The shifting nature of operations on Jordan’s borders



Since the onset of the war in Gaza, there has been a noticeable rise in smuggling and cross-border activities along the Jordanian-Syrian border.

This is not entirely unexpected, considering the typical increase in such activities during the winter season. However, a new pattern of operations has emerged, characterised by a deliberate inclination towards conflict with the Jordanian army.

These actions seem designed to create tensions, establishing hotspots on the borders or even within Jordanian territory.

The nature of the weapons and explosives acquired by these groups indicates a shift from mere smuggling to a more systematic approach, aiming to involve the Jordanian army in battles and facilitate the smuggling of weapons, explosives and even rockets.

It is imperative for Jordan to prioritise the enhancement of its security cooperation, particularly with key allies, such as the United States. Effectively controlling the borders and preventing clashes is crucial.

The implementation of laws like the anti-captagon law, approved by the US Congress last June, could prove beneficial. Jordan’s active participation in the global coalition against Daesh provides an opportunity to leverage expertise, technology and assistance from allied nations, mainly the US.

Strengthening border security is essential not only for preventing smuggling, but also for maintaining internal security.

Given Jordan’s significance as a Western ally, addressing these challenges is paramount to ensuring its safety. 

On another level, there is ongoing debate about whether the normalisation of Jordanian relations with Syria has helped Jordan confront these increasing threats.

While substantial progress in containing these risks may not be immediately apparent, maintaining open channels is deemed necessary.

The Syrian regime seems to be adopting a strategy of neutrality in its statements to avoid being targeted by Israeli and American raids. Accusations of Syria being a base for operations by Iranians, Hizbollah and Hamas have subjected them to constant surveillance and the threat of attack. Neutrality might be their only means of preventing further aggression.

Additionally, there appears to be a slight improvement in cooperation to control captagon and drug smuggling, possibly allowing Syria to demonstrate some benefits from this collaboration and challenge the narrative of its involvement in smuggling operations. 

On a practical level, eliminating these networks permanently poses challenges due to the intersection of crime, terrorism and militias supported by countries attempting to establish a new front in the region.

This front is situated in a border triangle between Syria, Jordan, and Iraq. The potential similar risks emerging from the border with Iraq should be also seriously considered.

It is crucial to acknowledge that these smuggling networks have entrenched themselves in the border areas for years, demonstrating adeptness in navigating the terrain and climate. The Jordanian Army is confronted with organised networks and militias equipped with technology, unconventional weaponry, heavy arms and drones. Consequently, eliminating them appears challenging without a clear strategy and robust regional and international cooperation. The current targeting of Jordanian borders can be seen as a direct consequence of regional developments, especially in the aftermath of more than three months of the war in Gaza.

Dr. Amer Al Sabaileh