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Defining our interests in Syria

Jul 10,2017 - Last updated at Jul 10,2017

The Russian military intervention on behalf of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces was a game changer. As the balance of power tilted drastically in favour of Assad and his allies in much of Syria, Jordanians began to see that their interests in Syria would be jeopardised.

While the Jordanian leadership has followed a cautious foreign policy vis-à-vis the Syrian crisis, there are some serious concerns over the shape of the final arrangements in southern Syria.

On the whole, Jordanians trust neither Assad nor his allies — Iran and Hizbollah in particular.

For this reason, Amman has worked meticulously with the US and Russia to bring about a settlement that could secure Jordan’s interests — pushing away Iran’s Shiite militias and radical groups from its borders; returning the refugees to Syria; and cementing an understanding with Washington and Moscow over the southern front.

All along, Jordanians have been suspicious that Iran seeks to set up a long-term presence in the south.

Such apprehensions are lent further credence by the attempts of Iranian militias — which have been fighting alongside the regime’s forces — to push towards the border with Jordan.

To be sure, many Jordanians suspect that Iran has ulterior motives in the southern region of Syria. Tehran seeks to secure a continued geographic presence that stretches from Iran to Lebanon. Needless to say, Jordan will be threatened if such a plan materialises.

However, Jordan is not alone when it comes to this concern. Israel has made it perfectly clear that it would do what it takes to prevent Iran from carving out a territorial foothold that extends to Lebanon.

Therefore, chances are high that a military confrontation would erupt if Iran succeeds in establishing a presence in southern Syria.

The Americans and the Russians are not oblivious to the consequences of allowing Iran to expand in Syria.

Amman has been quick to utilise this kind of awareness by reaching out to the White House and the Kremlin.

It seems that Jordan’s efforts have finally paid off. US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin have agreed on a certain arrangement in southern Syria that pins all forces in their current positions.

This agreement will — for sure — help allay Jordan’s concerns about Iran and its militias in Syria.

Whether Iran’s and Assad’s forces will comply with the new arrangements is far from certain, however. And yet, they understand that southern Syria is different from the thus-far-unsuccessful de-escalation zones in the north. 

It goes without saying that America will act differently in the south, and Iran knows that there will be a price tag for any violation of the arrangement as the US, Jordan, and Israel will work to counter Tehran and its cronies.

I believe that there is a golden opportunity to stabilise the southern front, and if this is to last, then Jordan needs to think about how to return the Syrian refugees to their country.

 

It will be impractical not to consider this, given Jordan’s limited resources and the little aid it is getting from donors.

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