15 DECEMBER 2013


Jordan succeeded in winning a non-permanent Security Council seat with a two-third majority (178 votes). The other four members who will take over in January 2014 are: Chad, Chile, Nigeria, and Lithuania.

Obviously, there were lots of maneuvers since 17 October -- when the votes were made for Saudi Arabia, which made a point of withdrawing. Initial comments by Saudi columnists in pan-Arab newspapers reflected the impression of a national campaign to reconsider or at least join first and resign later. There was also a fleeting option that Arab League Minister of Foreign Affairs would offer a face-saving reconsideration.

Such speculation overlooked a clear fact that the decision had been made by the highest authority in the Kingdom. That meant it was final.

When Saudi Arabia publicly turned down its Security Council seat, no other Gulf country would dare even think of replacing it. A brief mention of Kuwait presumably floated by its former U.N. Representative Mohammed Abul Hassan, who seems to terribly miss his Manhattan space, was swiftly and hurriedly dispersed.

Jordan was a natural alternative. It's in the heart of Asia, after Morocco represented Africa; indeed it's the heart of the Fertile Crescent, and almost on the border of what its current King Abdullah described as a potential Shia crescent. Bordering several countries in real difficulties, it practically "feels the pain" on a daily operational level. On the pragmatic side, it has an outstanding experienced and widely popular Permanent Representative, Prince Zeid Al-Hussein, supported and guided by a Hashemite monarch who keeps in touch not only with fellow heads of state but with a wider civil, athletic and technology group.

Yet, it would be too simplistic to assume that Saudi Arabia "allowed" Jordan to take the coveted seat without serious hard bargaining. Some of it will have to do with regional or international politics. But an obvious push would be in neighbouring Syria where Saudi Arabia is almost single-handedly launching an increasingly militant campaign.

Since Jordan expressed interest in the Council seat, there has been open and undeclared contact by Saudi Arabia, indicating a substantive price. Whether the amenable yet cautious Jordanian monarch will be ready -- or able -- to pay it in full, or even in substantive part, remains to be seen.

While King Abdullah II of Jordan has been receiving emissaries from King Abdullah I of Saudi Arabia, including the distinguished Minister of Foreign Affairs, other "field-oriented operatives" have been pressing their expanded and extended presence on the ground -- with eyes, ears and possibly boots aimed across the Syrian border in Daraa. Prince Bandar, Saudi Intelligence chief, a disillusioned former master of the universe during his heyday, is determined to make his limited presence felt more visibly. He has been entrenched for over a year within a limited misery spot after having the world in his discreet yet habitually toyful hands. With the pressure of age, and to ensure appropriate delivery, he has delegated the heavy lifting to his younger brother. Jordan has been pushed to play a more substantive role, possibly in collaboration with the other "allies." A recent attack in the Damascus area displayed professional use of advanced communication "blinders" that confused and dispersed Syrian regional forces until they regained contact. More professional trained fighters are being brought into disputed areas. The renewed paramilitary thrust is obvious. The political aim is to make visible gains on the ground by the time the international community gathers (Inchallah!) in Geneva.

The Hashemite King, who happens to be a Sandhurst graduate and former chief of staff of the Jordanian army would naturally be following these events not only with professional interest but with obvious concern. No matter how keenly he is seeking the Security Council seat, his real priority is in Amman, not New York. He faces a tough delicate balancing act, particularly as the neighbouring Syrian regime seemingly regaining lost areas, Iraqi regime firmly -- though violently -- entrenched, the new Iranian government opening unprecedented relations with his main allies in the U.S. while His Majesty has to deal internally with Moslem Brotherhood opposition closely supportive of their Syrian counterparts and an increasingly tragic pressure of incoming Syrian refugees -- a grave humanitarian task with obvious security ramifications.

How far would the Saudi government push? To what extent would Jordan deliver? What affect would any of this have on the ground and what impact on Geneva II? How long would Prince Bandar's role continue if no required outcome was forthcoming? Which Saudi Prince will take over if and when Iranian President Rouhani -- or Javad Zarif -- manages to connect with Riyadh as they just did with an even more militant United Arab Emirates?

In a region where so many "variables" are turning into "constants," and so many constants into variables, every new day would carry a new development. From now until Geneva II on 22 January (especially with limited room in the Inns on the Lake) when who knows what happens. Say "Inchallah" again!

Anyway, Jordan taking over the Security Council seat is certainly a positive development. The participation of an outstanding and experienced Permanent Representative like Prince Zeid will be a valuable asset to its deliberations and a vivid reflection of events threatening peace and security in the region. And in practical times, with an impeccable presentation style, His Highness would need no interpretation!