In the geopolitical landscape of the Middle East, Jordan is a beacon of stability and plays an important role in the region. By maintaining peaceful relations with its neighbors, the country can prosper economically through trade, as well as by diplomatic means on the world stage.
Jordan’s close relationship with the USA has helped the country play a pivotal role in key Middle East issues. In a July 2021 visit to Washington, Jordanian King Abdullah II had a meeting with President Joe Biden, where the two leaders emphasized their good relations. The US President assured the Jordanian monarch of American support, who in response expressed his commitment to maintaining good relations. During the visit, an important emphasis came upon Jordan’s new attitude towards Syria. In the past Jordan took a tough stance on its neighboring country in concern to its ten years civil war by condemning the Syrian regime’s – crimes during the conflict. To this end King Abdullah implied in 2017 that Assad should resign due to the bloodshed towards his own people. Jordan also kept its mutual border with Syria closed since 2015 due to security issues, and aided the Syrian Opposition with weapons sent from the US. However, as the Assad Government controls a significant portion of the country, King Abdullah decided to change his approach. In a CNN interview cited by an analysis of The New Arab, he referred to the development of events in Syria: “Bashar has longevity… the government is there and so we have to be mature in our thinking… is it regime change or behavioral change, and if it’s behavioral change then what do we do to come together to talk with the government, because everyone else is doing it but there is no plan at the moment”. The analysis also reports that King Abdullah wishes for the US and the EU to create a task force with Syria and Russia so as to end a stalemate and launch a political process.
In August 2021, Abdullah II met in Moscow with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who engaged Russia militarily in the Syrian Civil War since 2015, as a key ally of the Assad Establishment. The New Arab reported the two leaders’ statements during the meeting. King Abdullah thanked Russia for playing “the most stable role” in resolving the challenges in Syria, and President Putin said that the two would discuss “normalizing the situation in Syria”. The Jordanian monarch also called for a “political solution to the Syrian crisis that (…) guarantees the safe return of refugees”. Jordan already hosts 1.3 million Syrian refugees. These statements came after Russia became a mediator in the conflict between the regime and its opposition, which held back an all-out assault of the Syrian regime on Daraa Al-Balad.
Another reason of Jordan’s new stance is the effect that the Syrian Civil war has had on the country’s international trade. Jordan’s trade balance with Syria decreased from $615m in 2010 to $94m in 2020, according to official Jordanian statistics, reported by Middle East Eye. Jordanian exports have also been heavily affected by the border closure. Therefore, a delegation of Jordan’s Chamber of Commerce discussed expanding bilateral trade with Syria during a Damascus visit on 23 July 2021. Jordan also seeks to help in the reconstruction of Syria, by supplying the country with electricity and essential materials.
After pro-Assad forces regained control over the border with Jordan, a discussion between the two countries’ ministers of interior took place, which led to an agreement to reopen border crossings (Nasseb/Jordan – Jaber/Syria). This was done with the US’s permission, as a result of king Abdullah’s visit to Washington. By late September the border crossing was fully reopened.
The improvement of relations between Jordan and Syria proved out to be beneficial for the latter’s neighboring country Lebanon. The country faces the worst economic crash since the mid-19th century, according to the World Bank. However, Lebanon’s crisis can be slowly overcome. On 8 September, energy ministers from Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon joined in Amman concluded a series of discussions meant to agree on drafting out a plan for bringing gas and electricity to Lebanon. The gas would be transported via the transnational Arab Gas Pipeline, which crosses from Egypt through Jordan and Syria to Lebanon. The deal was possible with US approval, as the United States decided that the signing countries would not be subject to sanctions, as is the case for the Syrian regime.
Even so, according to Jordan’s Energy Minister Hala Zawati it is a matter of months until the Syrian electric lines damaged during the war will be repaired. Therefore, in a statement of the Lebanese Energy Minister Raymond Ghajar, cited by The Arab Weekly, Lebanon needed „600 million cubic meters (21 billion cubic feet) of gas to provide 450 megawatts of electricity”. He added that Lebanon is „working with the World Bank to ensure the financial resources needed to pay for energy imports from Egypt”.
In late October 2021, during a meeting in Amman, the energy ministers of Syria, Jordan and Lebanon agreed on a roadmap for the transfer plan of electricity and natural gas. Saleh Kharabsheh, the Jordanian Energy and Mineral Resources Minister said that the three countries agreed to provide Lebanon with 150 megawatts of electricity between midnight and 6am, and with another 250 megawatts during the remaining hours of the day. The acute energy crisis has left most Lebanese in darkness for up to 20 hours in a day. Kharabsheh added that the maintenance works on the Syrian grid, which started due to the September deal, are under way, and will finish before the end of the year. Consequently, Lebanon will be supplied with energy at the beginning of 2022. This project is financed by the World Bank.
Through its involvement in solving local crises with the aim to end the Syrian Civil War and aid Lebanon in its energy crisis, Jordan plays a stabilizing role in the region. Due to King Abdullah II meetings with both American President Biden and Russian President Putin, Jordanian foreign policy may be considered ambivalent, but it came as a result of the military evolution of Syria’s Civil War. This geopolitical shift proves helpful for Lebanon and may be useful in overcoming its difficulties.
Disclaimer. The views and opinions expressed in this analysis are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of MEPEI. Any content provided by our authors is of their opinion and is not intended to malign any religion, ethnic group, club, organization, company, individual, or anyone or anything.
About the author:
Andrei Cosmin POPA is a Ph.D. History student, Doctoral School of the Faculty of History, University of Bucharest. Areas of interest: contemporary history, history of communism.