Washington, Amman and Damascus are jockeying for control of the strategic Al Tanf border crossing between Syria and Iraq, backed by media reports and military movements by their forces on the Jordanian and Iraqi borders with Syria. This crossing is the key to the Baghdad-Damascus highway and links up to the main Baghdad-Amman route. it was this contest that prompted Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem’s warning to Jordan Monday that any incursion would be treated by Damascus as an enemy invasion.
Iran has an overriding interest in this contest since it bears directly on the ties between Iraq’s Shiite cities and the Iraqi Shiite militias fighting in Syria for Bashar Assad.
The US and Jordan have in the last few days massed armored, commando and air units, including attack helicopters, on the Jordanian-Syrian border. They are taking part in the annual US-Jordanian Eager Lion exercise that lasts for some weeks.
These movements coincide with US media reports of Islamic State infiltrations of Syrian refugee camps on the Jordanian-Syrian border. Tehran and Damascus are concerned that these reports are preparing the way for US and Jordanian forces to push across into southern Syria and create a security zone that would control the Tanf border terminal. To head off such an incursion, the Syrian army has launched an offensive against ISIS forces in southeast Syria in order to clear a direct path to the strategic crossing.