Home inContext Jordan Prepares for a Spillover of Syria’s Civil War

Jordan Prepares for a Spillover of Syria’s Civil War

Skyler Schmanski

With no end in sight for the Syrian civil war that has already claimed 93,000 lives, Jordan is again hosting a 12-day military exercise designed to train personnel in counter-terrorism and border security tactics. Known officially as Eager Lion 2013, the mid-June collaboration of 8,000 troops includes forces from Britain, Egypt, France, Iraq, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the United States among others. Israeli forces will not be included in the drills, despite having a relatively close relationship with Jordan compared to other Arab countries in the region.

The exact goal of the exercises remains somewhat unclear. The Associated Press reports there is speculation that the training may be preparing the Jordanian forces for an assault on Syria to secure al-Assad’s extensive chemical weapon stockpiles in the event rebel forces overthrow the regime. However, a less offensive approach is being advocated by military officials. “These exercises bolster our defense capabilities,” said Jordanian army Maj. Gen. Awni Edwan. “We don’t intend to attack anybody.” While a preemptive strike was not confirmed as an official option, Jordan hopes to deter any conflict from spilling across its border with Syria.

Jordan’s Prince Faisal (third from right) sits among other officers as they watch the Jordanian and U.S. special forces train at the King Abdullah Special Operations during the “Eager Lion” military exercise in Amman May 27, 2012. (Photo: Reuters)

In addition to military forces, non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) have also taken part in the simulations. Over 7,000 civilians are being trained to provide humanitarian and crisis relief for Syrian refugees, which now total a staggering 500,000 according to the UN Refugee Agency. Working in partnership with the UN, the Jordan Hashemite Charity Organization and other NGOs have already supplied extensive aid to displaced refugees living in areas of Jordan that have seen a large influx of refugees.

Nevertheless, the focus remains on the military maneuvers, with the American forces establishing a more permanent presence in the area. The U.S.’s decision to leave behind Patriot anti-aircraft missiles and F-16 fighter jets in Jordan after the conclusion of the exercises drew criticism from Russia. Questioning the application of these air-defense systems, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the imposition of a no-fly zone over Syria would be a direct violation of international law. The U.S. also deployed Patriot missiles along the Turkish-Syrian border under NATO auspices earlier this year. The White House’s disclosure last week that Washington would arm Syrian rebels and the U.S. military’s quietly-growing presence in Jordan suggests an increasingly interventionist approach to the Syrian civil war.