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Southern front in Syria: Jordan and USA laying a challenge at Russia's feet

Abdullah II and Vladimir Putin. Photo: caddehaber.com

Jordan and the United States have laid a challenge at Russia’s feet. We mean Al-Hayat’s last report about an American-British-Jordanian plan to organize a military operation in the south of Syria and Global Research’s article about growing concentration of American and British troops on the Syrian-Jordanian border.

The goals

The goal of this operation is to eliminate the ISIL forces acting in the area since 2016. Quite recently, they attacked Jordanian special services units in Al Baqa’a.

In Dec 2016, they attacked tourists in Al-Karak and thereby shattered one the pillars of Jordan’s economy – tourism.

Al-Hayat’s report was preceded by The Washington Post’s interview with King Abdullah II of Jordan, following his meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump. His Majesty said that if the terrorists moved from Syria to the south, the Jordanians were ready to oppose them together with the Americans and the British.

The other goal of the operation is to confront the Iranian forces, which, according to Abdullah II, have been deployed just 70 km far from the Jordanian border in an attempt to forge a geographical link between Iran, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon and to gain control over that territory.

And one more goal is that the Jordanians are worried to see that Russian planes are increasingly active near their borders.

Jordan and Syria

Jordan was first involved in the Syrian events in 2012, when lots of Jihadists got into its territory amongst masses of refugees. In 2013, Jordan turned into a springboard for Bashar al Assad’s opponents. NATO’s Eager Lion exercise has given rise to reports about plans to use the Jordanian territory for attacks on Syria.

According to some sources, the Americans and the British have been active on the Jordanian border since 2013. In 2013, British SAS eliminated Assad’s air defense system.

In 2014, the Jordanians began striking Syria-based ISIL forces from the air. In 2015, mass media reported a Turkish-Jordanian plot to invade Syria from both the north and the south with a view to create buffer zones there.

The parameters

Should the operation be launched, the sides will try to create stationary military bases in the Syrian territory.

The wish to fight ISIL and to prevent Iran’s presence in Syria may well be just a pretext for the Americans to enlarge their zone of responsibility in that country and to get as far north as Deir ez-Zor.

Jordan’s strategy

If created, the southern front will make things much worse for the Russians as it will shatter al Assad’s positions.

Although not much willing to clash with the Americans over Syria, the Russians will still have to counteract. In this light, Abdullah II suggests intensifying the dialogue with the Russians with a view to convince them that this is a good way to improve interaction against ISIL.

But the key goal of the Jordanian King here is to drive a wedge between Russia and Iran and to prevent the latter’s approach to his borders. Some Jordanian sources quote him as saying that Russia too sees the Iran-supported Syrian fighters as a threat to Syria’s stability and territorial integrity.

Before their turnabout towards the United States, the Jordanians showed a much more flexible approach towards the Syrian problem. Abdullah II counteracted with the Russians and Assad’s special services and kept meeting with Putin in Moscow. It was his reaction to the fall of Aleppo and the deployment of Iranian troops near his borders.

Even more, the Jordan special services are still acting as a link between the intelligence communities of the West, al Assad and Russia.

In this light, Jordan’s military preparations were hardly a surprise for Russia.

The basic reason Abdullah II is chasing around between the United States and Russia – the key major players in Syria (on Jan 28 he visited Moscow, while on Feb 6 he was already in Washington just to go back there in early April) is his growing anxiety in the face of the approaching Iranians.

The prospects

For the time being, the British-U.S. activities in Jordan can be regarded as part of Abdullah II’s plan to come to terms with Russia at the expense of third states. In his interview to The Washington Post, the Jordanian King said, “From the Russian point of view, they play what I describe as a three-dimensional chess game. To them, Crimea is important, Syria is important, Ukraine, and we see them in Libya. The Americans and Europeans must deal with the Russians on all these issues simultaneously.” For Abdullah II this is like a horse-trade: “For the Russians I think the most important thing is Crimea. If you come to an understanding on Crimea, I think you will see much more flexibility on Syria, and I think Ukraine then becomes the least problematic. …Otherwise, the Americans and Russians will fight it out in Syria and Libya. If you keep this tension going, the next problem will be in Moldova. . . . Russians are going to continue to shake the tree, unless we come to a meeting of minds.”

Abdullah II makes it clear to the Russians that Trump’s interference in Syria offers them both problems and opportunities and that it is in their interest to stay in the area between Damascus, Latakia, Aleppo, Homs and Hama.

For him the only way for Assad to stay in the game is to break away from Iran.

In other words, the Jordanian Kinds recommends the Americans to use Ukraine and Iran as small coins now that Putin is facing serious problems with terrorism: ISIL fighters are already moving towards Moscow and St. Petersburg, so, the Russian President has to be quick in finding political solutions in Syria.

Consequences and the concept

One of the key questions here is why Jordan’s allies are concentrating their forces openly. Perhaps, this is a way to force al Assad to split his forces and to make him lose efficiency in Adlib and Hama.

One more possible goal is to present the Russians with one more proof of the Americans’ firmness and to make them give in.

For al Assad, this will be a strong blow on his ambition to untie Syria but not a disaster. On the contrary, now forced to concentrate his forces near the Jordanian border, he will be able to use them more effectively on other directions.

Jordan’s involvement in the Syrian conflict may cause Syria’s division into “Russian” and “American” zones, with no foothold left for the Iranians. The Americans know that the Russians and the Iranians are not only allies but also rivals in Syria and are trying to use this circumstance.

Time will show how effective this plan will be. For the time being, the Russians are not inclined to let the Iranians down – especially as Trump has given them no guarantees about letting al Assad stay in power and Moscow’s interests in Syria.

Sergey Balmasov, expert at the Middle East Institute, specially for EADaily

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