Jordan is being dragged into Syria’s conflict as more and more US troops head to Amman, analysts say, amid a warning by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad the kingdom could be engulfed by his country’s war.
“The escalation has become public. At the beginning of the crisis Jordan was trying to deal with it calmly, but now things are heading towards confrontation,” Labib Kamhawi, a writer and political analyst told AFP.
“We have been forced into the conflict,” he said, amid reports that rebels fighting Assad’s regime are being allowed to use Jordanian soil as a springboard for attacks on his troops.
Kamhawi said Jordan’s deteriorating economic conditions “have been used to pressure the kingdom to play a more active role in the conflict.” The kingdom is a major beneficiary of US military and economic aid.
US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel revealed on Wednesday that some 150 US military specialists have been deployed in Jordan since last year and that he had ordered a US Army headquarters team to bolster the mission, bringing the total American presence to more than 200 troops.
“These personnel will continue to work alongside Jordanian Armed Forces to improve readiness and prepare for a number of scenarios,” Hagel said.
The US troops were deployed to Jordan to help secure chemical weapons if necessary and prepare for a possible spillover from Syria, where Assad’s regime has been battling rebels trying to oust him since March 2011.
Jordanian Information Minister Mohammad Momani told AFP the US deployment was “to boost the Jordanian armed forces in light of the deteriorating situation in Syria.”
But Jordan’s army denied this.
“The 200 US troops have nothing to do with Syria’s situation. They are the first of the groups that will take part of the annual Eager Lion military exercise, in which 15 countries are participating,” it said in a statement on Thursday.
“The Jordan Armed Forces have the required capabilities to defend Jordan’s borders, stability and security against any threat,” it added, saying the drill will take place “in the coming weeks.”
Political analyst Oraib Rintawi, of the Al-Quds Centre for Political Studies, warned that Jordan “is getting closer and closer to the Syrian fire.”
“Jordan is denying media reports that it is allowing rebels into Syria, but clearly Amman has shifted its position, which sparked an angry threatening reaction from Syria,” Rintawi told AFP.
In an interview with Syrian official Al-Ikhbariya channel Wednesday, Assad warned that the fire in Syria could spread to Jordan, which he accused of allowing Syrian rebels free movement across its borders.
“The fire will not stop at our borders; all the world knows Jordan is just as exposed (to the crisis) as Syria,” said Assad.
“I cannot believe that thousands (of rebels) are entering Syria with their weapons while Jordan is capable of arresting any single person with a light arm for going to resist in Palestine,” he said.
— ‘Economic reasons’ —
Rintawi said Amman had resisted pressure to become involved in the Syria conflict for two years.
“But now I think it is not case although more Jordanian roles in Syria might not be in Jordan’s interest. Resisting pressure, particularly from Saudi Arabia and Qatar, was costly for Jordan, but at the same time it was wise,” he said.
“Jordan was forced to cross the line for economic reasons as well as fears that Syria’s southern parts will turn into safe haven for jihadists.”
Jordan, which is hosting more than 500,000 Syrian refugees, insists it is against any form of military intervention in its neighbour.
“Our position on the situation in Syria has not changed,” Momani said. “We are still against any military intervention in Syria. We urge a political solution to end the bloodshed in Syria.”
For military analyst Mamun Abu Nuwar, a retired army major-general, mobilising US troops on Jordanian territory could provoke Damascus.
“The Syrian regime could resort to preemptive military strikes. Using chemical weapons is a possibility,” Abu Nuwar told AFP.
“Jordan was dragged into all of this, mainly for economic reasons. Publicly Jordan says it is against military intervention but things in reality are different.”