Israel/Palestine: The Politics of a Two-State Solution

  • Israel/Palestine and the Politics of a Two-State Solution
  • When Peace Fails: Lessons from Belfast for the Middle East

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Jordan and Lebanon: The Next Dominoes in the Arab Spring/Winter?

Earlier this month I predicted that there will be more countries affected by the drive for freedom in the Arab world. I predicted that in my humble opinion Lebanon and Jordan are the two most likely candidates. This is not because I'm an expert in the internal workings of either country. My knowledge of Jordan relates mainly to its foreign policy and my knowledge of Lebanon is historical--from the period of the Lebanese Civil War of 1975-90. So on what basis do I make my predictions? 

Both countries are neighbors of Syria and both are affected by the civil war in Syria. A 2007 Jordanian estimate was that there were 450,000 Iraqi refugees in Jordan, and small numbers of refugees continue to arrive in Jordan each month due to continued fighting in Iraq. This puts strains on Jordanian resources and Jordan has never been a rich country in terms of natural resources. It lacks oil and natural gas unlike Iraq and the Gulf countries and even Syria, and its main natural resource is phosphates in the Dead Sea region. Jordan's economy is based primarily on agriculture, tourism as part of the Holy Land, and light industry. Jordan provides free health care and education for the Iraqi refugees. Now it has to provide for Syrian refugees as well who number more than 600,000 or almost a third of the more than two million Syrian refugees who have fled since 2011. The Jordanian Central Bank has already noted that their presence is a strain on the economy.  Here is a recent LA Times article that echoes the above analysis.

Turkey is also a destination for Syrian refugees and the government has an interest in opposing the minority Alawite Ba'athist Assad regime in Syria. With it becomingly increasingly clear that the West has no interest in intervening, it is possible that if the outflow of refugees becomes too large for Jordan and Turkey to cope with, they could take a lesson from India's past and invade their neighbor in order to put an end to the refugee crisis. This is what Indira Gandhi's government did with East Pakistan in December 1971 turning it into the independent country of Bangladesh. Such a move would likely find financial support from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states who view the Assad regime primarily as an Iranian pawn. Such an action by two Muslim countries--one of whom is Arab--is much more likely to find sanction by the Arab League than Western intervention.

The other country most critically affected by the Syrian civil war is Lebanon with Hezbollah, the main armed rival to the national army, intervening on behalf of its Syrian ally and Iranian sponsor. This has enraged some Sunni elements in Lebanon who have set off bombs attacking Hezbollah targets in Lebanon. The Lebanese government is too weak to be able to intervene in Syria, but it could certainly turn a blind eye to Lebanese leaving the country to cross the border and fight with the rebels.  Today a third of the population of Lebanon consists of refugees from Syria.

If there is no Muslim military intervention in Syria, it is possible that the continuation of the civil war in Syria could lead to an outbreak of unrest within Jordan against the government, which represents primarily the Bedouin minority rather than the Palestinian majority. Lebanon could see the Syrian civil war jumping the border and fighting break out between Hezbollah and Sunni Muslims in areas near the Syrian border. 

No comments:

Post a Comment