11. Ending the Jordanian-Syrian Cold War
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11 Ending the Jordanian-Syrian Cold War Throughout their histories as independent states, Jordan and Syria have had at best a tenuous relationship, marked by temporary military alliances during wars with Israel, but more often by varying degrees of mutual hostility. These long periods of hostility were so extensive, in fact, that they amounted to a local “Cold War” in the midst of the many other conflicts already operating in the region. By 1999, however, a marked thaw had emerged in Jordanian -Syrian relations. While the thaw began only in 1999, within two years it had shifted already from a cold war to a cold peace and then to even more meaningful cooperation and coordination. By 2001 some officials were talking of the potential for a full Jordanian-Syrian alliance.1 The successful ending of the Jordanian-Syrian Cold War marked a new chapter in the history of these two states’ bilateral relations. Relations between Amman and Damascus have more often than not been marked by acrimony. But, as chapter 6 demonstrated, the thaw in the cold war had actually happened once before, in the 1970s, when Jordan and Syria shifted from antagonism to full-scale alliance. By the end of that decade, however, the more familiar pattern of animosity had returned. In the more recent episode, regime changes in both Damascus and Amman facilitated the shift from hostility to rapprochement. Nonetheless, the hiatus between the two periods of alignment was long and difficult for both countries. It had taken twenty years for the two regimes to begin aligning toward one another again, in an attempt to end their cold war once and for all. This chapter examines the ending of the Jordanian-Syrian Cold War, and the Jordanian attempt to create a new Jordanian-Syrian alignment. Regime Succession: From Hussein to Abdullah With the death of King Hussein, in 1999, and the accession to the throne of King Abdullah II, Jordan had a new top foreign policymaker for the first time in almost half a century.2 The new king was not, however, the decision maker that many had expected. But in the weeks just prior to his death, King 168 / Chapter 11 Hussein left his hospital bed in the United States, flew back to Jordan, and changed the line of succession—on the tarmac of Amman’s international airport—before reboarding his plane and flying back to the United States. Hussein shifted the succession from then-Crown Prince Hasan (Hussein’s brother and for more than thirty years his heir apparent) to his eldest son, Abdullah. As one of the key advisors to the king and one of Jordan’s main economic planners, Hasan was known to Arab and Western governments and indeed to Jordanians themselves. Abdullah was, comparatively speaking, a political novice. He had held no prior political office, and had instead pursued a successful career in the armed forces, eventually becoming commander of Jordan’s elite special forces units. But, despite the surprise in Jordan and abroad regarding the abrupt shift in the royal line, the 1999 succession took place without incident, and Abdullah II ascended the Hashimite throne.3 Almost immediately after becoming king, Abdullah made clear his interest in foreign policy, his emphasis on economic development, and his insistence on mending fences broken over Jordan’s frequently unpopular foreign policy stances—from earlier Persian Gulf wars to peace with Israel. With these themes in mind, the new king set out on a whirlwind tour of key capitals, introducing himself to many of the world’s most powerful leaders and attempting to cement Jordan’s key international relationships, which the regime identified as key to its own security and survival. In Jordanian foreign policy, then, the overriding concerns with regime survival did not vanish with the succession in the monarchy from King Hussein to King Abdullah II. Within six months of ascending the throne, Abdullah had met with the leaders of the Group of Seven (G-7) countries, at each stop making the case for foreign aid, trade, and investment in Jordan.4 Just as importantly, he led delegations to former enemies—such as Libya and Syria. Similarly, in personal visits to other monarchs, King Abdullah completed the process of reconciliation (after the 1991 Gulf War) with each of the Arab Gulf monarchies . In these latter visits too, the king and his ministers stressed the need to bolster the economic relations between Jordan and wealthier Arab regimes, in a conscious effort to shore up the...