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Dr Musa A Keilani: Ready for any aftermath
October 17, 2012
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Exclusive to The Gulf Today

The Jordanian government has explained that the presence of US forces in the kingdom is routine as is the case with other friendly countries. They are not in the kingdom planning any action against any country, but preparing the country to improve its security.

A report carried by the Associated Press quotes Jordanian officials familiar with the situation that the US troops on the ground in Jordan are apparently spending all their time preparing for the eventuality of a Syrian chemical attack against the kingdom.

Syria has repeatedly said that it will only use its chemical weapon arsenal in retaliation for a foreign invasion, an unlikely eventuality. But there are questions over how far Damascus could be trusted to keep its word.

It cannot be denied that Jordan has a serious crisis in its relations with Syria because of Amman’s humanitarian policy that allows Syrians fleeing their regime’s violent suppression of dissent to enter the kingdom. Amman has also been highly critical of the Syrian regime’s brutality against the people. According to the Governor of Mafraq, on the Jordanian-Syrian border, some 436,000 Syrians have fled to Jordan since the regime of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad began its brutal crackdown in March 2011. Their presence has further strained the kingdom’s resources.

We have also known about several incidents of riots by Syrians living in the Zatari refugee camp in the north.

There has been some spillover of the Syrian conflict into Jordan, with Syrian forces opening fire on Syrians fleeing to the kingdom. Several Syrian missiles have also landed in Jordan, prompting Amman to lodge a formal diplomatic protest.

US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta went on record on Wednesday that the US has been working with Jordan to monitor chemical and biological weapons sites in Syria and was helping Jordan deal with the Syrian refugee community.

In the meantime, the crisis in Syria is worsening, since Iran is supporting the regime with weapons and other forms of assistance and training for Syrian militiamen aligned with the rulers of Damascus. Russia and China are extending indirect support by continuing to prevent the UN Security Council from taking effective action to stop the bloodshed in Syria.

Jordan leads the international call for a political solution to the crisis, but the Syrian regime and the opposition do not believe that such a solution is possible although for different reasons. Damascus knows that a political solution means the departure of the Assad regime, which is why it is determined not to let that happen. The opposition is aware that a political solution means allowing the regime to maintain the same policies — even if the deal involves Assad stepping down or going into exile.

In the meantime, Turkey and Syria seemed to be heading for an armed conflict. They traded cross-border attacks this month after Syrian missiles killed five Turks.

Ankara openly backs the Syrian rebels fighting the regime.

Tension between Turkey and Syria has risen further after Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said a Russian plane intercepted and forced to land in Turkey while on its way to Syria contained “military equipment and ammunition” for the Syrian government.

Moscow rejected the allegation, saying that Russia delivers arms to Syria directly and has no reason to try to smuggle them on a civilian plane. Russian officials also condemned the move against the plane, which had aboard 17 Russian civilians, saying it endangered lives and was an act of “air piracy.”

Moscow is demanding a full explanation from the Turkish government for the detention of its citizens in the incident, saying they were held for hours but given no food and not allowed to enter the airport in Ankara.

However, it is highly unlikely that Turkey would launch war against Syria because there is not much public enthusiasm among Turks for such an action although the Turkish parliament responded to the Oct.3 Syrian shelling with a motion sanctioning military intervention in “foreign countries.”

A mid-September opinion poll, conducted by Metropol, an agency considered close to the Erdogan government, found 76 per cent of 3,000 respondents opposed going to war with Syria unilaterally, although the figure fell to 58 per cent if such an intervention was supported by the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato), of which Turkey is a member. Nato has pledged to defend Turkey under its charter which says an attack against one of its members will be considered as an attack against the alliance.

The fact is that Turkey does not have a lot of choices in dealing with the crisis in Syria.

At the same time, unexpected incidents could actually trigger a conflict. If that happens, the Damascus regime could be expected to lash out left and right, up and down because it knows that a war means the eventual demise of the third Alawi historical dynasty from power. Its responses to perceived threats would be unpredictable and Jordan could find itself dragged into something that it does not want to be part of. We should be prepared for any eventuality.

The author, a former Jordanian ambassador, is the
chief editor of  Al Urdun weekly in Amman

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