Now that Jordan seems convinced that the chances that President Bashar al-Assad will be ousted from power are negligible, its senior decision-makers are reviewing the country’s options, maintains a Jordanian commentator.
Mohammad Abu-Rumman – www.alaraby.co.uk
Jordan’s inner decision-making circle is reassessing the regional scene in light of the surrounding regional changes, the important developments in Syria and Iraq, and the arrival of President-elect Donald Trump’s new U.S. administration. Despite the turbulent conditions and the continuing uncertainty regarding what is happening and the likely course of events, there are indications of future Jordanian foreign policy transformations, abandoning part of the previously held views.
The latest developments point to trends that the inner circle in Amman is taking into consideration: The Syrian regime and its allies’ military victories on the ground; the new Iranian/Russian alliance; the Mosul battle and the possibility of ending ISIS’s state in Iraq during the current year; the Turkish turnarounds and the rapprochement between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Erdogan; the relative success of the [Syrian] ceasefire; the preparations for the Astana negotiations; and the expected rapprochement between the Russians and the Americans over the management of the Syrian file in the coming phase, as suggested by Trump’s statements.
In light of this, Jordan has come to the following conclusions: Iranian influence is growing in the region, especially in Iraq and Syria, while the Arab/regional approach to Syria and Iraq has failed. There are also Turkish U-turns and a U.S. administration that will join the new process so as to arrange the situation in the region together with Putin, who will be speaking with the U.S. administration and the Israelis in practice regarding Syria and on behalf of the Syrian regime and the Iranians.
Naturally, not everything has been decided. The new U.S. administration’s tendencies remain no more than predictions and expectations and are based on actual reality. Yet there are developments that by now are well known and taken for granted. Foremost among them is the fact that the world has totally abandoned the project of toppling President Bashar al-Assad and is working with the regime and its allies on some new ‘deal’ or ‘prescription’ for Syria’s future and the transitional phase.
At this point, the ‘Arab regional order’ – based on Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt – has been totally neutralized. Turkey is effectively talking on behalf of the opposition and has the ability to influence it, while the Russians are speaking on the Syrian regime’s behalf, and everyone is waiting for American officials to join them at the negotiating table that is being prepared.
This is why, when looking at Syria or Iraq’s future, Jordan will take the new Iranian role into consideration, as well as Russian influence in the region and the Syrian regime’s survival in one form or another. In addition to a relatively more stable condition might arise in Iraq, while inter-Arab – specifically Egyptian/Saudi – disagreements are on the rise.
In addition to all the aforementioned factors, we must add the great fall in Jordanian expectations regarding Gulf backing for Jordan. For despite leaks regarding some three billion dollars that Saudi Arabia will soon deposit in the new Jordanian/Saudi Investment Fund and that will be invested in Jordan, the project is expected to proceed at a slow pace and is linked to realistic studies of the required investments. This will take a long time, perhaps years, before it begins to make a difference.
If we list all of the above as a ‘premises’ that the ‘inner circle’ in Amman has become aware of, what are the likely conclusions for Jordan?
The first is a reassessment of the attitude towards the Syrian regime, and the increasing likelihood that that Russians will succeed in achieving truce agreements that will take Syria towards a transitional phase – which is the best scenario for Jordan. If these efforts fail, however, then the next destination for the Syrian forces, the Iranians, and Hizbollah will be the Damascus countryside, with the aim of ending the opposition’s presence in the Eastern Ghouta, and from there to the Southern areas, that is to Der’a that touches upon the ‘red line’ of Jordanian national security.
Over the past year, Jordan forced its allies in the Free Syrian Army (FSA) to calm the situation down and reach a truce with the Syrian regime. The Jordanian aims in effect turned towards fighting ISIS exclusively. It was on this basis that the New Syrian Army (NSA) – which lost its first battle against ISIS in Bou-Kamal – was established. At present, however, Jordan is not expected to intervene to back the armed opposition indirectly – as happened in the past – in case the Iranian/Syrian offensive is launched Jordan will confine itself to attempting to communicate and mediating with the Russians in order to reach understandings on the ground instead.
Such a scenario – a Syrian invasion of the South – is dangerous for Jordanian national security for three reasons: First, it will drive large numbers of refugees into Jordan; second, the confrontations will move close to the Jordanian borders; and third, ISIS will exploit these conditions and feed on the ‘moderate’ opposition’s crisis. Despite this, Jordan will not opt for a military wager militarily on the moderate opposition, as it sees the balance of power tilting in favor of the Russians and Iranians in Syria. It will try to shift closer to the center and towards neutrality.
Jordan will also work on opening its lines of communication with Iraq and on improving relations with the Iraqi government, so as to speed up the national economy’s wheels in more than one sector. Iraq is an important market for Jordan, assuming it overcomes its security and political problems. This requires softening the sharp edges with Iran first, playing a positive mediation role with the Sunni Iraqi opposition, second, and coordinating efforts to confront ISIS formations in al-Anbar areas, third.
This Jordanian ‘soft turn’ towards Iran will not come at the expense of relations with Saudi Arabia. For Jordan will try to ‘hold the stick in the middle'; but it will try to send messages to the effect that it occupies a position that is closer to the center in the Saudi/Iranian crisis. And especially if the military conflict continues, there are unofficial, and unpublicized, Jordanian expectations that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and Hizbollah will be at Jordan’s Eastern and Northern borders.
Strengthening relations with the Russians is a strategic Jordanian option, given Moscow’s influence and weight in the Iranian/Syrian axis. And this will be accompanied by an attempt to find a role for Jordan in the projects for reconstruction of Syria should we enter the transitional phase – as the World Bank mentioned in a recent report.
These may be the probable Jordanian wagers in 2017. But they also face major problems and obstacles including the stereotypical Iranian/Syrian image of Jordan, the absence of friendly relations between the two sides for decades.
That may lead to an Iranian ‘veto’ against any closer Jordanian/Iraqi economic relations on the one hand, or any probable Jordanian role in Syria’s reconstruction on the other.