Jordan: A Limited Strategic Shift
Jordanian King Abdullah II’s recent visit to Moscow crowned a series of steps that Amman has been taking over the past few months, signalling a shift away from its traditional allies like Washington and Israel.
Until recently, Jordan was in the warm embrace of oil-rich Gulf Arab countries that, prepared to admit the Hashemite kingdom into their Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), would then shower it with billions in aid.
This is while Amman offered the services of its security and intelligence forces, coordinating closely with both Washington and Tel Aviv in a variety of areas, not least of which the unfolding crisis in Syria.
According to informed sources, last July 2012, Amman hosted a gathering of security officials from the US, Qatar, and Israel, who recommended setting up training camps for Syrian opposition fighters near the Jordanian city of Irbid.
US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta admitted as much when he acknowledged in October 2012 that dozens of American soldiers were deployed along the Jordanian-Syrian border, explaining that “these units are tasked with establishing a base in Jordan and to assist the Syrian refugees and Jordanian armed forces to confront the dangers stemming from Syria’s chemical weapons.”
In the last few months Amman has begun to reassess its alliances in light of the Syrian crisis, perhaps embarking on a process of strategic realignment, moving closer to Iraq and Russia, at the expense of its traditional allies.
The prospective threat posed by the powerful Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood and the more radical Islamist currents prompted the army and intelligence to convince the palace not to go along with Washington’s plan.
Amman even went so far as to completely close its border with Syria, preventing fighters and weapons from crossing it.
This came at a high cost for Jordan, as Saudi Arabia and Qatar – who were mobilizing all the forces they could muster against the Bashar al-Assad regime – to halt their support for the kingdom, causing a serious economic crisis in the country.
Iraq quickly moved in to try to fill the void and revive its once close ties with Jordan. An official visit to Amman by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki at the end of 2012 led to the signing of several lucrative deals that would see cheap Iraqi oil once again flowing to Jordan.
As for Jordan’s relationship with Iran, “that’s a tough one for us,” says a high-level Jordanian security official, pointing out that the realignment underway may go far, “but it has its limits, for there are lines that cannot be crossed, and Iran lies outside these boundaries.”
In light of all this, King Abdullah II’s visit to Moscow on Tuesday, February 19 cannot in any way be seen simply as a routine call.
For its part, Jordan is seeking a counterbalance to US influence, for fear that Washington is preparing to force Amman into accepting a confederation with the Palestinians as a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Russia, on the other hand, sees this as an opportunity to bring Amman into its orbit, particularly on the Syrian question, where Moscow is in the process of pushing for a settlement.
Jordan’s diplomatic support in the Arab arena and the valuable intelligence it can provide on the Syrian opposition make it a critical resource for the Russians.