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What’s next for Jordan’s policy towards Syria?

The Jordanian authorities expelled the Syrian ambassador to Amman last week, ordering him to leave the country within 24 hours. Jordanian officials insist that the expulsion was based on the ambassador’s actions, not in reaction to tension with the Assad regime. Hours after the announcement, the Syrian National Coalition assigned a representative to Jordan, currently pending Amman’s approval.

Analysts assert that the events are indicative of a shift in Jordan’s stance towards the Syrian crisis and the regime.

Ghassan Mufleh, a member in the Syrian National Council, emphasised that Jordanian’s approval of a Syrian opposition representative would be an indicator of cooperation between Jordan and the opposition.

The Syrian National Coalition issued a statement thanking the Jordanian government, claiming that ambassador Suleiman had “violated diplomatic protocols”. The statement concluded by calling for “similar moves” in the region which would further isolate the Assad regime.

In a TV interview from Damascus on Wednesday, the expelled ambassador claimed that Jordan is running an operation room to conduct “terrorist attacks” against Syria from inside one of Amman’s hotels. “Jordan is an essential link of aggression against Syria,” he added.

Suleiman is considered to be one of the most powerful Alawite officers in Syria; he had previously served as head of the Internal Intelligence Security in Syria.

“The decision came really late,” said Dr. Nabil Al Sharif, a Jordanian political analyst, adding that ambassador Suleiman abused Jordan and had many suspicions movements and meetings in the Kingdom.

“He [Suleiman] has violated all diplomatic norms,” he added.

The ambassador’s expulsion was immediately followed by the coalition’s decision to assign Mohamad Mraweh, a young opposition figure, as representative to the Kingdom.

At the same time, the deputy prime minister of the opposition’s interim government, Eyad Al-Qudsi, visited Amman on Wednesday, reported Zaman Alwasl, an anti-regime news outlet. Al-Qudsi’s visit could precede greater standing for the opposition in Amman; an anonymous source in the same report declared that the interim government’s headquarters in Amman will “host the embassy of the Syrian opposition”.

Samir Sattouf, a founding member of the Syrian National Council and head of the Syrian Democratic National bloc told MEMO that the Jordanian government gave an unofficial “political approval” for Mraweh as representative of the coalition. Sattouf noted however the coalition’s history of instability and internal conflict had resulted in “unfriendly” relations with Jordan.

The Syrian Foreign Ministry reacted to Jordan’s decision with the expulsion of the Jordanian ambassador to Syria. Damascus announced on Wednesday that the Jordanian charge d’affaires in Syria is “persona non grata”.

Reactions to the tensions were expressed by the Jordanian people. A Jordanian parliament member, Wasfi Al-Zayoud, addressed Al-Assad in a parliamentary session threatening that Jordan’s army can reach Damascus in “three hours”.

Meanwhile, media reports confirm that residents of Jordanian border villages witnessed shelling and explosions in Syria. The residents expressed fear that the assaults will cross the border into Jordan. The Jordanian army is on a “state of alert” on the 375 kilometre shared border with Syria.

Mufleh regards Jordan’s stance towards the revolution and the Syrian people as positive, in spite of the threats that the Assad regime has made against the Jordanian government.

“Jordan can play a role in making Daraa [a southern province in Syria] a safe area to protect civilians from Al-Assad’s brutal airplanes,” he added.

Jordan’s leadership has consistently expressed that political negotiation is the only solution for the Syrian crisis. It is an active member of the pro-opposition Friends of Syria group and has voted in the Security Council for a resolution to refer war crimes in Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

At the request of the Jordanian government, US military leaders have been manning Patriot anti-missile batteries close to the Syrian border since April 2013. During this time, the Jordanian air forces have destroyed armoured vehicles belonging to the Assad regime near the border. The presence of the regime’s military vehicles is viewed by the coalition as the regime’s attempt to “export its crisis to neighbouring countries”.

Meanwhile, Jordan is involved in the US-backed training of Syrian opposition fighters as well as in the facilitation of transporting weapons to rebels in the Southern Front, a coalition of around 50 moderate rebel groups.

For geographical and social reasons, Sattouf believes that Jordan holds an important role in reaching a solution to the crisis. He also feels that any decision from Jordan towards Syria is influenced by the West’s plan to shape the solution. “All Arab countries are non-sovereign countries when making decisions towards the Syrian issue,” Sattouf explained.

“The Jordanian stance is compatible with its interests in the first place,” added Al-Sharif, who previously served as Jordan’s minister of media affairs and a government spokesperson. He concluded that though Jordan has taken new action towards relations with Syria, its decisions align with its ongoing stance which views political solutions as the best fit for Syria to end the suffering.

“It is not a crisis happening in Mars; it is a crisis happening in our back yard.”

 

 

 

 

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

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