Spillover Threatens Stability

As the UN’s joint Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) works to remove Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles amidst repeated attempts to broker peace between the Assad regime and various Opposition factions, the second and third-order effects of the Syrian war are severely impacting the rest of the Levant.

Jordan in particular is struggling to maintain its internal stability amidst a severe influx of Syrian refugees, and is working hard to ensure the conflict is not exacerbated by any potential conflict that could arise in Jordan, thereby threatening the stability of other countries in the Levant even further. As SOFREP has previously reported, the Syrian conflict has continuously threatened US and western interests due primarily to the presence of various violent extremist organizations and Islamist militants operating in the region.

Straight From the Source

Based on information from a SOFREP contact with direct access to the ground situation and atmospherics in Jordan, recent developments suggest the situation in Jordan is on the decline.  According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there are over 600,000 refugees from Syria alone residing in Jordan.  This massive influx has severely degraded Jordanian internal stability, despite many combined humanitarian assistance forces and Jordanian government attempts to the contrary.

Factors Threatening Internal Stability

There are a number of factors affecting the internal stability of Jordan.  Chief among them is the ability of the Jordanian government to shape the perceptions of its people in regards to the bloody conflict that has been waged at its doorstep for the past three-plus years.  The more confident the Jordanian populace remains of its stability and security relative to its Syrian neighbors to the north, the more successful the Jordanian government will be in maintaining control over the situation.

Zaatari Refugee Camp, northern Jordan, courtesy of AFP/Getty Images

Media Regulation

In order to maintain a semblance of control over the spillover emanating from Syria, the Jordanian government has engaged in an extensive information operations campaign to offset any reporting that suggests the situation along their northern border is beyond their control.  In short, the Jordanian government is directly influencing what their media outlets are able to report, broadcasting that citizens have nothing to worry about.

According to our source, the Jordanian government has taken much liberty regarding the various issues threatening their stability.  “The [Jordanian government] is saying that any news/media there is lying about the amount of Syrian refugees that are currently flooding into the country.  They’re telling the citizens not to worry…and that there is enough of [everything] to go around, particularly water.”

While the majority of Jordanians recognize they are being lied to by the government, they understand what their government is attempting to do for them and often accept it.  It’s easier for the “older generations to accept that it’s for the best.  But the [younger generations] want to know why they’re being lied to.  They want the truth.”

Refugees and Security

The single most critical concern regarding Jordan’s internal stability is the presence of refugees and the Jordanian government’s approach to the refugee situation in Jordan.  While the UNHCR reports over 600,000 refugees are currently residing in Jordan, the Jordanian government has attempted to mitigate the fears of its people by reporting that only a “couple thousand refugees fled to Jordan”, and not the actual hundreds of thousands.

While this claim may provide some measure of relief to uninformed Jordanians somehow removed from the conflict, it does little to suppress the reality presented on the ground in Jordan.  According to atmospherics based on reporting from multiple locations in Jordan, the massive presence of Syrian refugees is already taking its toll on the Jordanian populace.  Reportedly, there are so many Syrians in various Amman neighborhoods that it is “impossible to make it about your business without seeing at least several hundred of them [Syrian refugees].”

Zaatari Camp, location of largest number of refugees, courtesy of NY Times

Due to the influx of refugees, many Jordanians have also lost their jobs due to the cheaper labor provided by the Syrian workforce and labor pool.  This naturally does not sit well with the Jordanians, some of whom have also lost housing options due to a housing shortage.  Our source reports that many Syrians are not as poor or unfortunate as the media is making them out to be.  Many have “fled with money, and live in the cities in condos, houses, or flats.”  This housing shortage comes amidst noticed shortages in general supplies, to include food, clothes, etc. as well.

The ground situation in Jordan is very telling of the various security measures in place to contain the massive exodus of Syrian refugees.  According to our source, Syrians travel throughout Jordan virtually uninhibited.  Using transportation methods ranging from walking to driving to taxis, Syrians entering Jordan are not restricted in any way by the Jordanians.  “Once [the refugees] have entered Jordan, they pretty much have free reign once they’re in the country.”  There are hardly any security measures in place that stop refugees from “coming and going as they please”, a fact that has created noticeable resentment among the Jordanian population.

Military Presence

While the Jordanian populace struggles to maintain their standard of living amidst housing shortages, job losses, basic commodities shortages, and overall security concerns, our source reports that there has been a marked increase in Jordanian military personnel in the general population.

“The Jordanian army is everywhere…the trained soldiers, the army is one of the best in the Middle East.  They are out and about, in places where they weren’t usually.”  According to our source, the Jordanian military has established an increased presence in the public eye, a presence that often is most visible in major population centers, to include daytime markets and other public locations.  This increased presence has only exacerbated the security concerns of the Jordanian populace, making people “uncomfortable and uneasy.”

Water and Fuel Access

Adding to Jordan’s list of critical factors contributing to internal stability is a fresh concern regarding scarce water resources.  Typically obtaining relatively adequate water supplies during the winter seasons, Jordan is expected to face a large water shortage this coming summer.  This shortage is a result of limited rainfall throughout the winter season, typically used to help restore Jordan’s water supply.  As a result, the Jordanian government is currently exploring possible water rationing programs as a method to temporarily quell its water access requirements.

While Jordanian water supply has always had its issues (“Jordan has a terrible water supply”, according to our source), the expected water supply shortages will only be exacerbated by the major stress of the additional 600,000+ people now in Jordan requiring access to water.  Typically, houses get a water supply for basic household activities such as laundry, showering, and cooking roughly every ten days.  In previous times, water has run short and has required rationing.  However, that was before the refugees.

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In addition to the anticipated water shortages is a fuel shortage in Jordan as well, a result of oil export issues from Iraq, who has halted oil exports to Jordan.  As a result, fuel prices are expected to rise further as well.

Working Ahead

In the next coming months, Jordan will likely rely heavily on assistance from external agencies to fulfill the needs posed by the geopolitical issues beyond its control.  Shaping public perception of internal stability, curtailing the influx of Syrian refugees, securing more stable fuel import options, obtaining sufficient water supply access, maintaining stability against a rapidly changing social dynamic, and defending Jordan against external threats are all issues the Jordanian government will be forced to contend with in the near future.

The internal stability of Jordan will have a significant impact on the stability of the Levant writ large, and is therefore an important situation to monitor closely.  While things are relatively stable at the moment, the forecasts provided through SOFREP’s source suggest that the Jordanian government will soon be forced to take relatively significant actions to curtail several major issues that have long strained the country up until this point.

Thanks for listening.

(Feature Image courtesy of NPR)