Print options

December 12, 2012

Jordan Feels Pressure to Take Sides on Syria

by Elizabeth Arrott

Syria's neighbors have watched the nation's civil war unfolding on their borders -- and occasionally spilling over.  Unlike Turkey and Iraq, Jordan has tried to remain neutral.  There are signs the kingdom may be dragged, however reluctantly, into the conflict.
 
With growing political and economic unrest at home, the last thing many Jordanians want is conflict with neighbor Syria.

“The interests of Jordan dictate that Jordan does not interfere,” said political analyst Labib Kamhawi. He says those interests may come second to larger issues at play.

“There seems to be enough pressure coming from outside, from the U.S. and Europe and coming regionally from the Gulf states and Saudi, using economic means to force Jordan to open its grounds for some sort of military intervention, be it human resources or arms or logistics -- but it's happening," Kamhawi stated.
 
The United States, a key Jordanian ally, has sent a small military contingent to the kingdom.  Its precise mission is unclear.
 
Hassan Barari, a professor of International Studies at Jordan University, says it is important to have the Americans on board. “The international community wants Jordan to play a role in Syria," he said. "Jordan can't do it on its own and there should be some support, in particular from the Americans."
 
Damascus is just over 100 kilometers to the north and those trying to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad see Jordan as a key supply route to rebels trying to take the capital.
 
“There has been some arms smugglers into Syria but really the minimum level. It is not enough to provoke the Syrians.  But at least Jordan is giving the impression that it is ready to do it,” added Barari.
 
The risk of Syrian retaliation was heightened earlier this year when Jordanian officials said they had uncovered an attack plot by militants from Syria.

“No one can make the claim that the Syrian regime sent them, but once Jordan gets involved in this, this would be probably a front for Jordan to contend with,” explained Barari.

As the Syrian government struggles for survival, a new threat has emerged.  U.S. intelligence sources say Syria may be preparing to deploy chemical weapons.
 
Political analyst Kamhawi says the U.S. hurt its credibility on such matters in the prelude to the Iraq war -- which he feels casts doubt on the current claims. “If we accept the argument that there is some imminent danger coming from some Syrian chemical weapons, then this is an invitation for foreign intervention into Syria,” he noted.
 
Both men feel that, regardless of what Jordanians want, ultimately it may not be their choice.
 
“I think at the end of the day, Jordan will find it is really hard to take a position that is independent of what the Americans want to do,” said Barari.
 
In the meantime, Jordanians are watching, and waiting.