The Anti-Normalization Act with the Assad Regime

A Jordanian perspective


The United States House of Representatives voted by a large majority on the “Anti-Normalisation with the Assad Regime” bill on Wednesday, February 14, 2024. If it completes its legislative process and becomes law, it will decisively influence U.S. policy towards countries that are open to the Assad regime. This will have implications for Arab countries, particularly Jordan, which may reassess its approach to the Syrian issue and the future of political settlement of the conflict. However, the dilemma of southern Syria complicates Jordan’s options, raising serious questions about the armed factions in Daraa, mechanisms for dealing with them, the social forces in Sweida and the opportunities for forming a security-oriented relationship that serves the interests of both parties. Studying the implications of such a relationship requires careful calculations.

  • The presumed decisive shift in U.S. policy, moving from silence about engagement with the Assad regime to formulating long-term legislation aimed at imposing international isolation on the regime, carries significant implications for the regional landscape in the Middle East and complicates the choices of countries surrounding Syria.
  • The Assad regime controls the majority of Syrian territory and enjoys strong strategic relations with Iran and Russia, both of which are under Western sanctions. This implies an increased likelihood of the current situation persisting and the regime remaining in power. Experts also expect the strengthening of economic and logistical ties between these parties, particularly if opportunities for rehabilitating the Assad regime within its Arab surroundings diminish.
  • The American decision may pose further challenges and difficulties for Jordan, especially after Jordanian efforts to arrange neighbouring relations and resolve surrounding issues, which were already facing deadlock with the Assad regime before the recent American shift. This may push Amman to freeze its diplomatic efforts with the regime.
  • The shift to the current situation may present opportunities for Jordan to explore alternative security options to secure the situation in southern Syria, especially with the social forces in Sweida and the initiative of the Karamah Movement, which may carry opportunities and repercussions for both parties simultaneously.


The United States House of Representatives voted by a large majority on the “Anti-Normalisation with the Assad Regime” bill on Wednesday, February 14, 2024. If passed and enacted into law, it will prohibit any future American president from normalising relations in any form—politically, economically, or otherwise—between the United States and any government led by Bashar al-Assad, as well as penalise any parties collaborating with the regime materially or morally, whether they are countries, entities, or individuals. The law also mandates regulatory measures targeting reconstruction activities in regime-controlled areas, opposes the recognition and normalisation of any state with any Syrian government headed by Bashar al-Assad, and explicitly authorises the use of all powers by the U.S. administration to implement the provisions of the law, with subsequent regulatory measures to verify compliance. This may be seen as an indication of the firmness of the U.S. position and a direction towards imposing international isolation on the regime, with expected repercussions for regional countries, including Jordan, which may alter the current equations of conflict resolution in Syria, in addition to the anticipated impact on the future of the regime in its current form.

The New American Policy Direction:

The Foreign Affairs Committee in Congress presented the “Anti-Normalisation with Bashar al-Assad’s Regime” bill on May 11, 2023, in response to the Arab League summit in Jeddah, where Bashar al-Assad attended for the first time since 2011.

Notably, the Foreign Affairs Committee in Congress held urgent and lengthy sessions in less than a week, aiming to ensure the passage of the bill in the committee before the Arab League summit convened, which indeed happened, as the bill was adopted on May 17, 2023, just two days before the Arab League summit in Jeddah.

Since the enactment of the Caesar Act in December 2019, the “Anti-Normalisation” bill represents a significant shift in U.S. policy, as it extends sanctions until 2032 and addresses numerous loopholes in the Caesar Act. The bill was put to vote in Congress on Wednesday, February 14, 2024, and received a significant majority (389 representatives in favour, 32 against), reflecting a bipartisan consensus transcending party divisions between Democrats and Republicans.

For the new bill to complete its constitutional process, it awaits a vote in the U.S. Senate and then presentation to the President of the United States for signature. This process is expected to take several months, during which interest groups affected by the bill are expected to exert greater pressure on American decision-makers, especially groups supporting political normalisation with the Assad regime or those who may suffer economically from some provisions of the law. This stage represents the most challenging manoeuvring phase in the legislative process currently, especially as the practices of these groups may influence the formulation of the law by either easing its severity, reducing its restrictions, or attempting to craft some temporary or procedural exceptions. Even if successful pressures ease some legal restrictions, the chances of the law passing remain high, with significant resonance and impact. This is supported by the current state of bipartisan consensus and the maturation of an American political trend that rejects normalisation with the Assad regime, reflecting a political direction pushing towards practically translating opposition to the Assad regime into U.S. foreign policy after the law is enacted.

The reality in Syria through Jordanian lenses

Jordan perceives the reality in Syria differently from other Arab countries due to the specificity of the bilateral relationship, geographic and social interconnectedness, and the direct impact of events in Syria on Jordan. The current unresolved situation in Syria and the proliferation of Iranian-backed armed factions in southern Syria pose a significant threat to Jordan. Securing southern Syria on various levels—security, societal, and humanitarian—obtains a significant place among Jordan’s national security priorities in Syria. To achieve this paramount interest, Jordan’s foreign policy necessitates political engagement with various active parties in southern Syria.

The most significant challenge for Jordan lies in the growing Iranian influence in southern Syria, which holds geopolitical sensitivity for Jordan. This influence has resulted in the proliferation of drug manufacturing and smuggling networks that deliberately target Jordan, transforming individual smuggling operations into a systematic pattern resembling a strategy of attrition. Incidents of drug smuggling thwarted by the Jordanian Armed Forces have become almost weekly occurrences, particularly escalating since the eruption of tensions in Gaza after October 7th. These incidents involve increased attempts at smuggling in terms of quantity and type, sometimes including medium-sized weapons.

Jordan deals with this issue on both security and political fronts, through heightened border conflict readiness and politically, through Arab initiatives and openness to Damascus. This aligns with an ambitious Arab strategic goal that seeks to entice the Assad regime, curb Iranian influence in Syria, restore Damascus to the Arab fold, and ultimately end drug smuggling networks. Furthermore, the continuation of the Syrian conflict without a political solution means the perpetuation of economic strain, exacerbating the economic burdens endured by Jordan for over 12 years of conflict in Syria. This is in addition to the lingering issues between Jordan and the regime, such as economic matters, trade exchange, water resources, and Syrian refugees, as well as securing southern areas in Syria.

Based on the above, Jordan adopts a pragmatic approach based on cost-benefit analysis, primarily prioritising Jordanian security and practically addressing drug manufacturing and smuggling networks. Jordan rejects the continuation of the Syrian conflict without a political solution and sees the recent regional transformations as an opportunity to “zero out” its surrounding problems, especially in light of the Saudi-Iranian rapprochement. This has motivated Jordan to arrange its cards and seek solutions in its immediate vicinity. Naturally, diplomatic engagement is imperative for finding solutions, and thus Jordan’s alignment with the Assad regime can be interpreted as a means to achieve and protect Jordanian interests rather than mere openness for the sake of rapprochement with the current regime.

Jordan’s Options and the Dilemma of the Sole Alternative

The shift in US policy towards the Assad regime suggests that Arab countries, especially Jordan, may reassess their calculations regarding the Syrian situation, the future of the political settlement of the conflict, and the pursuit of solutions beyond the regime. This raises another dilemma, manifested in questions about the identity of the alternative if the Assad regime is not in place.

Realistically, the regime controls the majority of Syrian geography, estimated at 63% of Syria’s total area. However, it’s important to note that most of the regime-controlled areas lack significant natural resources that are crucial for food security and energy sources. Additionally, many foreign parties operate within its spheres of influence, especially the Russian presence and Iranian-backed armed factions. In contrast, opposition factions in the west (liberated areas) divide northern Syria, while the Syrian Democratic Forces in the east (self-administered areas) dominate it. However, the absence of a significant active party in southern Syria could potentially broaden Jordan’s options in the event of imposing isolation on the Assad regime. Another party in the south could address key issues for Jordan, including securing southern Syria, addressing security issues such as combating drug smuggling, containing the spread of Iranian-backed armed factions, and improving the humanitarian and living conditions in southern Syria.

In the same context, some social forces in Sweida, specifically the “Men of Dignity”, AKA “Al-Karama” movement, have proposed a nine-point initiative for a security coordination formula to combat smuggling networks in collaboration with Jordan. The movement urges Jordan to provide accurate information about drug smuggling networks and their elements, while the movement takes responsibility for combating them. Regardless of the current initiative’s formulation and its clauses, the security formula option with social forces in Sweida raises questions about the movement’s ability to implement its proposal on the ground. Moreover, the potential escalation between social forces in Sweida, the regime, and Iranian-backed armed factions may occur as a retaliatory measure against their crackdown on drug smuggling, hindering the flow of smuggling profits estimated in billions of dollars. Especially as the province witnesses active protests for the seventh consecutive month, demanding the overthrow of the Assad regime. On the other hand, Jordan’s development of a security relationship with social forces in Sweida may offer direct security solutions, leading to a reduction in the cost of current border conflict readiness, particularly on the tactical security level. Such an approach may seem logical in the long run. However, strategic consideration of Syria’s stability factors and dynamics is necessary, particularly given their connection to the country’s overall stability indicators. Furthermore, the repercussions of forming such a relationship may negatively affect direct tensions with the Assad regime. Therefore, meticulous calculations in Jordan are more necessary than ever before.


The scene in Syria becomes increasingly obscure amidst the changes in US policy towards Syria, raising future questions about the outcomes of these policy shifts and their duration. It also raises questions about the extent to which US administrations are committed to implementing the “Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act” and, subsequently, how Arab countries, including Jordan, will respond to these changes. Consequently, questions arise about Jordan’s options in Syria at that time. With the continued presence of the regime in power due to the status quo and the Assad regime’s resilience to Western sanctions dating back to the 1970s, a scenario of long-term isolation for the regime is envisaged, with no realistic solution on the horizon for political settlements. The absence of meaningful changes in Syria recalls the scenario of Omar al-Bashir’s rule in Sudan and the US sanctions that isolated Sudan for decades. Thus, such a scenario with the Assad regime warns of a deep and intractable dilemma that the entire Middle East region may face, with long-term ramifications extending beyond the regime’s borders.

Isolating the Assad regime may limit Jordan’s options, causing a shift away from rapprochement and adaptation to the current situation. This would mean deferring unresolved issues for years without a solution, resulting in further security, political, and economic pressures on Jordan and its direct Syrian neighbours. Especially since more than a decade has passed without a political solution to end the conflict in Syria. Consequently, Jordan may turn to alternative options, with the most prominent being openness to local communities and social forces in southern Syria, which have expressed willingness to cooperate with Jordan on security matters. However, the ongoing dilemma of political, security, and economic stability may remain unresolved for a longer period.

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