Jordan gets a bit more explicit on Syria

By: Raed Omari


Speculations recently emerged, at times affirmations, about a dramatic change in Jordan’s neutral position on Syria, raised by a U.S. expected deployment of F16 jet fighters and Patriot in the security-concerned Kingdom.

But nothing much has really changed in Jordan’s long-held neutral stance and cautious diplomacy towards the ongoing war in its northern neighbor except maybe for a bit overt move meant primarily for a defence from a possible Syrian retaliation and not for a U.S. attack on Syria from Jordan as speculated in the press.

Following the U.S. President Barack Obama’s recent announcement for the first time about sending to the Syrian rebels and his administration’s allusion to a possible enforcement of a no-fly zone over Syria’s southern border with Jordan, international media outlets, including the Jordanian ‘diplomatic’ press, carried news reports and analyses linking the F16 and Patriot missiles matter to the new U.S. move.

As a matter of fact, the story of the Patriot missiles to be sent to Jordan has begun almost a month before the emergence of a new decisive stand on Syria.

Participating in the World Economic Forum, held in May in Jordan, U.S. Senator John McCain expressed Washington’s readiness to fulfil a Jordanian request for Patriot missile batteries to place along its shared border with Syria.

At the time, McCain, the highest-ranking U.S. official to enter Syria since the outbreak of the unrest which began more than two years ago, described that the deployment of the defence system as one of a series of steps to prevent the Syrian conflict from spilling over into the closest U.S. allies in the Middle East.

Patriots a pressing demand

Even before that, placing the Patriot missiles in Jordan has been a pressing demand for Jordanian notables under fears of a Syrian spillover or a retaliatory action by the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad against Jordan.

Jordanian notables and community leaders have once expressed eagerness for placing such anti-missile weapons during a meeting with king Abdullah.

Moreover, Jordan’s Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour has made it clear recently that Patriot missile-defence batteries and F-16 warplanes are a Jordanian request and are meant for any military action against Syria “as it has been alleged.”

According to a White House statement issued on Saturday, Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel has approved keeping Patriot missile-defence batteries and F-16 warplanes in Jordan.

Once more, the story of the Patriot missiles has been exaggerated exactly as the news, actually leaks, about a Jordanian-U.S. joint training of some 2000 Syrian rebels, brining again new speculations bout plans by the two countries – or ‘conspiracy’ as termed by pro-Assad press – of a military action against Syria.

All in all, the military cooperation between Jordan and the U.S. is not a secret at all, overtly disclosed and publicly announced as that of the Russians with al-Assad regime.

‘Eager Lion’

With the announcement of the imminent joint military exercise, “Eager Lion 2013”, which ends later this month in Jordan, the issue of a planned Jordanian-U.S military action against Syria has resurfaced again as such speculations accompanied the 2012 drill.

Jordanian government has affirmed that the annual military drill, which will witness the participation of 18 Arab and foreign countries, is not meant as a message to any of the neighbouring countries, meaning Syria. The same was affirmed in 2012.

Just recently, Ensour reiterated that American troops will remain in the Kingdom after the “Eager Lion 2013”, stressing that Jordan will not be a platform for any foreign militaries to launch strikes against Syria. “The Kingdom has taken a moderate stance on the two-year-old Syrian civil war and will continue to do so.”

It might be that the U.S.’s aim behind the drill is to send a message to the pro-Assad camp about the readiness, probably not eagerness, and high-level coordination of the anti-Assad camp to launch a military action of some kind against the well-backed Syrian regime but what is certain is that the world’s strongest nation and its allies have no such plans – at least for the time being.

Neither a buffer-zone nor a no-fly zone

In order to alleviate the refugee crisis, the resource-limited Jordan has requested the Security Council for an action on the non-stop exodus of Syrian refugees, currently standing in the kingdom at around 500,000.

Jordan’s goal from going to the five-state body in April was to gain an approval for establishing a buffer zone, or ‘the refugee safe zone’ as it was called by Jordanian officials, to manage the exodus of Syrians and convert moderate rebel- controlled areas into permanent havens for displaced civilians and allow easy access of humanitarian aid under the supervision of the U.N.
However, such a request, which was perceived at the time by al-Assad regime and his supporting press – actually tabloid – as a U.S. attempt to create safe rebel bases for military operations against Assad’s forces, was turned down anyway by the Russians.

The same thing happened with the no-flight zone proposal. The U.S. Administration, which was reported, or speculated in, international media as considering a no-fly zone over Syria, has itself refuted such early predictions.

Right after Obama’s recent announcement, the international media has reported that the U.S. military has proposed options to the White House, including imposing a limited no-fly zone inside Syria that would be enforced from Jordanian territory to protect Syrian refugees.

Refuting that, Pentagon’s spokesman George Little has said recently, “The Department of Defense continues to plan for a wide range of contingencies but the United States has not made any decision to establish a no-fly zone over Syria or within Jordanian airspace.”

The same was affirmed by the U.S. Ambassador to the NATO, Ivo Daalder, when he was reported as saying that his country is not turning to the alliance to back a no-fly zone over Syria to protect Syrian rebel forces from regime airstrikes.

Therefore, what has been established so far is that no-fly zone over Syria will be established exactly as the idea of a buffer-zone in the war-torn Syria or in neighboring Jordan was killed before it saw the light.

What is seemingly certain is that sending arms to the Syrian rebels and providing them with lethal weapons at a later stage is now preoccupying the U.S. action on Syria, reemphasizing again Washington’s insistence on a political solution to the Syrian unrest instead of a direct military involvement.

Providing the Syrian rebels with weapons, the U.S. seeks to give them future bargaining position in any negotiations with al-Assad regime and his supporters, mainly the Russians, ahead of the expected Geneva II meeting on Syria.

For many observers, the long-awaited U.S. decisiveness on Syria came after the sudden predominance of the Syrian government’s forces in the Syrian ongoing war after the massive intervention of the Lebanese Hezbollah militia and Iraqi Shiite fighters and before that the Iranians.

All is for a political solution for the Syrian unrest that ensures a peaceful and smooth transition of power based on actualities and facts on the ground and, as a strategic ally of the U.S. with around 400 kilometers border with Syria, Jordan is playing an influential role in this regard, this time more explicitly.

Aside from official statements, Jordan’s request – if not a U.S. request – of the Patriot missiles and F16 jet fighters is to give itself a better position in the war in Syria of which it has been integral part.


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