Dempsey Gets Viewpoints from Partners on Syria
By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service
AMMAN, Jordan, Aug. 14, 2013 After attending meetings this week with leaders here and in Israel, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff reiterated his belief that bilateral and multilateral efforts, not military intervention, remain the best approach to containing unrest in Syria and preventing it from spreading.
“It goes to the underlying issues, which are the reason we all believe that it will be a long-term project,” Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey said.
Dempsey today spoke with reporters traveling with him about regional issues after he’d met separately with Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Lt. Gen. Mashal al-Zaben, Jordan’s defense chief.
Jordanian and Israeli leaders view the Syrian crisis through “two different lenses,” the chairman said. But some of their viewpoint, he added, is common.
On the Israeli side, he said, the movement of weapons is the immediate concern. In Jordan, he added, it’s the movement of refugees.
“For Israel, it’s the possibility that weapons that could affect them could end up in the wrong hands, notably Lebanese Hezbollah or extremist groups,” Dempsey said. “For Israel, there’s a greater degree of concern about Iranian influence. For Jordan, it’s very clearly the refugee issue -- not only the number, but the challenge it puts on their economy and their critical infrastructure, commodities like food and water.”
Israel and Jordan are also concerned about what long-term prospects prolonged fighting in Syria may bring, the chairman said, including “everything from terrorism to chemical weapons.”
Jordan in particular, the chairman said, is concerned about “the possibility this movement in Syria will be hijacked by extremists groups like al Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham.”
Israel and Jordan order their concerns differently “depending on where they sit,” Dempsey said. Yet, a consensus is building, he noted, that the United States, Israel and Jordan should take both bilateral and multilateral approaches to containing today’s violence in Syria and preventing conditions there from spawning tomorrow’s crises.
Bilaterally, he said, the United States will continue to work with each of its two closest partners in the region, and “broaden that aperture a bit to talk about what we can do together, not just bilaterally but in a broader coalition of interests.”
Dempsey said the challenge “of identifying a moderate opposition [in Syria], and then enabling it to be effective” was discussed during his meetings in Israel and Jordan.
While “a lot of these opposition members who sign up to be trained lack documentation,” the chairman said, “certainly our partners in the region are far better equipped to determine who’s who and with what motivation than we are. They are and will continue to be an important part of making those identifications.”
Direct military action in Syria was not discussed this week, Dempsey said.
“That actually never came up,” he noted. “What did come up … was what we could do to help [the opposition] build their capability and capacity.”
The types of possible U.S. support that were discussed include border surveillance, intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance assistance, training Jordanian special operations forces, fusing intelligence gathered from various platforms, and incorporating intelligence and operations, Dempsey said.
“Here in Jordan, they’re particularly interested in what we can do to help them see and secure their very long border with Syria,” the chairman said.
Dempsey noted that al-Zaben has in his office a photograph of the Bagram, Afghanistan, ramp ceremony for a Jordanian soldier who was killed in action. The soldier’s casket was carried by U.S. airmen, Dempsey said, while lining the ramp of the aircraft was an honor guard of U.S. soldiers.
“It reminds him of our great partnership,” the chairman said. “ … Because of that [partnership], I came over here to, literally, ask him, ‘What can we do?’ And he gave me a list of things and I’ll carry those back.”
He said Jordan’s leaders also “voiced frustration with our foreign military sales process.”
The U.S. process for selling arms to allies and partners is “deliberate, but it’s deliberate because we tend to deliver a product that’s sustainable over time and actually produces the capability that we advertise,” Dempsey said. He added that he will work to expedite such sales, “particularly for those countries that are under such pressure here, and who are such close partners.”
Dempsey said refugee relief was high on the agenda in Jordan, and he credited Jordan’s leaders with working both to relieve current suffering and to set better conditions for the future. Dempsey said he found out today that the more than 500,000 refugees in Jordan are mostly children -- 65 percent are 18 or younger. Some 20 percent are women, and only 15 percent or so are men, he said.
“That’s not the image I had, frankly, of the refugee challenge,” he said.
Dempsey noted that his wife, Deanie, accompanied him on this trip and met today with Jordan’s Queen Rania Al Abdullah. He said the queen is working both to aid her own people as conditions here tighten, but also to ensure the best possible conditions for refugees.
Dempsey noted that sectarian strife is one root of the issues in Syria, Egypt, Iraq and elsewhere. Jordan’s king, he said, “has done a great deal of work to try to get religious leaders on all sides to change that narrative; and in so doing, to try to resolve at least one of those underlying issues.”
He added if regional concerns could be addressed jointly by a community of interest -- which might include some of the Gulf States, the Jordanians and Iraq -- “then I think we begin to isolate some of the issues that are fuelling this tension inside of Syria.”
Dempsey said his travels this week reinforced his feeling that U.S. partners in the Middle East are best positioned to assess and guide response to the situation in Syria.
“The dichotomy is the degree to which those who live right here, and right now, appreciate the complexity,” he said.
The chairman added that the conflict in Syria is more complex than it may seem to some observers.
“I think what the people who live in the region can very clearly see is that this is not about choosing one side or the other,” Dempsey said, “it’s about choosing potentially one side among several others. … That complexity becomes clearer the closer you get to it.”