The unprecedented escalation on the Jordanian-Syrian border is prophesying war but, paradoxically yet reasonably, Jordan’s public line remains unchanged. They are still urging for a peaceful transition of power in the war-torn Syria.
Coinciding with king Abdullah’s recent visit to the U.S, forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have been launching fierce attacks on opposition-held positions in Syria’s southern city of Daraa – many of them very close to the border with Jordan.
But that was not a matter of coincidence at all. The Syrian regime’s intensified shellings of the Syrian Free Army’s strongholds in Daraa were no doubt a “counteraction” against a possible Jordanian-U.S plan to set up a buffer zone in southern Syria with the help of the rebels who are said to have received American-sponsored training in Jordan.
Jordanians living in the northern cities of Ramtha and Mafraq, on the border with Syria, have been recently reporting about tens of mortar shells from Syria falling on the nearby fields and, at times, populated areas.
People in these two cities, which host the largest number of Syrian refugees, have also been complaining about not-too-distant explosions in Daraa shaking their houses and breaking glass.
According to Jordanian border guards, the heavy presence of government’s forces in Syria’s border towns, especially Daraa, is something unfamiliar. For them, the Syrian army used to pull out of such small towns– except of course for the border crossings – and relocate northward to the densely populated cities.
Who is afraid of Bashar al-Assad?
Inseparable from the scene is Assad’s recent threats to Jordan.
In recent remarks to the press, Assad, alarmed by news reports about Jordan-U.S joint training of some 3000 Syrian rebels, warned Amman of a spillover, threatening that the violence devouring his country would not be confined to Syria alone.
Assad’s intensification of attacks on opposition-held positions in Daraa, with his jet fighters reportedly striking the rebels at low altitude, is just but part of his threat to JordanRaed Omari
Assad’s intensification of attacks on opposition-held positions in Daraa, with his jet fighters reportedly striking the rebels at low altitude, is just but part of his threat to Jordan. It can be interpreted almost as a plea to remain neutral and avoid “playing with fire.”
Not only that, some newspapers – actually tabloids - loyal to the embattled president have recently carried news reports about an Iranian-Syrian plan to strike the kingdom with long-range missiles as a punishment for allowing the U.S to deploy 200 of its troops in Jordan.
As part of its cautious diplomacy, Jordan’s government has explained that the presence of the U.S. forces is not in any way against any country and is simply part of Jordanian-U.S military cooperation. However, what is certain is that they came to prepare for possible Syrian chemical attacks against the kingdom.
Despite this, it is not in the interests of the embattled Assad to open a new front with the U.S-backed Jordan, a country that has a disciplined army and enjoys strong diplomatic relations with all countries of the world, even the pro-Assad camp, including Russia.
All in all, Jordan’s official rhetoric on Syria will remain neutral as it used to be – at least for a while - advocating a peaceful solution to the ongoing violence sweeping its northern neighbor, despite its consequences on Jordanian security and the Syrian regime’s “hostile discourse” and surprisingly, yet expectedly, provocative actions.
Give diplomacy a chance
Diplomacy sometimes can do what politics and a far-reaching military action cannot. Jordan’s recent request of U.N.Security Council “action” on the Syrian refugee crisis is an indication of the kingdom’s growing eagerness to push for an international consensus to end the Syrian unrest that is affecting its security.
The resource-poor Jordan, currently hosting around 500,000 Syrian refugees, has become restless with the international community’s inaction on Syria and thus resorted to diplomacy in an attempt to break the so far unbreakable Syrian dilemma.
Although Jordan has requested that the Syrian crisis be dealt with humanitarianly and politically, Assad’s regime will see this as an attempt by Jordan to push for a buffer zone and will most likely escalate violence on the border, if not inside Jordan, to thwart such a move.
But Jordan’s asking the Security Council for an action on the non-stop exodus of refugees and the U.S. President Barack Obama’s reported willingness to send lethal weapons to Syrian rebels is not a coincidence.
The two moves indicated the emergence of serious action on the ground to end the struggle in Syria that has so far claimed the lives of thousands of people. Humanity counts.
For Jordan, the greatest threat is not the Syrian army but the international community’s inaction on the Syrian turmoil.
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@example.com, or on Twitter @RaedAlOmari2