The renewed challenge on Jordan’s northern borders and the whole situation in the south of Syria have been the subject of discussion lately. The presence of militias is not new, but the change in Russian priorities and the freeze on renewing the Iran nuclear deal could shift the power balance as Iran adopts a more aggressive proxy strategy especially in Syria and Iraq.
The confrontation of such risks is not new for Jordan who has been dealing with border issues since the fall of the Iraqi regime in 2003. However, the threat from Syria is more serious as the border is closer to major populations and there are closer demographic ties. While some analysis suggests the need for Jordan to launch a kind of war against these militias, Jordan should focus on managing the risks based on a three-pronged approach.
This kind of confrontation does require a military strategy that aims to target direct threats, and this means that Jordan should change the strategy of confrontation, from defence to attack. The second is a new intelligence strategy as information is critical. Infiltrating these criminal and terrorist groups, and above all, a capacity to target their partners in-country, as countering them internally is just as important as countering the external risks. The third pillar of this strategy is based on diplomatic and political skill, and Jordan should reshape political relations with Syria based on mutual strategic benefits and perhaps with Iran based on a zero-conflict status quo.
These risks and challenges are not new for Jordan, but given the level of crisis, financial sources for many non-state actors are being drained and Hizbollah is facing a very challenging situation. Syria and the ongoing war require funding for the regime itself and add the impact of the Iran sanctions on the regime’s capacity to sponsor its allies, trafficking and criminality are the only alternate sources of income for these groups that pose a risk to Jordan.
The risk to Jordan is not limited to becoming a hub for local consumption and transiting of drugs but infiltrating the Jordanian borders and weakening the system would create fertile ground for other types of smuggling, such as weapons that will inevitably breed and arm groups within Jordan’s borders, potentially making it a staging ground for regional terrorism.
These new challenges for Jordan must be confronted with decisiveness and rapid action on all levels.
Dr. Amer Al Sabaileh