Jordan is anxiously watching military and security developments along its northern border with war-torn Syria, according to a number of Jordanian military and strategic analysts with whom Al-Monitor recently spoke amid heightened tensions between Amman and Damascus. Since King Abdullah II’s April 5 visit to Washington, there have been conflicting reports about a sizeable military buildup of US and British troops on the Jordanian side of the border with Syria, raising questions about a possible joint incursion into southern Syria, apparently to pre-empt and confront Islamic State (IS) expansion in the vast Badia region.
Speculation about an “imminent” operation inside Syria from Jordan prompted Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, in an April 21 Sputnik interview, to lambast the kingdom, accusing it of being “part of an American plan” to deploy troops on Syrian territory. That triggered a war of words between Jordan and Syria, with a government spokesman in Amman, Mohammad al-Momani, on the same day issuing a statement rejecting Assad’s “fabricated allegations.” On April 26, Abdullah told local media figures that the kingdom will defend itself from any threats “without the need to have a role for the [Jordanian] army inside Syria.”
That should have put the matter to bed, but Syria viewed Eager Lion, the 24-nation war games held annually in Jordan, this year starting May 7, as a provocation and cover for an alleged invasion of southern Syria. Foreign Minister Walid Moallem held a press conference on May 8 in Damascus, warning Amman that although Syria is not in confrontation with Jordan, “If the Jordanian forces entered without coordination with the Syrian government they will be considered hostile forces.” Jordanian officials did not respond, but it became clear that the regime in Damascus was getting ready to take the initiative in southern Syria, and on May 15, it did.
Reports, based on information from rebel group in the south, spoke of the Syrian regime moving government troops supported by Iran-backed militias to the region near its border with Iraq and Jordan. This was the same desert area that US-backed rebels had taken control of after IS fighters withdrew. A few days later, the rebel forces appeared to have consolidated their hold on a number of villages in that region. The Syrian move coincided with an agreement reached in Astana by Russia, Turkey and Iran to designate four “de-escalation zones” in Syria, including one in Daraa, in the south.
Jordan and the United States have supported, as well as armed, so-called moderate rebel groups and local tribal fighters in southern Syria as a proxy force to prevent IS militants from infiltrating the region. The New Syrian Army, as the force is called, had participated in a fierce battle, along with US, British and possibly Jordanian special forces on April 10, to ward off an IS attack on the Tanf base on the Syrian side of the Jordanian-Iraqi …read more