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Jordan gets daring on Syria

Raed Omari

Published: Updated:

The recent visit of the President of the Syrian National Coalition (SNC), Ahmad al-Jarba, to Jordan has no doubt signaled a new, daring, stance by the kingdom towards the Syrian uprising.

Aside from the Jordanian government’s ‘euphemism’ and its diplomatic rhetoric, al-Jarba’s visit to Jordan saw a new position taken by the refugee-plagued kingdom – one marked by boldness, direct involvement and explicitness as opposed to its long-held diplomatic caution, neutrality and political detachment.

Jordan’s anxiety is encouraged by the possibility of radical groups taking power in Syria in the post-Assad era.

Raed Omari

Amid fears of security and intelligence action against the concerned kingdom, by Bashar al-Assad’s regime, Jordan has been committed to a neutral position and displaying diplomatic caution towards the ongoing Syrian war, avoiding antagonizing the Assad regime and the Syrian dissidents as well. They upheld this stance despite pressure from internal and external powers to firm up its public posture towards Damascus.

However, Jordan has remained neutral on the Syrian crisis, though more attached to the anti-Assad camp. This is all due to deep concerns over possible Damascus retribution of some kind.

But with Jarba’s visit to the kingdom and his press remarks reportedly unveiling ongoing talks with the Jordanian authorities over the opening of a SNC representative office in Amman, Jordan can be said to no longer be neutral on Syria. Actually it can be seen as audacious, boldly showing support of the moderate Free Syrian Army (FSA).
In a press statement released last Friday, the SNC announced that the Jordanian government had given its initial “verbal” agreement to allow the opposition coalition to open its first official “representative office” in Jordan to handle “refugee affairs.”

According to the statement, quoted in Jordanian media outlets, an agreement was reached between the SNC and Amman during a previous meeting between al- Jarba and Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh held in Amman.
But again, as part of its diplomatic caution and ‘euphemism,’ the Jordanian government has not consented to, nor refuted, the statements about the representation office but has remained silent. Anyway, it seems silence is a form of consent.

Moderation vs. extremism

Jordan’s anxiety, and its subsequent decision to remain neutral and perplexed on the ongoing war in its northern neighbor, in addition to concerns of possible retribution by Damascus, is encouraged by the possibility of radical groups taking power in Syria in the post-Assad era.

But the best approach to counter radical groups in Syria and prevent their influence in the close-by kingdom which has a considerable number of Salafists and Takfirists, some of them already joining the radical Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria, is to support their moderate rivals and “brothers in arms” – meaning the FSA.

Jordanian border guards recent foiling of attempts to smuggle large amounts of weapons from Syria into the security-concerned kingdom is, I believe, one of the motives behind Jordan’s decision to act more boldly on the Syrian crisis.

Of course, there are other factors that contributed to the change in Jordan’s long-held neutral position on Syria, including pressures from the U.S and others members of the anti-Assad camp.

For Jordan, it is probably more helpful to cooperate with the FSA that is reportedly controlling most of the areas along the Jordanian-Syrian border in order prevent any security incidents or smuggling of weapons into its territories.

No matter what, Jordan has decided after long hesitation to take a daring side in the Syrian turmoil. Such a stance is more typical of Saudi Arabia and the UAE, regardless of Jordan’s geographical closeness to Syria and the challenges posed by such proximity.

The refugee crisis

When it comes to the refugee crisis, Jordan’s official rhetoric is always marked with complaint, weariness and anxiety to the point at which the resource-limited kingdom thinks it is left alone to handle the non-stop influx of Syrian refugees.

Now Jordan is hosting around 500,000 Syrian refugees and official estimations – actually concerns – state that this number could reach a million by the end of this year. But there is no Syrian entity in Jordan taking care of these refugees, not even the Syrian embassy in Amman.

The refugee crisis and its security, economic, social, environmental and demographic effect on the kingdom, that has so far succeeded in safeguarding its security despite the turbulent surroundings, is probably what prompted the Jordanian government to coordinate with the SNC to at least handle the refugee’s affairs.

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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 raed_omari1977@yahoo.com, 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.