Jordan, a bridgehead for regional rapprochement with Damascus

Officially, Abdullah II and Bashar Al-Assad had not spoken to each other during the past ten years of war in Syria. The Jordanian king had called for the departure of the Syrian president at the end of 2011, after several months of uprising against the regime and of repression. Damascus, for its part, has never forgotten that Jordan, during the first years of the war, hosted on its territory the MOC (Military Operations Center), the Arab-Western support cell for the rebel factions. Failing to make a clean sweep of the past, the two leaders seem eager to open a new chapter. On Sunday October 3, the Syrian president called the Jordanian king. Now it’s about relationships “Fraternal”.

Symbolic, this phone call created a surprise. It marks an acceleration in the warming underway between the two capitals. This materialized in a series of bilateral meetings in September. Foreign ministers met on the sidelines of the recent UN General Assembly. And several Syrian ministers were received in Amman, including that of defense, welcomed by the head of the Jordanian army. One of the stated priorities is the revival of economic relations. The reopening on September 29 of the Jaber-Nassib terminal, the main border crossing between the two countries, is supposed to facilitate it.

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“There is a pressing need for the private sector to renew economic partnerships, in Syria as well as in Iraq, where we are also working to regain our market share”, explains Jamal Al-Rifai, vice-president of the Jordanian chamber of commerce. The Covid-19 pandemic has worsened the economic crisis in the kingdom, which is in dire need of oxygen. On paper, multiple plans are planned. In particular, Amman cherishes the dream of serving as a hub for the reconstruction effort in Syria, which remains at a standstill at this stage. In the immediate future, Jordan hopes to regain its function as a transit point on the major regional trade routes. Another quick benefit expected, the “Sale of electricity in Lebanon [touché par de graves pénuries], via Syria. With two benefits to be drawn for Amman: playing an active role towards Lebanon, and reducing the cost of electricity in Jordan ”, considers the deputy Khair Abou Salik.

Unexpected opening

The Nassib Jaber international border post, between Jordan and Syria.  Located on the Damascus-Amman International Highway, October 4, 2021.

Despite the emphasis on the economy, this aspect is only one facet of the ongoing merger. It is too early to speak of political normalization – a term the elite in Amman refrain from using. But it is an unexpected opening that the historic ally of the Americans offers to Syria, whose leaders – Bashar Al-Assad in the lead – continue to be treated as an outcast by the West. “The rapprochement is realpolitik, where moral judgments have no place, underlines Oraib Al-Rantawi, director of the Al-Quds Center for Political Studies. There is no sign of regime change in Syria, Assad will stay in power, we have to deal with Syria, our neighbor. There is also a regional readjustment with major changes, such as the American disengagement from Afghanistan. “

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