Recent developments in southern Syria demonstrate the growing threat from terrorist and criminal groups in the area and the need to pay closer attention to the evolving situation. This is a growing risk of instability right on Jordan’s borders, and inc…
One of the major challenges for Jordan at the moment is the situation in the south of Syria. With the battle in Mosul coming to an end and final preparations for a confrontation in Raqqa, IS fighters and cells are looking for a new base within Syria’s borders and are being pushed further south. There is a real risk that southern Syria will collapse into complete chaos, with the terrorists’ logistics and support units, and IS fighters and operatives resettling in the southern border regions.
Jordan finds itself on the path to a situation where it is confronting IS operatives on its borders, which will not only increase the threat of terrorism, but criminality more broadly as well. Jordan is also seeing an increase of non-sate actors on its borders, especially those ideologically opposed to the political system. For many, the risk of these actors is equal to that of IS.
These threats are not unlikely to result in traditional confrontation in the border regions, nor will they be a short-term challenge. The threat will spill over the border and requires a shift in the approach to dealing with terrorism to meet the new reality. Following Mosul and Raqqa, IS is changing its tactics, it no longer has a strong base of operations and will likely fall back to the insurgency model of operation.
Jordan has no interest in putting its troops on Syrian soil. However, it needs to contain the approaching threat. As such, Jordan will continue to monitor developments in the southern border regions of Syria and keep its options open for specific and limited operations on the other side of the border to mitigate its risks as the US, UK and even Turkey does today.
The strategy of dividing Syria into four “de-confliction zones” monitored by international troops works well for Jordan. It has the potential to avoid the southern part of the country collapsing into chaos and means that Jordan will not have to face the threat on its own. The strategy proposed by Russia, Turkey and Iran does not yet face US objections, which means that it may be the strategy going forward to achieve a ceasefire and begin the stabilization of Syria.
The success of this plan is in Jordan’s interest, so it should work to include international actors to be part of the process. The more partners in the stabilization of Syria, the higher the potential for success and the lower the risk of threats crossing the border into Jordan following the fall of Raqqa.
Dr.Amer Al Sabaileh
As the battle to liberate Raqqa inches closer, the growing instability in the south of Syria underlines the need for Jordan to prepare for the consequences. One of those consequences is likely to be Daesh falling back to the border regions to regroup and rebase. Jordan must avoid this outcome as any Daesh presence on the border represents a clear threat to Jordan.
There is no apparent strategy for protecting the south amongst allies. The US presence is currently focused on Raqqa and the surrounding areas with the objective of stabilization in the first stage. However, the unintended consequences of this renewed presence could be a new wave of escalation. Any such result will have a direct impact on the security of Jordan’s borders.
Jordan currently faces multidimensional risks. The conflict in Syria and Iraq are a real threat the border regions. Jordan is in the middle of the global red zone of terrorism. However, Jordan’s security establishment must also keep in mind that the threats are also internal.
There are, undoubtedly, multiple dormant terrorist cells in Jordan. The threat of these cells greatly increases as Daesh is routed. Dormant cells will activate to prove that the terrorist organization is still operating, capable of successful attacks and expanding its territory. We will see a transformation in Daesh to a more decentralized model as its assets and people are isolated and separated.
It is important to understand the recent US strike in Syria as political rather than operational. The target, location, style of attack and the fact they informed the Russians of the attack demonstrate the US was sending a message regarding its new position in Syria. Direct military action from the US represents a significant change in their role in and the nature of the conflict itself. US allies, including Jordan must be mindful of this development and respond accordingly.
Jordan’s focus should be to prevent border attacks and maintain stability in the border regions. We need greater cooperation between our intelligence and military and a strategy that uses local proxies to fight ISIS on Syrian soil avoiding unilateral troops on the ground.
While we may not be seeing sophisticated attacks in Jordan, traditional and disjointed insurgency still presents a threat. We must enhance the capacity of our security forces and dedicate greater effort to secure sensitive areas and inhibit the growth of local terrorists.
Dr.Amer Al Sabaileh
The battle of Aleppo is one of the most important developments to see an end to the Syrian crisis, even though it won’t be the last battle. The Syrian regime’s win in Aleppo might, logically, push the fight against the terrorists to the south.
According to the experts the battle of Aleppo is a major step for the Syrian regime in regaining control of the country. In the absence of a clear vision from America, Russia with its allies have seized the moment to recapture Aleppo. Russia made a deal with Turkey to limit its involvement and support for the rebels in Aleppo. With the Turkish borders closed, the advantage shifted.
Recapturing Aleppo doesn’t give the Syrian Army full control over Syrian territory but it refocuses the conflict into a single dimension, fighting terrorism. A Trump White House will no doubt support this, as the President-elect has frequently expressed that his priority in Syria is to fight terrorism, and not political change. With the potential for new leaders in France and other European countries later next year, we may see more support for a similarly single-minded focus in Syria.
The battle of Aleppo will push the fight down to the south of the country. While Turkey was engaged in the north due to the proximity to its borders, Jordan may be forced to take a similar level of engagement as the fight pushes into the south. The impacts that this battle on the Jordanian borders will certainly decide level of the Jordanian engagement in such battle.
Jordan is closely monitoring the developments on that front. On military level, the Jordanian army is -at the same time- applying intensive border surveillance activities and setting the rules of engagement for any possible attack on Jordanian borders.
Jordan faces many challenges and threats with a lot of border territory with ISIS controlled areas in the Jordan-Syria-Iraq triangle. During the battle in Mosul there were reports of ISIS fighters close to the Jordanian border and any attempt to recapture Palmyra by ISIS will also put pressure on Jordan. Moreover, the recapturing of the city of Palmyra by ISIS would put more pressure on Jordan. Especially on the area of Iraqi, Syrian Jordanian shared borders.
The challenges for Jordan are only likely to increase and become more difficult to address. They will require a new way of dealing with threats, not just militarily and logistically but also politically. Jordan needs strong relationships with the Iraqi and Syrian counterparts as well as the capacity to build strong alliances with countries that can help Jordan in taking actions on the ground to confront these threats.
Dr. Amer Al Sabaileh