Saturday, November 26, 2011

Is Syria Planning to Attack Jordan?

by Khaled Abu Toameh

Millions of Palestinians living in Jordan are, for now, sitting on the fence. But when and if they break their silence and join the enemies of King Abdullah II, it would be hard to see how the monarchy would be able to survive. That is unless the US and other Western powers decided to intervene to prevent the establishment of an Iranian and Syrian backed dictatorship in Jordan.

Syrian dictator Bashar Assad has every reason to be furious with Jordan. Since the beginning of the revolt against Assad earlier this year, the Jordanians have come out in public in support of the anti-regime protesters in Syria.

The Jordanian authorities have permitted anti-Assad demonstrators to stage demonstrations outside the Syrian embassy in Amman. Moreover, the Jordanians have opened their borders to facilitate the escape of thousands of Syrian civilians from the massacres carried out by Assad's army.

The Jordanians are now in the process of setting up refugee camps along their border with Syria to absorb Syrians fleeing from Assad's murderous war machine.

Signs of a looming crisis between Amman and Damascus first surfaced a few months ago when the Syrians claimed that weapons were being smuggled from Jordan to help Assad's political foes. Since then the Syrian authorities have beefed up security measures along the border with Jordan, carrying out thorough searches of passengers wishing to enter Syria.

The Syrian authorities say they have also discovered that anti-Assad demonstrators have been using Jordanian SIM cards on their mobile phones to avoid by detected by the Syrian security forces.

More recently, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Mualem accused Jordan of harboring Syrian army defectors in the kingdom. The Jordanian government has dismissed the allegation as "baseless and inaccurate.

A Jordanian government official, however, pointed out that some Syrian army soldiers and officers may have fled to Jordan as civilians.

In another sign of mounting tensions between the two Arab countries, a Jordanian newspaper reported last week that the Syrian army has planted land mines along the border with Jordan to stop refugees from entering the kingdom.

According to media reports in Jordan, at least 5,000 Syrians have fled to the kingdom since the beginning of the violence in Syria. The reports revealed that prominent Syrian human rights activist Suhair Atassi managed last week to cross the border into Jordan.

Earlier this year, Atassi was arrested by Assad's security forces and accused of "sowing division" among the Syrian people. "I was dragged for what felt like the length of two streets," she later said in an interview with Reuters. "The apparatchiks looked at me as if I was not their compatriot. They kept shouting at me that I was an Israeli spy."

The crisis between Jordan and Syria reached its peak last week when, in an unprecedented step, King Abdullah II called on the Syrian tyrant to step down.

"If Bashar (Assad) has the interest of his country, he would step down, but he would also create an ability to reach out and start a new phase of Syrian political life," the Jordanian monarch told the BBC in an interview. "If I were in his position, I would, step down and make sure whoever comes behind me has the ability to change the status quo that we're seeing."

Not surprisingly, the king's comments triggered a wave of anti-Jordan protests by Assad loyalists, who attacked the Jordanian embassy in Damascus, chanting slogans accusing the Jordanians of being "traitors" and "Israeli spies."

Eyewitnesses reported that the thugs who attacked the embassy removed the Jordanian flag and replaced it with the flag of the terrorist Hizbollah organization. This has raised speculation in Syria that the assailants were in fact Hizbollah militiamen who have been sent to Syria to help Assad crush the anti-regime demonstrations.

Since King Abdullah II called on Assad to step down, he has become the subject of daily attacks by the Hizbollah, Syria and Iran media.

Some Jordanians are now expressing fear that Assad may be planning to use Hizbollah and some armed Palestinian groups that are based in Damascus to undermine stability in the kingdom.

Saleh Kallab, a renowned Jordanian columnist, said that while he didn't foresee an all-out military confrontation between Jordan and Syria, he did not rule out the possibility that Assad would instruct Palestinian and Lebanese terrorists to launch attacks inside the kingdom to create panic and confusion. He noted, however, that some "hot-headed" officials in Assad's entourage would still like to see Syria go to war against Jordan.

Kallab disclosed that the Jordanian authorities had received information about attempts by Palestinians and Hizbollah to smuggle weapons into Jordan to carry out terror attacks against the monarchy and government institutions.

Obviously, Jordan would not be able to deal with the new threats alone. The king is already facing huge problems at home from the Islamists and other groups that are demanding reforms and democracy.

Khaled Abu Toameh


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

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