The New Levant

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Cars line the road on September 29, 2021, after the Jaber border crossing with Syria was reopened. There has been some recent media speculation concerning the idea of a “New Levant;” or a new dawn in relations between select Levantine countries, writes Jordan News columnist Nasser bin Nasser. (Photo: AFP)
There has been some recent media speculation concerning the idea of a “New Levant;” a new dawn in relations between the Levantine grouping of countries that are Jordan, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon, in addition to Egypt. This speculation can be traced to a number of developments over the past year, developments in which Jordan has figured quite centrally. اضافة اعلان

Firstly, there was a significant warming of ties between Jordan, Iraq, and Egypt during a period that witnessed three trilateral summits that brought together the leaders of the three countries. This was followed by an Iraqi Neighboring Countries Conference that Jordan wholeheartedly endorsed and supported. 

Secondly, there was a thaw in relations between Jordan and Syria after a prolonged period characterized by tension, which witnessed the reopening of the Jaber border crossing, the first public meetings between Jordanian and Syrian officials in a decade, and a telephone call between the leaders of the two countries — also believed to be the first in a decade. 

Lastly, there was an agreement amongst the countries to come to Lebanon’s aid through a plan that would deliver Egyptian gas and Jordanian electricity to Lebanon via a route through Syria. There was never a formal announcement of a New Levant project by any of these governments. The term first appeared after political observers sensed that plans of the sort were afoot.

The contours of what the New Levant could look like are already taking shape and it seems like the centerpiece will be electricity and energy cooperation. This could be followed by cooperation on water, trade, and investment, which would be particularly rewarding — and of course important — when it comes to the reconstruction of Syria. The role that this type of cooperation and interdependence can play in fostering stability and economic development in the Levant shouldn’t be underestimated.

The New Levant project, in its current format, is drastically different from previous versions that have appeared in the past century, such as the Greater Syria and the Fertile Crescent projects, which were more politically-driven. Interestingly, both of those projects had Hashemite-origins and sought to unify Arab countries after the Sykes-Picot agreement, which had effectively killed the vision of unity that the Arab Revolt sought to advance. 

The New Levant may seem Jordanian-driven but it has no single or clear author. Furthermore, there are no misconceptions regarding the sovereignty of each country involved in the project, nor does the project seem to have any center of gravity given its purely economic rationale.

Despite the progress being made, the New Levant is far from a realization and there are numerous potential obstacles standing in its way, both internal factors amongst countries involved and external factors. For one, both Iraq and Lebanon are facing a period of political uncertainty that could hinder the project altogether. Fear and uncertainty regarding Iraq’s recent election outcome and government formation may lead to a prolonged political stalemate or worse. 

Likewise, lack of political progress in Lebanon and worsening economic conditions could throw the country further into disarray. For Syria, the country’s transmission infrastructure is likely to be degraded and needs serious rebuilding before electricity connectivity with Jordan and Lebanon can occur.

For Jordan, the government’s ability to overcome the bureaucratic red tape needed to facilitate cooperation and trade and effectively manage these kinds of economic partnerships could also be a major hindrance.   

Despite its purely economic purposes, external actors on the periphery of the Levant may be unnerved by this project and see it within the prism of past politics. Iran could work to prevent Iraq and Syria from warming up to its Arab partners. For their part, Israel may also look at such a grouping unfavorably.

It is also unclear how the GCC would view such a partnership on their northern borders. Viewing the New Levant through a zero-sum game misses the point; a project of this sort would only serve to improve security and stability in the broader region for everyone, not undermine it.

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