A new phase in Jordanian-Syrian relations?

Jaber Border crossing AFP (1)
A file photo of the closed Jaber/Nassib border post at Jordan's border with Syria, on August 1, 2021. (File photo: AFP)
Last week, senior Jordanian and Syrian defense officials held their first public talks in a decade. The talks came following a major offensive by the Syrian military to retake the last rebel stronghold in southern Syria and after they were able to reestablish control over the border city of Daraa. Statements released by both sides said the talks focused on the situation at the joint border, terrorism, and smuggling. While the Jordanian public may hold mixed views about the prospect of improved relations with Syria, it may nonetheless be necessary for Jordan and consistent with the pragmatism that regularly defines Jordanian foreign policy.اضافة اعلان

Jordanian security institutions need to have effective security partnerships with their counterparts in neighboring countries, both to manage legitimate security concerns such as smuggling and the presence of non-state actors (both terrorist and criminal) and as a prerequisite to improvements on broader areas such as the movement of goods and people across borders. At the height of the Syrian conflict, there were reportedly 1,200 rebel groups fighting the Syrian regime, dozens to hundreds of which were in southern Syria. These groups posed serious risks to Jordan’s national security and prompted Jordan to achieve one of its most impressive diplomatic feats to date: Reaching a ceasefire agreement in southern Syria with the US and Russia as cosignatories. With the Syrian military now in full control of southern Syria for the first time in a decade, these talks should not come as a surprise. Nor should it be surprising if further normalcy in relations occurs in due course, including discussions on water and electricity. This does not mean that Jordan is rushing to turn the page with Syria or that Jordanians need to overlook this bloody chapter in Syria’s history or whitewash it. It simply means an adjustment to the current political realities.

Ultimately, the reconstitution of the Syrian state and its institutions is in the interests of Jordan and by contrast a persistently and endemically fragile Syria is not. A weakened Syria allows for outside influence, undermines the independence of Syrian decision making and puts the interest of outsiders over those of the Syrian people. Jordan previously witnessed this scenario with another neighboring country, Iraq, and had to pay the price of losing a key economic partner and suffer the consequences of insecurity, lawlessness, and outside meddling there.

Jordan’s international and regional partners may also hold mixed views about the recent developments witnessed in Jordanian-Syrian relations. Sanctions imposed by some of them, including those imposed by the US in the form of the 2019 Caesar Act, could be a major obstacle to the return of normalcy with Syria, especially when it comes to trade. The question is whether Jordan’s international and regional partners will also recognize the need to improve the status quo. The recent agreement between Egypt, Jordan, and Syria to transfer Egyptian gas and Jordanian electricity to Lebanon through Jordan and Syria respectively, is a good case in point. It shows the potential benefits of pragmatism at play.

Reengaging with Syria may seem increasingly inevitable but surely it will be a long, gradual and measured process and plagued with many spoilers along the way.

Read more Opinion and Analysis