King Abdullah II faces a looming security crisis
By Ashley Delamater
Jordan has been very cautious in its dealings with Syria since violence began eighteen months ago. Adhering to a relatively neutral stance in hopes of preventing fallout with their powerful northern neighbor, Jordan has at the same time maintained an open border policy, receiving the highest number of Syrian refugees — including Syria’s prime minister, Riad Jihab, who defected in August. Jordan was also the first Arab country to openly suggest that President Bashar al-Assad step down. However, even in such a bold move, King Abdullah II was careful to couch his statement as a recommendation rather than a condemnation, asserting that he himself would do the same if the situation were reversed. In another attempt to prevent relations with Damascus from worsening, Jordan backed out of Arab League sanctions against Syria in last December. Nonetheless, it is becoming ever more difficult for Jordan to remain subdued in its response to the civil war raging just across the border.
Concerns over Jordan’s security have kept the country vigilant, leading to an increased presence on the border to try to prevent Assad loyalists and weapons from moving into Jordan. Abdullah has voiced worries that Assad loyalists might try and cross the border in order to infiltrate and destabilize the country. This is a valid concern, considering Jordan’s aid to Syrian refugees. As more Syrians flee their homes, Assad has set up checks at the borders in an attempt to prevent his people from leaving the country. This has led to skirmishes between the Syrian and Jordanian army that provide cover for those seeking to escape across the border. Meanwhile, a recent leak reported by Al Arabiya suggests that Syrian efforts to spread chaos are already underway.
Jordan has also had to manage its own militants. According to the Associated Press, two Jordanian militants with ties to al Qaeda were arrested in early June on their way to cross the border into Syria. They reportedly stated that they were going to aid in jihad against an oppressive regime. In addition to these arrests came a video made by al Qaeda’s leader, al Zawahiri who declared his support for the Syrian rebels whilst urging militants from other parts of the world to join the fight. The presence of al Qaeda and other extremist groups has also added to Jordan’s concerns over the fate of a large chemical weapons cache currently secured by Assad’s regime. If Assad were to fall, Jordan, as well as other countries such as the United States and Israel, are concerned that the weapons may fall into unfriendly hands and be used for later attacks. With the threat of such a reality, the Jordanian army has been in joint exercises with the United States army and the two have discussed what to do should Assad fall. The United States proposed entering Syria within eighteen hours in order to secure the weapons cache.
With developments such as these, it seems the potential security threats are piling up as the situation continues to deteriorate. Jordan will not be able to continue its pretense of neutrality much longer. Abdullah will have to decide in the coming weeks and months just how far he is willing to go in order to protect his country and his people.
Ashley Delamater is a postgraduate student studying Conflict Resolution in Divided Societies at King’s College London. She is a graduate of Michigan State University in Comparative Cultures and Politics, B.A. and has formally studied Arabic, Hebrew, and Islamic studies at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
Photo Credit: Todays Zaman