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Diplomacy on the firing lines

January 24, 2014 at 11:10 am

In a comprehensive strategic sense, Jordan has a number of interests that need to be taken into account as Syria engages in an open civil-sectarian war; first of which is the unity of the Syrian state, society, and land. Otherwise, Jordan will not be isolated from the repercussions of the Syrian crisis or the “domino effect” that will occur in an unprecedented manner.

Second, is the prevention of Syria turning into a “backyard” for the parties involved in the game of regional-international axes and their conflicts. This will heavily burden Jordanian diplomatic accounts, and will cause it to lose several margins in the freedom of movement and manoeuvre. Third, is the avoidance of Syria shifting from a “dictatorship” to a “totalitarian regime” under any name or pretext, as this would be a prelude to “mainstreaming” totalitarian regimes in a manner that would not allow neighbouring Arab countries and societies to survive. Fourth, is the prevention of any attempt to dissolve the Palestinian Cause under the guise of battles and confrontations in and over Syria. In this context, dissolve means any political/negotiated solution where the Palestinians cannot exercise their rights to return to their homeland, determine their own fate, and establish an independent state with Jerusalem as its capital.

However, in the tactical sense, Jordan has a number of short-term interests and objectives that should not be taken lightly, nor should we be lenient in defending or enforcing them. The first of these is preventing the flooding of the country with large waves of additional refugees, along with the elements of security, economic, and social threats they bring, which surpass the country and society’s ability to endure or bear.

The second is stopping southern Syria, in particular, from turning into a safe haven for Al-Qaeda and its “branches”. We must learn from the experience of western Iraq between 2004 and 2008; both from their experience of threats and how to deal with them. Thirdly, we must prevent the weapons of destruction, both chemical and ballistic, from falling into “the wrong hands” – using the experience of “the attempt to carry out a chemical terrorist attack” on Jordanian targets as a “precedent”, we can start to explore the worse and most “catastrophic” scenarios.

However, in regards to Jordan’s long-term strategic goals, Jordan cannot do much on its own, as it is only one player in a group and is certainly not the strongest or most influential. It must remain committed to the principles of a political solution that guarantees the preservation of Syria’s unity and puts an end to the bloodshed. It must also prevent it from engaging in an open civil-sectarian war and preserve Syria’s institutional presence (security, military, and civil). Moreover, the compass for its foreign policy must remain intact, no matter how much pressure it is under, how hard the challenges get, or how high the level of temptation gets to push Jordan to go deeper into the “Syrian swamp”, as it is not in Jordan’s best interest to bargain with the axis of extremists extending from the Gulf to Anatolia, sponsored by a number of international capitals.

However, this should not prevent Jordan in any way from working on defending its direct interests that seem prone to risk and dissipation. The issue of the concentrated Syrian refuge should be dealt with within the framework of the “countries neighbouring Syria” – especially Lebanon, which suffers from similar threats and pressures – and on the basis of striving to establish safe zones with the approval of the regime, the opposition, and their regional and international supporters, not by imposing it through UN resolutions and the NATO.

As for the problem of Al-Nusra and Al-Qaeda’s increased power, we must use the experience of the tribal “Sahwa” in Anbar as an example of what could be done, even if different tools, means, and partners were used. For example, some non-extremist opposition groups may take the place of the “Sahwat” in the partnership to push the danger of “terrorism” away from our cities, villages, and countries. Moreover, with the escalation of this danger, we cannot continue to use wooden language as a means of “avoiding interference in internal affairs”, especially with the decline in international control over these areas and the fact that they have turned into an arena for armed forces from a variety of ethnicities. Jordan has no choice but to “fill the gap” in these areas with elements that do not pose a threat to its national security and stability.

The most complicated, dangerous, and difficult issue continues to be the issue of providing qualitative chemical and missile arms while making sure it is not transferred into “the wrong hands”; those that may use them against Israel, but will also definitely use them against Jordan, at least based on previous experiences in Amman and Aqaba. This matter dictates a series of preventative, and at times, pre-emptive measures because the government must remain governed by its national security considerations and none other, despite pressures from the US, and no matter how “audacious” Israel’s demands are.

This is definitely a complicated situation in which a number of considerations, interests, pressures, and temptations intertwine; but what mediates the policy and decision-makers in Jordan is the fact that this matter has always been this way, and the history of Jordanian diplomacy is, in any case, a history of walking between the line of fire, which usually turn into minefields. Will Jordan come out of this ordeal with as little losses as possible, or will we find ourselves facing banks we do not want to approach or entangled in a game, the rules and terms of which we were not involved in?

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.