The Syrian Observatory For Human Rights

SOHR:Concern in Jordan over presence of Iran militias near northern borders

The presence of Iranian militias could become a security threat that poses a risk to Jordanian-Syrian relations.

Jordan is watching the escalation in Syria’s southern province of Daraa with a lot of concern, fearing that the regime’s control of the area may facilitate the deployment of Iranian militias near its northern borders.

Syrian regime forces are clashing with rebels again in Daraa, three years after Syria’s government retook control of the flashpoint province.

Nearly half of the population of the rebel-held Daraa al-Balad district have fled heavy shelling and ground battles, but the United Nations warns that remaining civilians are cut off with dwindling supplies.

Jordanian researchers and academics have recently called on Amman to watch “with concern and alarm” the developments in the Syrian province, warning that the presence of Iranian militias could become a security threat that poses a risk to Jordanian-Syrian relations.

Muhammad Masalha, professor of international relations and political science at the University of Jordan, says that the 2018 settlement agreement in Daraa, bordering Jordan, “with Russia’s blessing, was aimed at countering any Iranian threat to Jordan’s national security.”

The Jordanian academic warned that “three years after the settlement agreement between the opposition and the regime in the Daraa province, with Russian mediation, the current situation feels like a return to square one.”

Daraa, which borders Jordan and is close to the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, is widely seen as the cradle of the 2011 uprising in Syria, which sparked a decade-long civil war that has killed almost half a million people.

In 2011, young boys who had scrawled graffiti against President Bashar al-Assad were detained in Daraa, sparking nationwide protests.

After the demonstrations evolved into war, rebels seized control.

The rebels hung on until 2018. But after weeks of deadly fighting, the Russia-backed regime retook control under a surrender deal.

Moscow had brokered similar so-called “reconciliation” accords in Syria’s second city of Aleppo, as well the Eastern Ghouta region, outside the capital Damascus.

Under those deals, rebels handed over their heavy weapons and left on buses. But in Daraa, many former opposition fighters stayed behind.

Since the 2018 “reconciliation” deal, Daraa province has seen regular explosions and hit-and-run attacks.

In late July, some of the fiercest clashes to rock the province since regime forces returned left 32 dead, including 12 civilians, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The government seized farmland outside Daraa al-Balad, before the fighting largely subsided and Russian-mediated talks began.

But pro-Damascus forces had continued to shell the area “to exhaust fighters who only have light weapons.”

Experts say Iran is pushing Damascus to bolster its forces there.

Daraa is close to the Golan Heights, occupied by Tehran’s arch-foe Israel. Pro-Iran fighters are deployed in parts of the province.

The presence of pro-Iran forces has increased Amman’s concerns, especially after Jordan’s King Abdullah II recently revealed in an interview with CNN that his country was targeted by Iranian-made drones.

Jordan is among the most affected countries by developments in Syria. After being ready to reopen the Jaber-Nassib border crossing amid hopes to revitalise economic and trade exchange, Jordan  decided on July 31 to completely close the crossing, blaming this on “developments in the security situation on the Syrian side.”

Jordan, which has repeatedly called for a political solution to the Syrian conflict, is concerned that the escalating clashes in Daraa would end up posing a threat to its border security. A new security problem, experts say, could lead to more displacement and this is a factor that would lead to increased pressure on Jordan’s economy and infrastructure.

Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman al-Safadi had previously warned that chaos in Daraa may lead to the deployment of armed groups that are hostile to both the Jordanian and Syrian peoples.

Jordan does not want to see militias affiliated with Iran, Lebanon, Iraq, or any other country deployed near its borders. Jordan also does not want to respond militarily to the presence of armed groups, at least 50 kilometres across the frontier between the two countries.

The presence of Iranian militias near Jordan’s borders also poses a danger, especially in the event of an armed clash with Israel, as rockets and missiles may land in Jordanian territory, which may compromise the safety of Jordanians.

“The Iran-backed Syrian Army’s control of Daraa means that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) are present on the northern borders of Jordan and are edging closer towards Israel and its borders,” Saud Al-Sharafat, founder and chairman of the Shorufat Centre for Globalisation and Terrorism Studies in Amman.

Such a presence, Sharafat added, “increases the risk of targeting Amman’s interests directly or indirectly, using the borders to strike Israel or harass Jordan, particularly with drones that the IRGC usually uses against soft targets.”

Though there is a Jordanian agreement with the Syrian side to keep Iranian militias away from the Jordanian borders, a distance of 50 km, available intelligence confirms the presence of such militias, but in Syrian military uniforms.