Making the most of our winning cards

Posted on June 27, 2012


Coat of arms of Syria -- the "Hawk of Qur...

Coat of arms of Syria — the “Hawk of Qureish” with shield of vertical tricolor of the national flag, holding a scroll with the words الجمهورية العربية السورية (Al-Jumhuriyah al-`Arabiyah as-Suriyah “The Syrian Arab Republic”). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The escalation of the Syrian crisis has drawn the whole region into a long dark tunnel. The biggest trial facing the region is its ability to collect winning cards today which will prove useful at the right time tomorrow. Jordan, in particular, will have to watch out for its strategic interests as it faces a real existential test.

The greatest challenges for Jordan come from two different fronts. From one side, the inevitable consequences of the Syrian issue, from the other, a possible escalation of the West Bank problem. The two crises might have a negative bearing on the Jordanian internal situation.

Despite huge pressure, the Jordanian regime has shown exceptional skills in the management of the Syrian crisis. However, Jordan will have to consolidate and protect its position in dealing with the same crisis in the future. This should be done under the umbrella of a national policy to preserve state institutions and protect Jordan from any internal disputes.

The Syrian regime will have to face reality. It seems that Russia and the United States have agreed that the Russians will deal with an exit scenario for the Syrian regime whilst the US will deal with the other parties. Initially, Moscow might continue negotiations with the present regime and provide guarantees for the exit of Bashar-al-Assad by ending his term of office or perhaps replacing him with Faro Al Sahri’. On the other hand, the United States will have to face any escalation coming from the Gulf and Turkey.

Despite the risks entailed, Jordan should try to keep lines open with all parties to the conflict. Our strategic interests necessitate that we play a key role in the coming scenario. The Syrian regime is aware that the establishment of a buffer zone is imminent, especially given the Americans’ clear intention to go for this solution. We have yet to see the Syrian response and whether they intend to pre-empt this situation by mobilizing military forces on the southern border with Jordan. Therefore, any political intervention from Jordan requires extreme delicacy especially considering that nothing can happen without Jordanian support so it is extremely important that we seek a form of consensus with everybody, especially the Syrians.

The second risk for Jordan would be the result of any surprise withdrawal of the Israelis from the West Bank. Withdrawal from one side is a new Israeli tactic. Previously this style was used in Gaza and led to its division. If applied to the West Bank, it might precipitate serious disorders or, in the worst hypothesis, a kind of civil war. At the same time, it seems that the Israelis believe that the turmoil created on the West Bank will, undoubtedly, move to Amman, just as happened in the extension of the Syrian crisis to Tripoli. Any Israeli solution to the Palestinian crisis will almost certainly include Jordan, as a natural extension of the conflict. Jordan will again have to play a central role in finding a solution to the Palestinian issue. Jordan should be the birthplace of any new Palestinian settlement. This would candidate Amman as the place where contradictions meet and conflicts are resolved, from Palestinian reconciliation to a Syrian settlement.

Today, the capacity to collect winning cards is our biggest challenge at a time of such horrific conflicts and instability. Jordanian involvement in the Syrian question would lead to involvement in many other  issues from the Gulf to Lebanon.

Any shift in Jordan’s role in the area must predict regional changes and future risks. However, a role in the Syrian crisis might also provide Jordan with stronger bargaining tools that will strengthen our own position. As a result, Jordan might be in a good position to act as a channel of dialogue for the Gulf, where a crisis is soon expected and Syria, that is in the middle of one. Jordan would need to adopt an approach to Gulf countries both as a single entity and as individual countries, each needing their own specific strategy. In this way, Jordan could start to obtain a strong deck of card on regional and international levels.

The idea is not quite so exaggerated as it might seem at first if we think of a potentially significant military role for Jordan in Syria. We need to anticipate dealing with the expected gaps in the current Russian—American settlement. It is not so unlikely that Jordan may be compelled to deal with the security situation in several Syrian cities like Qunaitra, Suwida and Dara’ Even the Syrians themselves might request coordination in preventing an exodus of refugees. Here, Jordan will be in a strong position for negotiation. The exclusion of Jordan from any later negotiations or settlements would be impossible. It is imperative that Jordan play a decisive role in the region if we are to steer clear of regional initiatives which might otherwise have a negative impact on Jordan.

Dr. Amer Al Sabaileh