King Abdullah II of Jordan was quick to comment on the assassination of three top security officials in Damascus. King Abdullah II described the incident as a “tremendous blow” to President Bashar al-Assad, and said it shows cracks in the Syrian regime. But he believes the latest attack and the heavy fighting in the heart of the country is not an indication that the regime will crumble immediately, given the lengths Bashar al-Assad’s government have gone to crush dissent.
But the King also made his country’s fears and concerns clear. One of the worst-case scenarios for Jordan would be if some of the Syrian regime’s chemical stockpiles would fall into what the king described as “unfriendly hands”.
These stockpiles of weapons, believed to be stored inside warehouses in southern Syria, have been heavily guarded under Assad. The fear is that they would slip out of state control and into the hands of rebel groups. Abdullah fears that amid the chaos that will prevail in the event of a regime collapse, these weapons would then be smuggled into Jordan for a potential attack.
The Americans and Jordanians have been in joint military exercises and discussions, racking their brains about how to best keep these weapons intact should the Assad regime fall. One of the proposals included American troops going into Syria within eighteen hours of a regime collapse to secure these stockpiles. This is an indication that some in the region are well-prepared for Assad’s fall. But that doesn’t mean the cost of the war in Syria is not high on its neighbours.
Jordan believes it has a heavy security burden on its chest. So far, it hosts over 150,000 Syrian refugees and hundreds keep trickling in every day. Camps in the north are overcrowded, and the fear is that Assad loyalists would infiltrate the country and plot attacks against Jordan, which is viewed as providing shelter to Syrian revolutionaries.
What’s even more worrying is the talk in town after Wednesday’s Damascus bombing about announcing a state of emergency in Jordan due to the situation in Syria. This means the authorities would ban protests, gatherings and all other assemblies. It may even include postponing parliamentary elections scheduled before the end of this year. An end to freedom of expression is a nonstarter for Jordanian opposition groups demanding reforms, which could incite more instability in Jordan.
Border security has been dramatically beefed up, especially after Syrian border police and troops have recently been trying to provoke soldiers stationed on the Jordanian side with unwarranted gunfire. Local hotel sources have told Al Jazeera they have been ordered to increase security in their facilities and have been warned by the authorities of possible hotel attacks by Syrian government spies. The government’s headache is turning into a chronic migraine.
Jordan’s king thinks groups like al-Qaeda are operating inside Syria. The Jordanian security apparatus is doing what it can to monitor activities in Syrian areas it believes such groups are present. Whether the Jordanian leadership is with or against the Syrian revolution is not important – what matters more right now is how far Jordan’s efforts will go towards keeping the state safe and secure in the event of a security meltdown in Syria.