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Jordan’s Monarch Worried About Southern Syria
Jordanian soldiers patrol along the border with Syria to prevent drug trafficking on February 17, 2022. (Khalil Mazraawi/AFP via Getty Images)

Jordan’s Monarch Worried About Southern Syria

Sharp rise in drug smuggling, strength of terrorists across the border pose difficult challenges for the Hashemite Kingdom

Repeated statements by Jordan’s King Abdullah regarding the tense situation in the south of Syria have raised eyebrows in many Middle East capitals.

In an interview last month with the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace at the Stanford University think tank’s Washington offices, the king said that, while the presence of Russia in southern Syria was a source of calm, any “vacuum” created by the Kremlin withdrawing forces to fight in Ukraine “will be filled by the Iranians and their proxies,” and that “unfortunately, we are looking at maybe an escalation of problems on our borders.”

For Jordan, the big problem has been the rapid increase in drug smuggling, much of it aimed at reaching the rich Gulf countries. Since his return from the US, the monarch also has been talking about the potential for a diplomatic reshuffling of the deck in the region, but it was not clear what he meant.

Former Jordanian premier Taher al-Masri, who participated in a meeting that the king held with former prime ministers on May 29, told The Media Line that while the issue of southern Syria is important, the real problems are at home and in the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Masri believes that there has been a shift of power from the prime ministry to the palace.

“I think that the constitutional changes for modernizing the political systems do not appear to be followed through on the ground. The prime ministry is gradually losing its powers which have been transferred to the palace. There appears to be no serious change but a lot of hesitation instead,” he said.

While Masri sounds skeptical about the political modernization effort, he says that, regardless of internal political change, there is strong popular support in Jordan for Palestine. “All of us have responsibilities to live up to in regard to the issue of Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa,” he said.

As for the possibility of regional change, Masri is expecting some realignment on the Iraqi and Emirati sides. “When His Majesty talks about diplomatic and regional change, I expect that what the king is talking about is stronger cooperation with Iraq, Egypt and the Emirates,” he said.

Senator Mohammad Momani, a former Jordanian cabinet minister, appears to agree with Masri about the regional changes.

“The forces for good must cooperate better and intensify their action to stand in the faces of evil,” he told The Media Line.

Momani and others are worried that the current regrouping of extremist and terrorist groups threatens all countries in the area. “Add to that the fact that we have seen hate speech by right-wing parties across nations,” he said.

The presence of Iranians in Syria is long term. Iranians will not be stopped and their presence and relations with the Assad regime is a fiat

His concerns echo what Abdullah told the Hoover Institute regarding the importance of the Russian troop presence in southern Syria as a way to counterbalance the threats coming from various forces operating in the Syrian domain.

Maamoun Abu Nuwar, a retired Jordanian air force major general, told The Media Line that there is no chance that the Russians or the Iranians will leave Syria in the near future.

“The Russians are certainly not leaving because they have a 50-year contract for the port of Tarsus. On the contrary, they are expanding north and testing what they can do with Turkey, a NATO member,” he said.

Abu Nuwar does not expect much relief on the Syrian front any time soon.

“The presence of Iranians in Syria is long term. Iranians will not be stopped and their presence and relations with the Assad regime is a fiat,” he said. “Nobody can get Iran out of this area. Israel has been attacking them and their proxies but has failed to dislodge them. They are there to be close to the Golan Heights and Israel.”

Mustafa al-Hiyari, the head of Jordan’s Military Information Directorate, told the state-run Al-Mamlaka TV channel on May 23 that Jordanian forces face a “drug war” on the northeastern border, noting that the last three years have seen a doubling of smuggling and infiltration operations.

“Smuggling groups sometimes receive support from undisciplined groups from the Syrian border guards and other groups,” Hiyari said, calling them “systematic operations.”

Abu Nuwar added that “Jordan can’t take on the drug war alone. We need help in getting stronger intelligence with the help of allies so we can have strong deterrence and, if need be, we should close the borders.”

Hamid Rida Kazmi, the deputy head of mission at the Iranian embassy in Amman, told Middle East Eye that “Iran doesn’t pose at all a danger to Jordan.”

“Jordan’s security is part of the security of the Middle East, which is a top priority for Iranian national security,” he said.

Kazmi said that the Iranian presence in Syria was made possible because of an official invitation from the government.

“The goal of our presence is to stand up to the terror that organizations like Daesh [ISIS] and Jabhat al-Nusra [also known as al-Qaida in Syria or al-Qaida in the Levant] and Ansar al-Din [a jihadist alliance], as well as others, are posing,” he said.

The Iranian diplomat said that his country has no militias in Syria.

“We have no militias and to accuse us of trading in drugs is a very big accusation. We in Iran have been fighting the smuggling of drugs by way of the eastern borders of Jordan for 40 years,” Kazmi said.

Jordan’s security is part of the security of the Middle East, which is a top priority for Iranian national security

The Jordan-Syria border is 235-miles long. It runs from the Golan Heights all the way to the Iraqi border or what is commonly referred to as the Syrian Bedouin area.

The frontier is not far from the Al-Tanf military base, located in an area controlled by the Syrian opposition in the Iraq-Syria-Jordan border triangle. The base was established on May 20, 2015, and is manned by Syrian Bedouins who trained in Jordan to fight the Islamists of ISIS.

Jordanian columnist Osama al-Sharif believes that the key to Jordan’s concerns is Syrian President Bashar Assad and whether he is interested in good relations with the kingdom.

“But the Amman-Damascus spring was cut short. Assad was reluctant or unable to meet King Abdullah halfway, with the Syrian president having to coordinate his moves with Tehran and Moscow first. The effort to rehabilitate the regime was also interrupted by the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February,” Sharif wrote in the Saudi English-language daily Arab News.


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