The Syrian border with Jordan reopened on October 15, 2018, allowing the movement of goods and people between the two countries for the first time in three years. This is the first time the border has been open since its closing in 2015, marking an end to three years of closed relations between the two countries with Syria under an array of rebel, religious, and government strongholds. Syrians who fled to Jordan before the closure of the border are now able to return, and some have already crossed back to the Syrian side since the border’s reopening. The reopening also opens numerous international trade routes through Syria, giving Lebanon access to the countries east of Syria and into the Persian Gulf, and allowing the flow of goods through routes from Turkey into Syria and forward to the Mediterranean Sea and the Gulf.
The reopening of the border is expected to bring economic growth to the entire region and set the stage for Syria’s upcoming role in the international community. Martin Patience of the BBC says that the border opening will serve Syrian interest by bolstering the economy as well as serve as a “sign of normalization – that Arab countries are once again willing to deal with Damascus.” That is, the Damascus under Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government, which is still controversial among the international community, including Syria’s neighbours in Jordan, Iraq, and Turkey. Regardless, the opening of the trade route through Jordan will return Syria to the international scene in terms of trade, especially within the Arab world. Taylor Luck, a journalist working in Amman for the past twelve years, explained in an interview with The National that with the opening of the border the Syrian government under President Assad is once again being seen as legitimate as it enforces his leadership and will allow the flow of materials into Syria from Jordan to begin reconstructing Syria.
The reopening of the border has unraveled in a primarily peaceful fashion. Tensions in the southern parts of Syria had died down as the Syrian government took back control of the region in July, allowing the Jordanian and Syrian governments to consider the reopening of the border in the wake of returned stability to the region surrounding it. With the area no longer in the line of fire with the civil war in Syria, the timing of the border reopening was opportune, as it gave both sides the chance to see stability in the region and allow for a peaceful reopening. Though the Syrian government under President Assad is under international scrutiny after being accused of using chemical weapons and violence against the Syrian people, the area is stable enough for a border opening, contrary to when it was under rebel control. Increased international relations through the opening of this trade route essential for Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey alike, and the fear of damaging these freshly renewed relations and resulting flow of imports to rebuild his country, may bring accountability to the Assad regime and thus enforce stability within his government.
The civil war in Syria and its uprisings against the Assad regime began in 2011. In 2015, the Nassib border on the Syrian side was closed as the Free Syrian Army rebels took over the southern portion of Syria bordering Jordan. The Syrian government took the area back in July 2018, reasserting President Assad’s control over the region. Assad’s government has been taking back the country from rebels piece by piece with international aid, coming mainly from Russia, leaving Idlib in the northern region as the only rebel-held stronghold left.
The reopening of the border with Jordan is likely going to lead to positive economic growth, as well as a turn in Syria’s role in international discourse. Economic growth in the Gulf region, and the Middle East in general, is assured with continued peace in the southern parts of Syria and an open border resulting from the reopening of massive trade routes in the area. There is potential for Syrian refugees to return home; Lisa Barrington of Reuters reported that Jordan news agency Petra announced 119 people crossed the border back into Syria the first day of the border opening, of which 37 were Syrians. The reopening of this border has also set the precedent for other Syrian borders, as Israel is partially reopening the Golan Heights border, and talks are beginning to reopen the border with Iraq. This allows for the possibility of the international diaspora of Syrian refugees to return home, as well as the reemergence of Syria in the international economy, thus bringing accountability to the Assad regime.