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Jordan and the Syrian Badia

Russian Foreign Affairs Minister Sergei Lavrov (L) attends a press conference with Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Al Safadi (R) after a meeing in Amman, Jordan on 11 September, 2017 [Shadi Nsoor/Anadolu Agency]
Russian Foreign Affairs Minister Sergei Lavrov (L) attends a press conference with Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Al Safadi (R) after a meeing in Amman, Jordan on 11 September, 2017 [Shadi Nsoor/Anadolu Agency]

The recent developments in the As-Suwayda suburbs, adjacent to Jordan, provokes a major question regarding our visions for the upcoming phase. The Syrian army is expanding its area of control in these areas and has got a grip on many points on the north-eastern border around the former Hadlat refugee camp, the inhabitants of which were expelled to Al-Rukban refugee camp, most of whom are families of the opposition factions from Jordan.

Meanwhile, the position of the armed factions (specifically the Forces of Martyr Ahmad Al-Abdo, Liwa Shuhada Al-Qaryatayn, and the Lions of the East Army) that are active in the area is unstable, while the Army of Free Tribes has withdrawn from several areas and has avoided confrontation with the Syrian army and its allies.

The orders from the joint military operations room had required the withdrawal of these factions and refrain from confrontation with Al-Assad’s army. The unofficial explanation for these demands is that the balance of power is uneven and that a confrontation would lead to the elimination of these factions. Also, since they made great efforts during the past period, including restricting Daesh’s control in the Badia, particularly in As-Suwayda’s suburbs. Fear for these factions by Jordan and the allies are the main reason behind their calls to avoid the confrontation, that is known to be in favour of the regime.

This explanation may seem logical, but it only scratches the surface. As for the deep background behind Jordan and its partners’ position goes beyond this explanation and has other fundamental reasons, starting with the strategic shift in the perception of the progress of Syrian events, including the change in the balance of power in favour of the Syrian regime and its allies, and the lack of a strategy to deal with the new developments. In addition to this, the latest military plans involve supporting the armed opposition in its confrontation against Daesh only and not against the regime.

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Furthermore, in Jordan’s case, they are relying heavily on the Russian role and on low-tension areas to make sure the project is successful and to protect Jordan’s vital and strategic interests in the southern areas near the Jordanian border. A large part of this area is under the military truce understandings in Daraa, while another large part, surrounding Tanf (including Rukban camp) lies within the sphere of American influence. This means the area that the Syrian regime is keen to access is not strategically influential in Jordan’s eyes.

Today, Jordan’s stakes are on a more effective Russian role rather than on the American role, as the “decision-making kitchen” in Amman believes that the American role will be limited. Since the southern region is considered important and strategic for Jordan, especially the populated Daraa governorate, unlike the other areas that the regime is aiming to take control, which are considered desert areas, with only a few border points, and given the fact that the Arab positions on Syria are disappearing and many countries that were relying on the fall of Al-Assad’s regime have been neutralised, the Jordanian agenda has been gradually structured over the past few years to be linked to the military balances of strength and monitoring the successive developments.

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All of this is understandable within Jordan’s definition of its vital and strategic interests. However, despite this, there are deep doubts and concerns that should not be absent from the political calculations regarding the guarantees of the continuation of the military truce and the preservation of Jordan’s cards in Syria, including the factions that helped Jordan protect its interests, as part of the policy that Jordanian officials called the “security pillow strategy”.

There are no long-term guarantees so far that would lead to abandoning the Syrian opposition factions because there is another strong and deep influence on the ground, i.e. the Iranians, as well as an alternative to the Russian agenda. This requires the formation of a more prudent Jordanian equation, at least in terms of the southern regions in general and the relationship with the armed opposition.

This article first appeared in Arabic on Arabi21 on 12 September 2017

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