War is a terrible thing with extremely bad results. But this does not mean people should not be ready for it, even if such a possibility is very remote.
Washington’s decision to arm the Syrian rebels (albeit lightly) and the announcement by Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi that his country will cut off all diplomatic relations with Syria do not bode well for a quick and peaceful solution to the civil war that has been raging on in Syria for the past two years.
Some Jordanian officials and members of Parliament have asked that the Syrian ambassador to Jordan be considered persona non grata because of some anti-Jordanian statements he made recently.
The decision to ask the US to keep the Patriot anti-missile defence system and to keep the squadron of F16 fighters in Jordan is a hint that a war, or being on the receiving side of a war, is not such a remote possibility.
If the Jordanian government is asking to keep the Patriot missiles, which were in Jordan for a multi-national military exercise, then the public must be made aware that it may — with little warning — be the subject of attacks from its northern neighbour.
While the Patriot anti-missile system is proven to be able to intercept and destroy incoming missiles, it has not had a 100 per cent rate of interception.
With signs of a possible military confrontation or attack from Syria and with the Patriot not guaranteed to stop every incoming missile, what can be done to safeguard the Jordanian (and Syrian) population that lives in the areas close to the border?
Even people as far as the centre of Jordan need to think of the far-fetched scenario of having a Syrian official decide to use the country’s short- or long-range missiles against Jordan, or of these weapons falling into the wrong hands as the conflicts continues to escalate.
Jordan has tried its best to remain neutral on Syria, but it might be forced to change this position. It is time to prepare the Jordanian public for the worst possibility, regardless of how far fetched.
If all political efforts fail, what can a country do in such a nightmare scenario?
Naturally, the Jordanian army and air force, along with allies, will have to do their utmost to protect the country, but what about the civilians who might be on the receiving end of any possible attack?
A homeland defence strategy must be prepared, and if one is already prepared, it must be updated and tested. Such strategy must certainly include simple issues like raising awareness of the Jordanian public about what to do in case of an attack.
Jordan, a country at peace for decades, has not had to do that. Jordanian houses are not equipped with a shelter, for example, and there are no public shelters available in case of attack. This makes minimising civilian injuries and death much more difficult.
Nevertheless, most military strategists would point out a few basics that need to be implemented as soon as possible.
The first order of business is a communication strategy. Jordan must use and inform the public where to go to for relevant information. With the age of satellite and the Internet, many Jordanians are not regular consumers of local media. The blocking of 300 local news Internet sites is not helpful in this regard.
After establishing and informing the public of the various local radio, TV and other platforms for communication that can be used, it needs to establish a warning system and to educate the public (especially in the north) what it means.
Missiles can be tracked from the moment they are launched, giving governments and the public a few precious seconds to find a place to hide.
Experts, for example, tell the public that they should stay away from windows whose debris, in case of an attack, can do much harm even if the particular location is not directly hit. Simple instructions like staying away from windows can do a lot to save lives.
War is indeed terrible and Jordan’s political leadership has had a wonderful and long record of maintaining peace and citizens safe. But if Jordan wants an active citizenry, the government must show a similar attitude towards the citizens, protecting them by providing them with information and guidance to be prepared for the worst possibilities.