The financial prospects of reopening Nassib Border Crossing: has Syrian regime achieved any?

Naseeb Border Crossing (Syrian Ministry of Information)

Naseeb Border Crossing (Syrian Ministry of Information)

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 Enab Baladi – Jana al-Issa

 On 15 October 2018, the Jordanian and Syrian authorities agreed to reopen the Jaber- Nassib border crossing after a three-year closure—it was controlled by the Syrian oppositionto restore trade relations between the two countries.

The Syrian regime reopened this route for its political and economic significance. This route, which used to carry billions of dollars of trade for countries throughout the region, can bring the Syrian regime considerable financial returns, which mitigate the consequences of the US embargo on Syria. 

However, the Syrian regime has not acquired sufficient economic benefits, similar to the ones made before 2011. 

As monitored by Enab Baladi, the revenues of the Jaber-Nassib border crossing amounted to 9.8 billion pounds by the end of 2019, considered very low even though the SYP was traded at only 500 per USD. This crossing was a transit road for nearly 54 thousand trucks transporting goods between the two countries, 38 thousand tourist vans and passenger vehicles.  

The volume of exports, during 2014 and until the closure of the crossing at the end of March 2015, reached 27 billion SYP. The value of imports amounted to 78 billion SYP (One SYP was equivalent to 150 per USD).

In 2010, the value of Syrian exports through the Nassib border crossing was estimated at more than 35 billion SYP, while the value of imports was about 47 billion SYP (1 USD equaled 50 SYP).

Syrian regime does not care about financial gains as much as smuggling 

In an interview with Enab Baladi, Abdul Hakim al-Masri, Minister of Finance and Economy of the Syrian Interim Government (SIG) believes that the Syrian regime is not counting on any economic gains achieved by the ongoing commercial transactions through the crossing. The Syrian regime mainly intends to achieve two goals far from the financial gains. 

First, the Syrian regime wants to use the crossing as a means of carrying out “drug” smuggling deals in secret with other countries. In addition, the regime seeks to rebuild its legitimacy and score political gains via the normalization of relations with neighboring countries. 

In an investigation published by Enab Baladi on the drug trade in southern Syria, drug quantities entering Jordan through Syrian borders were estimated as amounting to 40 tons of hashish and over 83 million Captagon pills

The investigation team spoke to the forensic expert Kh. M., who said that in Syria—given that there is not an operative state, while available state agencies themselves are involved in the drug trade— authorities are likely capable of stopping only one out of every 20 drug smuggling operations.

A customs broker, by the name A. F., also told the team that drug quantities successfully entering from Syria to Jordan, which authorities fail to seize, are extremely larger than those confiscated.

He said that detecting drug smuggling operations on the Syria-Jordan borders is rare unless the Jordanian authorities are reported on an operation in advance by a whistleblower or are aided by sheer chance.

Border customs cannot inspect 100 or 200 trucks waiting to cross. Officers in charge pick a few trucks and ask them to unload their cargo to conduct a thorough inspection while the rest of the trucks and vehicles pass unchecked, the broker added.

Nassib border closed due to virus concerns, or maybe a “pretext” to expel Iran

The Jordanian authorities sealed off entirely the Jaber border crossing with Syria on 12 August 2020 after recording a rise in the number of COVID-19 cases among the terminal’s workers. 

The crossing was reopened only after seven months to trucks and passengers transporting imports and exports of goods, but on one condition; goods are reloaded into other Jordanian vehicles at the crossing or vice versa, as reported by the Jordanian newspaper al-Ghad, last March. 

Media activist Habib Kasabreh, a resident from the southern province of Daraa, close to the border with Jordan, said that Jordan decided to close its border with Syria mainly due to the large shipments of drugs seized by the Jordanian authorities. However, the Syrian regime took global measures imposed against the spread of the coronavirus as a pretext to justify the decision. 

This was confirmed by Abdul Hakim al-Masri, Minister of Finance and Economy of the SIG, explaining that many countries have reopened commercial crossings shortly after the expansion of the pandemic, but the COVID-19 preventive measures must be followed, the most important of which is to get COVID-19 PCR test that proves no infection with the virus.

In December 2020, a report by Arabi 21 said that although the Jordanian authorities stated that the closure of the crossing came as a part of its plan to confront the spread of the coronavirus infection,  most of its land crossings were reopened for freight and passengers traffic, except for the Jaber-Nassib crossing.

The report stated that the Jordanian authorities held a meeting with the commander of the pro-Russian 8th Brigade of the 5th Corps, Ahmad al-Awda, and informed him with a message that “the Nassib crossing will not be reactivated if the Shiite militias affiliated with Iran and Hezbollah do not withdraw 50 kilometers (30 miles) from the Jordanian borders.” 

Jordan is “politically neutral” but appeases its clans

The decision to reopen the Nassib border crossing came after many pressures exerted by the clan in the Jordanian city of Ramtha on the government. The decision was not issued to meet the demands of the Syrian regime, the economic analyst and researcher at the Jusoor Center for Studies, Khaled Turkawi, told Enab Baladi.

Tarkawi added that the Jordanian government did not want to reopen the crossing for fear of the resurgence of the phenomenon of drug trafficking, which was very active through the crossing. 

After the crossing was reopened to appease the Jordanian clans, the Jordanian authorities had to control smuggling operations through arrests of suspects during the past three years. Some of them were released through “official negotiations,” and others are still being held in prisons until now.

Tarkawi believes that the Syrian regime will not be able to achieve economic gains as before without achieving two things: First, the regime has to keep Hezbollah and Iran away from the Jordanian borders and halt smuggling operations that are run directly by them. Second, a political transition must be achieved in Syria because the Jordanian policy, in general, relies mostly on the principle of “neutrality.’

Jordan wears the shoes of some major countries on important issues, such as the issue of dealing with the Syrian regime.

According to Abdul Hakim al-Masri, the Jordanian government still considers the main reason for stopping trade movement through the Nassib border crossing is the Caesar Act that prohibits dealing with the Syrian government.

Al-Masri pointed out that the regime will not be able to achieve any economic gains under the current circumstances for several reasons, including the lack of commercial movement, the failure of domestic production, and the destruction of Syria’s infrastructure. Therefore, it would no longer allow products to be exported outside Syria.

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