Security agreement with Russia marks Jordan shift
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.”