Security agreement with Russia marks Jordan shift

Friday 13/11/2015
Agree­ment is specifically related to southern Syria

AMMAN - Jordan had reached a security agreement with Russia that allows the Arab kingdom an­other outlet to fight the Islam­ic State (ISIS) and other mili­tants in Syria and Iraq and keeps it apprised of the fate of Bashar Assad, whose ouster it once advocated.

The October 23rd agreement with Russia, Assad’s backer and longtime ally, boosts Jordan’s endeavour to avenge ISIS’s gruesome murder of Royal Jordanian Air Force Lieuten­ant Muath al-Kasasbeh by burning him alive in a cage. Jordanian King Abdullah II publicly pledged to avenge Kasasbeh’s death.

The deal marks a Jordanian shift towards Assad, although not out­side the realm of its traditional US ally, which — in the face of Russian intransigence — started talking of allowing the Syrian president to re­main in office until new elections sometime in the next two years.

Most of Washington’s Arab al­lies are altering their stances as was evident in October meetings that included Russia, the United States, Iran, Saudi Arabia and other coun­tries involved in the Syrian crisis.

Arab delegates, except Saudi Ara­bia, at those meetings seemed to back off demands that Assad quit. The shift points to a new willingness to return to dialogue with the As­sad regime. The switch in Jordan’s stance could displease the Saudis, the country’s largest Arab bank­rollers, who insist that Assad step down.

In an implicit reference to Saudi Arabia, a Jordanian government of­ficial told The Arab Weekly: “We re­spect the desires of other states, but Jordan is a sovereign nation and has interests that must be served and protected.”

“Russia is fighting militants who are a menace to our stability and the United States has a coalition also fighting ISIS,” the official said, referring to the US-led coalition for which Jordan has flown numerous sorties over ISIS strongholds in Syria and Iraq.

“We have agreements with both [the US and Russia] and we want to see the [ISIS] bunch of outlaws re­strained and its members brought to justice,” the official added, insisting on anonymity, citing the sensitive nature of his comments.

In the October agreement, Mos­cow and Amman agreed to establish a “special working mechanism” to share information on counterterror­ism operations in Syria, according to a Jordanian government announce­ment.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the agreement allows the militaries of the two countries to coordinate actions, including mili­tary aircraft missions over Syrian territory.

Jordanian Information Minister Mohammad Momani said the agree­ment was specifically related to southern Syria, on Jordan’s northern border.

“It aims to ensure security of the kingdom’s northern frontier,” Mom­ani said.

He insisted that Jordan “remains an active member of the interna­tional coalition fighting the Daesh terror group,” he said, using the Ara­bic acronym for ISIS.

Ziad al-Majali, Jordan’s ambas­sador to Russia, said establishing a “special working mechanism” to share information on Syrian opera­tions increases military cooperation between the countries to an unprec­edented level.

“It will not be just in the form of information exchange,” Majali said. “We see a necessity to be on the ground as Jordan has a border with Syria.

“When it comes to combating re­gional terrorism, we have to be there in the forefront.”

Over the decades, Jordan main­tained close diplomatic and security ties with the United States. Amman allowed US military strategists ac­cess to its northern border to help it devise plans to fend off attacks from Syria. The US military has also deployed about a dozen F-16s to a Jordanian air base from which they have been hitting targets in Iraq and Syria.

Additionally, several hundred US advisers have been sent to the king­dom to prevent the Syrian war from spilling over into Jordan.

CIA operatives, along with Brit­ish and French instructors, trained moderate Syrian forces over the years, more recently to fight ISIS. Earlier batches, trained to fight Assad, were sent across a porous 375-kilometre border into Syria.

Nonetheless, the deployment of US military assets to Jordan sparked opposition among some Jordanians, particularly religious fanatics, who are opposed to a Western presence in the country.

On November 9th, a Jordanian police captain killed two US police instructors, one South African and two Jordanian interpreters at a po­lice training centre east of Amman. Two other Americans, a Lebanese and three Jordanians were also wounded before the shooter was killed by fellow officers.

Retired Jordanian Army General Qassem Saleh said “one should not read too much into the security ac­cord with Russia”.

“It’s evident that Russia has the final word in Syria,” he said. “Syria is on our frontier and we must ensure that Russia forces respects the bor­der and refrains from penetrating our airspace.

“Russia has a duty in Syria to strike at ISIS strongholds and we have a duty to keep our land border and airspace safe with no violations from any side.”