., had really opened its almost 400 kilometers borders with Syria as Damascus always claims?
Jordan's official position on Syria has mostly remained unchanged advocating a political solution to the ongoing war thereRaed Omari
Assad told Sputnik news that Damascus has "intelligence information" on Jordan's plans to deploy troops in Syria but what was put as a secret report by the Damascus ruler has been in fact the subject of much speculation and analysis in international press after king Abdullah's meeting with President Trump and UK Theresa May's visit to Amman earlier this month. Several news agencies and political analysts have touched upon the possibility of Jordan changing its neutral position and its 'delicate balancing' of the international dynamics of the Syrian conflict with some of them even expecting Amman to send troops to southern Syria.
But Jordan's official position on Syria has mostly remained unchanged advocating a political solution to the ongoing war there. Amman, a strategic Washington's ally, has even kept communication channels with Moscow and was the only Arab country attending the Astana talks. Amman's position on Syria has also been described as "vague" and, at times, "pragmatic" by key regional and international players, especially members of the anti-Assad camp but concerns of security spillover from Syria coupled with political, economic and demographic troubles have all obliged Jordan to remain cautious supporting neither the regime nor the opposition.
However, Jordan has grown daring on Syria placing security as its first and foremost priority mainly after the emergence of ISIS and its affiliates and considering that the ISIS-affiliate Khalid bin Walid Army has secured a strong foothold inside the Syrian territory just few kilometers from its northern and eastern borders. It is never a secret that most of the Jordanian army is stationed on the northern and eastern border line with the war-torn Syria and Iraq all to prevent ISIS from penetrating southward and westward into Jordan, especially after the bloody attacks of the ultra-radical groups on the Jordanian border guards last summer.
Jordan, which is an active member in the U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition, has launched a number of airstrikes unilaterally against the militant group's posts inside Syria with its army vowing to attack "terrorist" targets whenever and wherever they are.
The Rubkan camp
Jordan's major concern now is the Rukban refugee camp for displaced Syrians in its northeast borders with Syria. According to the Jordanian army, ISIS has more than 2000 agents inside the camp which has become home to around 80,000 refugees since the outbreak of the conflict. Following the ISIS-claimed suicide car bombing attack that killed six Jordanian troops in June 2016, Jordan designated its border areas with Syria as "closed military zones" and sealed the Rukban border crossing.
Participating in a media tour to northeast borders with Syria just five kilometers from the Rukban camp, I have been told by the Jordanian border guards' commander that the makeshift camp and no man's land between Jordan and Syria are "full of ISIS members, mostly from Raqqa, awaiting the go-ahead from their leaders to attack Jordan." Journalists were also told that the Khalid bin Walid Army is active in the massive desert areas between Jordan, Syria and Iraq.
The talk nowadays, although still not publicly announced, is about Jordan supporting or creating the so-called 'Jaysh al-Ashaer' (the tribes' army) inside Syria to fight ISIS and protect the Rukban makeshift camp that has grown from 368 shelters to 8,295 this month, according to Amnesty.
With the absence of protection for the Rukban camp by the Syrian regime or the opposition thus leaving the huge facility vulnerable to ISIS's penetration and exploitation, the least expected from Jordan is to take precautionary measures to prevent the group from expanding in the camp that is becoming a real nightmare for Jordan. This concern is no secret at all and it was expressed by Jordan's Joint Chiefs-of-Staff Lt. Gen. Mahmoud Freihat during an interview with the BBC Arabic in December last year when he raised the alarm of possible sleeper ISIS cells among hundreds of thousands who came from Raqqa, and are currently living in refugee settlements close to the Kingdom’s borders, such as Rakban.
"The ISIS-affiliate Jaysh Khalid bin Al Waleed group, near the Golan Heights, is very close to the Jordanian border, and it has tanks, armoured vehicles and other weapons that would reach the Jordanian side," Freihat said, stressing readiness to deal with any threat.
To make the long story short, Jordan's position in Syria is still advocating a political solution to its ongoing war but, in case of security spillovers or any ISIS's threats, Jordan, I think, will act swiftly and daringly and will not wait for international peace conferences on Syria to convene.
Raed Omari is a Jordanian journalist, political analyst, parliamentary affairs expert, and commentator on local and regional political affairs. His writing focuses on the Arab Spring, press freedoms, Islamist groups, emerging economies, climate change, natural disasters, agriculture, the environment and social media. He is a writer for The Jordan Times, and contributes to Al Arabiya English. He can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @RaedAlOmari2