In the past few years, several Sunni Arab states have taken steps toward restoring relations with Bashar al-Assad’s regime, which, having waged brutal and still ongoing war on its own subjects, became a pariah nation. Such signals of normalization also suggest a wavering in their willingness to stand up to Assad’s Iranian patrons. Jesse Marks and Caroline Rose examine the specific case of Jordan, which shares a border with Syria, and has seen the latter’s civil war pose threats to its stability—including an influx of refugees, attempts by Islamic State to expand into its territory, and the disruptive effects of the drug trade on which Assad now relies:
Over the past year, Jordan has received criticism for an apparent warming of relations with Syria. A notable border crossing opening in 2021 and dialogues between both heads of state and ministers of defense and foreign affairs reinforced speculation that the two are escalating efforts to normalize bilateral ties, prompting concerns from the United States as it works to isolate the government of the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. But while the two governments are interested in cooperating on trade and border security, an uptick in clashes related to the trade in the drug captagon and Iran-aligned influence in southern Syria has ensured that Jordan is still a long way from normalization with Syria.
As the captagon trade booms and rising insecurity in southern Syria continues, the U.S.-Jordanian relationship—specifically security cooperation along the Jordanian-Syrian border—will, too, change. [Meanwhile], the U.S. should work to identify a strategy with Jordan to serve as a proactive, supportive partner in promoting border and regional security.
[The] Jordanian government continues to expose links between the Syrian military, its Iranian-aligned partners such as Hizballah and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps militias, and the captagon trade. Those potential links, and more specifically the smuggling of captagon through Jordan, reinforce Jordan’s view of the Syrian military as an unreliable partner.