Thursday, 26 July 2018 22:09

Jordanian shuttle diplomacy to defuse Mother of All Battles in South Syria Featured

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Jordan prepares the ground for the Helsinki summit, wrote my friend, journalist of the Russian prominent Kommersant newspaper. And somehow it is true. But Jordan proceeds not with global charity and assistance, but pursues very certain national interests, seriously affected by the situation in Southern Syria and the influx of refugees to the Syrian-Jordanian borders as Jordan rejects to accept any more refugees into the kingdom.

After King Abdullah’s visit June 25th  to Washington, Jordan, as expected, proceeded with mediation between Washington and Moscow over the issue of the opposition in south Syria. The king voiced his concern to the American administration over the spillover of a military escalation in South Syria. The Syrian army has paved the way for the military assault after liberating the outskirts of Damascus and Ghouta from terrorist gangs in the area as officially reported.

 With Russian air cover, the Syrian army is heading towards the Jordanian-Israeli borders. The pace of battles has surprised the militant opposition and posed a high risk on Jordan’s national security, not only because some of the terrorists are among those refugees but also due to the demographic imbalances that such a flood would cause.  The day the war in south Syria started, humanitarian concerns sparked. Jordan, closed the border, being unable to cope with the new flow of refugees, and prepared the trucks with humanitarian aid  requiring Damascus permission to cross the border and reach people in need. Jordanian officials’ visits to Moscow in the past few months and recently aimed to ask Russia to exercise pressure on the Syria government to open the border for Jordanian convoys loaded with humanitarian aid. All Jordanian visits to Russia since the beginning of 2018 aimed to exercise more pressure on Damascus not to push the militants towards the Jordanian borders as this will cause a major threat not only to Jordan but to Israel as well as this would lead to further skirmishes on the Jordanian borders with Israel.

The situation for the Syrian refugees is dramatic for Jordan as it leverages enormous pressure on the already troubled economy of the country. Further deterioration of the situation in Syria might become fatal to the Kingdom in terms of refugee influx which required huge budgets to handle. And since Jordan is facing a huge financial deficit and debts due to economic hardships, the refugee scenario would cause further deterioration of the whole Jordanian economic plans.

But what is a problem for Jordan is not a matter of deep concern to Russia as the mopping up of the area from the gangs of Jabhat an-Nusra is far more vital matter. Jordan prefers not to talk about countering terrorism at this region as it gives priority to peaceful talks rather than fighting. The south region of Syria include three governorates: Deraa, Suwaid and Qunaitra and they all have a population of 5 million.

The deescalation zone was established July 2017 after the Trump-Putin short meeting on the sidelines of G20 summit in Hamburg and is guaranteed by two sides: Russia, and the US where the US responsibility was to talk to terrorists demanding their withdrawal from the areas of tension. Jordan hosted the military operations center to monitor the de-escalation zones in south Syria.  Russia, in its turn, guaranteed the withdrawal of the non-Syrian forces, in other words Shia-militias, out of the area, especially by the Israeli-Syrian border and it is apparently fulfilling its obligations.

Jordan is shuttling between Washington and Moscow having exclusive relations with both. Pursuing purely national interests, Jordan creates agenda for Russia and the US to work on. Both countries are interested in stable Jordan. Any complications inside Jordan are worrisome and undesirable so they are both likely to listen to Jordanian concerns. Reasons why Jordan is important for the countries are quite numerous, but they are different for Moscow and Washington. Jordan’s strategic location allows it to play significant geopolitical role in the region despite poor natural resources and numerous economic problems. It is a frontier between Israel and the other countries in the Middle East, mainly the Gulf that stopped the terrorism to expand to these areas. It is one of the last more or less stable fort-posts in the region, keeping it away from the absolute chaos. Jordan hosts the US military bases and works perfectly as a mediator in some slippery issues. For Russia, Jordan is a vital regional partner with which Russia has a positive history of bilateral relations hosting Jordanian King at least once in a year. Jordan is an important counterpart for Russia in Syria in terms of its mediative role. Furthermore, it has significant tribal influence in Southern areas of Syria, needed in settlement issues in the area as the tribes in Northern Jordan and the same in Southern Syria.

On the eve of the Helsinki summit the efforts of Jordan might lay the ground for some new advanced agreements between the US and Russia on Syria. Though the current situation in Southern Syria is far from being stable and de-escalation zone has literally failed, the guarantors continue insisting on the perseverance of the deescalation zone.

As for the humanitarian convoy from Jordan, though the Russian side did not give publicly any promises, Russia is likely to proceed with assistance to Jordan. Obviously,  Damascus has no reasons to oppose entrance of the Jordanian humanitarian convoy but it has the right to inspect them for fear the same history repeats itself when humanitarian aid convoys were allowed in northern Syria. Both Russia and Syria have the right to monitor any convoy entering Syria and after inspection, the convoy can be given the permission to reach destination.

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Maria Dubovikova

Maria Dubovikova is IMESClub President.