Anxious over al-Qaeda in Syria, Jordan remains neutral

Raed Omari
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It is out of concerns over an increasing possibility of Islamic fundamentalists taking power in Syria that Jordan has been maintaining a neutral position towards the ongoing armed conflict in its northern neighbor, especially with the more than two years of war between the Syrian opposition and President Bashar al-Assad's forces notably turning into a clash of ideologies.

With the situation in Syria transforming rapidly from peaceful demonstrations into bloody and unrestrained confrontations between opposition groups and the state security forces, thousands of rebel factions have joined the war against the regime since 2011.

The armed revolution against Assad's regime began with secular and moderate coalitions fighting for democracy and freedom but it is local and foreign religious extremists are now taking predominance and prevalence in Syria - paramount of which is the fundamentalist group al-Nusra Front - leaving Jordan as much in doubt as the U.S. and other western countries, concerned over a post-Assad Syria.

No absolute enemies and maintaining good terms with the neighbors, are among the major constituents of Jordan's foreign policy.

Raed Omari

Jordan's official position towards the revolution in Syria used to be more daring in the beginning, leaning more to the opposition and declaring support for the Syrians' legitimate demands of freedom and democracy but, though no official statements have been made that say otherwise, the kingdom insistently advocates a political solution to the crisis.

Rise of radicalism and extremism

Jordan, a home for thousands of jihadists Salafis with open borders with Syria extending to more than 400 kilometers, is concerned mostly about Syria fundamentalist groups growing into a large and highly trained fighting and ideological force, fearing that Jordanian Salafis, Syrians and Arabs with past jihadists leanings may extend the Islamist militants' so-called "holy war" to other countries.

News reports carried by local and international news agencies have cited Syrian jihadist Salafi groups as pushing to carry out military acts in Jordan and other countries and this, coupled with the belief that the Jordanian jihadist Salafi movement is now the largest foreign contributor of militants to Syria, stands behind the kingdom's concerns about the Syrian revolution and its neutral position.

Islamist sources have told a Jordanian newspaper that there are some 350 Jordanians currently fighting alongside Jihadist forces in Syria with around 100 of them rising to leadership ranks.

Jordan, when it comes to the situation in Syria, is still preoccupied with the consequences of the post-Saddam Hussein Iraq, when a group of al-Qaeda-affiliated jihadists penetrated its intelligence agency, believed to be among the strongest in the world, and carried out terrorist attacks in Amman that claimed the lives of many people.

Definitely, with Syria it is much more complicated taking into consideration the "open-border policy" of the kingdom that hosts, according to official figures, around 700,000 Syrian refugees.

The change in Jordan's position towards the Syrian revolution has to do also with the failure and reluctance of the international community, especially the U.S. and the Europeans, to take decisive action that would put an end to the Syrian violence and with the Syrian opposition gradually losing its allure and cohesion as a results of the growing disputes among its contingents.

It is not expected from Jordan, seeing all its strategic allies, mainly the U.S and the Gulf states, still taking no decisive action to end the struggle in Syria, torn between the humanitarian crisis of the Syrians and their democracy quest, concerns over the threats of radicalism and extremism and the Russians' relentless and solid support of Assad.

Jordan has been believed by many countries, supporting the Syrian opposition, as not doing enough politically and, at times militarily, to help speed up the win of the opposition groups' war against Assad forces to the point that some Jordanian senior officials, deputies and statesmen have started accusing some courtiers, mainly Egypt, of exercising pressure on the Kingdom to change its neutral approach to Syria.

For Jordan, the scene in Syria has become multi-faceted. The Syrian people have legitimate rights to realize but a fragmented and fundamentalist groups with no unified and coherent vision would leave the kingdom's northern border in prolonged chaos and violence.

In the light of such a complicated scene of divided opposition with little support from the West fighting Russians-backed regime's forces, neutrality with a focus on a political solution would be the best mechanism for a country like Jordan burdened with more economic and security troubles as a result of the unresolved Syrian dilemma.

No absolute enemies and maintaining good terms with the neighbors are among the major constituents of Jordan's foreign policy.

Earlier this month, Jordan's minister of media affairs and government spokesperson Samih Maaytah has reaffirmed the kingdom's neutral position to the struggle in Syria in response to contradicting news reports claiming that Jordan is providing fuel to Syrian regime and that the Jordanian Armed Forces are training Syrian opposition fighters in cooperation with foreign militaries.

"Since the Syrian crisis broke out, we maintained a neutral position, supporting a diplomatic and peaceful solution to the problem. In parallel, we have undertaken a humanitarian responsibility towards the Syrian refugees who sought refuge in the kingdom."

Al-Nusra Front, Ahl al-Sham

Jordan's concerns over the Syrian rebels straying away from moderation into radicalism have to do with the story of the al-Nusra Front.

Al-Nusra Front – a radical jihadists group blacklisted by the U.S as a terrorist organization – has been said to have links with al-Qaeda, compelling western powers supporting the Syrian opposition to think twice before sending advanced weapons to the rebel groups fighting the regime's forces.

The well-funded al-Nusra Front, that is also said to be part of the global jihadists network, lies at the heart of Jordan's strategic alliance with the U.S. in the fight against terrorism.

Jordanian jihadist Salafis hail al-Nusra fighters, praising their victories on the front lines of the war against Assad forces.

Most of the Jordanians fighting in Syria have been said to work for al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front under leadership posts due to their previous military experience in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Both Jordan and the U.S. and Damascus, of course, perceive Jabhat al-Nusra as a terrorist organization that poses threats to regional and world security.

Jordanian officials claim that Islamist groups in Syria, mainly Jabhat al-Nusra, represent an emerging threat to the regional security, giving the Kingdom's security forces foiling of a terror plot on diplomatic sites in Amman by a group of Jordanian jihadiststs as an example of the fundamentalists' growing threats.

Yes, Jordan has notably become more conservative, holding a cautious position towards the ongoing campaign against Damascus due to growing threat of the extremist groups, the international community's inability to find a solution to the 23-month-old conflict in Syria and the uncertainty engulfing the consequences of the war.

Jordan prefers to remain neutral to both the opposition and the regime despite the temptations by Assad's allies, including Iraq, Iran and Russia, and the pressure of western powers on the kingdom to play an influential role in the conflict, though implicitly.

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 [email protected], or on Twitter @RaedAlOmari2

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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