Jordan’s overland trade has largely been paralyzed by recent border attacks from insurgents in neighboring Syria and Iraq - a spillover of regional turmoil threatening a close Western ally that has thus far succeeded in fending off Islamic militants.
The violence has forced the closure of the only Syria-Jordan trade crossing and further disrupted already sharply diminished cargo shipments between Jordan and Iraq. Thousands of trucks sit idle, traders are scrambling for new transport routes and the government says Jordan's economy is losing tens of millions of dollars a month.
“Iraq is closed, Syria is closed, only the (route to the) Gulf is left,” said truck driver Firas Zoabi, who has lost most of his business in recent weeks because of blocked or treacherous crossings.
In this picture taken on Sunday, April 26, 2015, Jordanian trailer trucks sit idle at Jaber border crossing between Jordan and Syria north of Mafraq, Jordan. Jordan's overland trade has largely been paralyzed by recent border attacks from insurgents in neighboring Syria and Iraq - a spillover of regional turmoil threatening a close Western ally that has thus far succeeded in fending off Islamic militants. (AP Photo/Raad Adayleh)
The border disruptions are the latest setback for Jordan since the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011 - and particularly since Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants seized large areas of Syria and Iraq last year. Unemployment and the cost of living are up, driven in part by the influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees from Syria’s civil war, while tourism, direct foreign investment and trade have dropped.
Jordan’s exports decreased nearly 17 percent in the first two months of this year, compared to the same period in 2014 - and that was before the most recent troubles.
Jordananian border security protect the boarder to Syria as fighting continues in the background (AP)
This week, trucks transported goods and raw materials out of the zone as entrepreneurs tried to salvage their inventory.
“There is no future here, it’s finished,” said Iraqi businessman Wathiq al-Abadi, 45, as he oversaw the dismantling of a $10 million soft drink factory he set up in the zone six years ago.
At the time, he had hoped the area would be safer than his violence-wracked homeland. However, fighting in Syria and Iraq badly hurt sales and the rebel takeover accelerated al-Abadi's plans, hatched before the closure of the crossing, to leave the zone.
Al-Abadi is now shipping his factory to southern Iraq on dozens of flatbed trucks - taking a roundabout route through Saudi Arabia and Kuwait to avoid the treacherous Jordan-Iraq crossing that leads into ISIS-held areas.
ISIS land grabs
In this Sunday, April 26, 2015, photo, Jordanian trucker Firas Zoabi, 39, drives out of a free trade zone next to the closed Syrian-Jordanian cargo crossing in Mafraq, Jordan. “Iraq is closed, Syria is closed, only the (route to the) Gulf is left,” said Zoabi, who has lost most of his business in recent weeks because of blocked or treacherous crossings. (AP Photo/Raad Adayleh)
Zoabi, the driver, pulled out of the trade zone with a truck load of canned corn, his first assignment since the closure of the crossing. Seventeen family members depend on him financially, including two in university, said Zoabi, 39, adding that he still needs to pay off his truck loan at $1,000 a month.
Most of the 5,000 trucks that used to drive to Syria and Iraq are now idle, said Mohammed Daoud, head of the Jordanian Truckers' Union.
Before the ISIS land grabs last June, about 700 truckers ferried cargo between Jordan and Iraq, Daoud said. That number has steadily dropped with the rising risks along the highway that runs through ISIS-held areas between the border and central Iraq. Non-Sunni drivers risk being abducted or killed at ISIS checkpoints.
Members of the Jordanian government forces patrol the border with Syria near the Nasib crossing in the town of Jaber, north of Mafraq, Jordan, Thursday, April 2, 2015. Syrian rebels and fighters from the al-Qaida-affiliated Nusra Front captured the only functioning border crossing with Jordan and three nearby military posts, prompting Syrian government bombing raids on the area, activists said Thursday. The Jordanian government had closed the Nasib crossing Tuesday night for security reasons. (AP Photo/Raad Adayleh)
The troubles have also spread to Lebanon, which relies on the Syrian-Jordanian trade crossing for exports to the Gulf. Exports of produce and manufactured goods have dropped by 50 percent, Ziad Bikdash of the Lebanese Industries Union told local media.
Jordan's crossing with Syria will only reopen if the security situation stabilizes, said government spokesman Mohammed Momani. That seems unlikely as long as the rebels, including fighters from the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front, are there.
The trade minister, Ali, said the government is looking for alternative routes and new export markets, but noted that trading by sea - from Jordan’s Red Sea port of Aqaba - costs more and would make Jordanian products less competitive.
Jawad Anani, a former economics minister, said there are no quick solutions.
“We have to look for other markets, in East Africa, or in Russia, but we don’t have established routes of trade with those countries. It will take time to build an infrastructure of relations.”