Inside Syria

Jordan: Straddling Syria sensitivities

Will deployment of more US troops into the kingdom force it to play an active role in the conflict across the border?

With the Syrian conflict in its third year, its implications have increasingly been felt across the region. And nowhere have those repercussions been as tangible as in Jordan – the Hashemite kingdom that straddles Syria’s southern border.

Jordan is faced with a social bomb because of the tensions between the Jordanians and the refugees ... to quote senators in the US if the situation will continue in Syria it will destabilise Jordan in the long term.

by Adnan Hayajneh, Qatar University

More than 470,000 Syrian refugees have already crossed into Jordan but UN officials expect that number to pass the one million mark this year – a figure that is nearly a sixth of Jordan’s total population.

Chuck Hagel, US defence secretary, says Washington is deploying up to 200 troops to Jordan with the aim to contain the violence on the Syrian border. He also spoke of the possibility of setting up a buffer zone across the area.

The Jordanian government says that a corridor in the Syrian province of Daraa would help reduce the growing number of refugees pouring into Jordan.

The area could provide shelter and protection for displaced Syrians and a base for the rebels. But some people say it could also be used to launch an international military intervention.

Some analysts are convinced that if the buffer zone had not been an American idea, Jordanian officials would not be talking about it.

“It will be part of a wider plan to control Syria, especially after the collapse of the regime because the US does not make such decisions based on humanitarian needs of Syrians or to protect the Syrians,” explains Lamis Andoni, a writer and analyst.”It wants to make sure that an area that close to Israel is under control.”

Dozens of US troops have already been assisting Jordanians over the past year – the new deployment will include communications and intelligence specialists.

Any buffer zone that will be created will not only protect Jordan, I suppose, but also to create a friendly environment for Israel ... one way to break the stalemate is for the opposition to trade the Golan Heights for Israeli help in bringing down Assad.

by Joshua Landis, associate professor at the University of Oklahoma

As the possible repercussions of the war next door are so grave, the government appears to be trusting the US and going along with its plans.

But many Jordanians are not happy. Protesters say the presence of foreign soldiers is against Jordan’s national interests and will push it towards a disastrous confrontation with Syria. 

For many Syrians who have left the country the situation is getting worse. People have rioted several times in the al-Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan over living conditions.

The al-Zaatari camp was built to house around 60,000 refugees – but there are between 100,000 and 140,000 people there already – that makes it the fifth most populous place in Jordan.

On this edition of Inside Syria, we analyse the idea of creating buffer zones along the Syria-Jordan border and also whether or not Jordan is being put under pressure to play a more active role in the Syrian conflict.

Presenter Hazem Sika, discusses witho guests: Mahmoud Erdisat, a retired major general pilot, also the head of the Center for Strategic Studies at the King Abdullah II Defence Studies Academy; Joshua Landis, the director of Center of the Middle East Studies and associate professor at the University of Oklahoma; Labib Kamhawi, a writer and political analyst; and Adnan Hayajneh, a professor of political science at Qatar University.

“While options are limited indeed, Jordanians are severely divided over the issue of Syria, you can fairly say they are split over pro or against an intervention. This situation led to an absence of transparency on the part of the government – it makes decisions without announcing them. Had the US department of defence not mentioned anything about the 200 troops, which is an elite – the government would not have mentioned the whole thing. So people are suspicious about the intentions of the government regarding the limit to which it is going to interfere in Syrian politics.”

 Habib Kamhawi, a writer and political analyst