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06/14/2013

Syria's war, King Abdullah's problem whether he likes it or not

Jordan king

It's not possible for Jordan's King Abdullah to remain neutral as Syria's war continues on his country's border. AFP PHOTO/KHALIL MAZRAAWI

The United States military's proposal for a limited no-fly zone inside Syria near the Jordan border will have major implications for the small kingdom which can ill afford to be destabilized by its neighbour’s civil war.

The Wall Street Journal reports American officials as saying the Jordanians have offered the use of their bases to help set up a “no fighting zone” along the border. This would be a 40-kilometre stretch of territory inside Syria to prevent the regime from attacking rebels and refugees arriving into Jordan.

The area would be enforced with aircraft flown from Jordan’s airbases, the Journal reported.  What is not clear is how the U.S. could go ahead with a no-fly zone without authorization from the UN Security Council of which Russia, a staunch Syrian ally, is a permanent veto-wielding member.

What is clear is that Jordan’s role in Syria’s civil war will take on a larger military dimension.

Even though America has Patriot air defense batteries and F-16 fighter planes stationed there, hitherto Jordan’s role has mostly been confined to taking in refugees – half a million and counting.  

Once again, Jordan is being pulled into its neighbours’ troubles – whether it wants to or not and with the consequences in the far future completely unknown.  During the 1990-1991 Gulf War, King Abdullah’s father, the late King Hussein, refused to support America in its war against Iraq or take Saddam Hussein’s side.

The attempt at neutrality earned him the wrath of Washington, which cut off aid, and the UN, which imposed devastating sanctions of $5 billion –nearly $1 billion more than Jordan’s GDP in 1990. The opprobrium of Arab countries who hated Saddam was also fierce.    

But King Hussein warned at the time: “With or without war, nothing will return to what it was. This will be an area of turmoil unless people face up to the need to create new dreams and new realities.”

They are words as prescient today as they were in 1990 when he spoke them. The First Gulf War worsened the region's troubles and eventually led to a second one in 2003 which sent a mass of of Iraqi refugees into Jordan and terrorist attacks in the country. 

Neutrality in the Syrian war is not an option for King Abdullah. The 378-kilometre border is porous in many parts and he has expressed worry about a “jihadist state” emerging out of the conflict. 

Should that happen, it would also be Jordan’s problem. 

READ MORE: Hamida Ghafour in Amman reports on King Abdullah's high wire act

Hamida Ghafour is a foreign affairs reporter at The Star. She has lived and worked in the Middle East and Asia for more than 10 years and is the author of a book on Afghanistan. Follow her on Twitter @HamidaGhafour

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