Arab States Bring Syria’s Bashar Al-Assad In From The Cold | THE TIMES UK

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Find Richard Spencer article quoting Avi Melamed’s “Arab states bring Syria’s Bashar al-Assad in from the cold”, Originally published in The Times | UK | March, 06 2023.

Arab states wanting to bring Syria’s Assad regime in from the cold are heading for a confrontation with western allies who remain opposed to lifting sanctions and normalising relations.

Avi Melamed, an author on Israeli-Arab relations and a former Israeli intelligence officer, said it was possible that the UAE and Saudi outreach to Damascus was also encouraged by Israel. Israel continues to bomb Syria, and particularly military sites connected to Iran and Hezbollah, but before the Arab Spring held secret talks with the regime with a view to signing a peace treaty.

“Israel views the potential Saudi-Assad rapprochement positively,” Melamed said. He said the Arab states saw normalisation with the regime as a way of reducing Iranian influence.

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[…] Last week Egypt’s foreign minister became the latest senior figure from a western-aligned Arab country to meet President Assad in Damascus and call for the two countries to “return to a normal status”. Jordan’s foreign minister also made a first visit since the start of the Syrian war, while Assad was invited last month for a state visit to Oman, otherwise a key western military and strategic partner.

The move towards renewing ties and readmitting Syria to the Arab League, from which it was suspended in November 2012 after shooting scores of demonstrators at the start of the anti-Assad uprising, is being led by the United Arab Emirates. Although hostile to Iran, the Assad regime’s closest ally, the UAE has been demanding an end to “fragmentation” in the Arab world.

But even Saudi Arabia, which for years has led resistance to the move by Sunni Muslim Arab nations, is shifting position. “Someone had to initiate the discussion,” the UAE’s foreign trade minister, Thani al-Zeyoudi, said in an interview with The Times. He said that the UAE wanted to open up the Syrian economy, despite western sanctions.

He added that the UAE was sending a message in particular to the US, which has masterminded the West’s tough sanctions regime on banking, oil and other sectors of the Syrian economy.

In recent years the UAE has moved away from a once tight lockstep with Washington on Middle East strategy and has been moving closer to Russia. “America has its own agenda. For us, we are telling them bluntly that stability and prosperity are critical,” Zeyoudi said. “If they don’t want that, that’s their agenda, but for us it’s an important step.”

The UAE was always more dubious about the Arab Spring uprisings than other Arab states, seeing them as a threat to the autocratic but stable rule of the Gulf monarchies. Its foreign minister, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan, was one of the last Arab leaders to visit Assad in Damascus before most of the Arab world cut ties after his violent response to the uprising.

However, the UAE’s aggressive attempt to rehabilitate Assad, beginning with sending trade missions to Damascus and reopening its embassy in 2018, has been accelerated by a slow falling out with the US, once its most important ally.

The UAE’s president, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, the foreign minister’s older brother, was outraged by President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran, which was negotiated behind the back of America’s Gulf allies.

He hoped for better things from President Trump, but after four years of wild gyrations in US policy towards the region decided to pursue a path independent of Washington. Given that the US has been the main security guarantor for the Arab monarchies, this also meant pursuing less confrontational relations with the UAE’s neighbours.

The UAE is now in the unusual position of leading outreach in the Arab world both to Israel and also to Syria, a self-proclaimed member of the so-called Axis of Resistance to Zionism.

Zeyoudi said that the UAE was even reaching out to Iran, once its bitterest enemy. “Having good relations with Iran also means more prosperity in the region,” he said.

The trigger for the latest diplomatic moves in Damascus were last month’s earthquakes, which killed more than 6,000 people in Syria and at least 45,000 people in Turkey. Assad’s backers immediately called for sanctions to be lifted. The West, which says sanctions do not prevent humanitarian aid, suspended the need to obtain formal waivers to speed the process of aid delivery.

Although most of Syria’s earthquake dead were in areas controlled by rebels, Assad’s would-be partners have poured aid into his capital in response to his appeals. The UAE sent half of its $100 million aid pledge to Syria.

Saudi Arabia, which once funded the Syrian rebels and long opposed normalisation with the regime, also sent planeloads of aid direct to Damascus. “In the Arab world there is a consensus growing that the status quo is not workable,” Prince Faisal bin Farhan al-Saud, its foreign minister, said at the Munich security conference last month.

Arab states are also worried that Syria is becoming a crime as well as diplomatic black hole, with large shipments of Syrian-manufactured drugs, particularly fenethylline, a stimulant, regularly intercepted in the region’s ports and airports.

Avi Melamed, an author on Israeli-Arab relations and a former Israeli intelligence officer, said it was possible that the UAE and Saudi outreach to Damascus was also encouraged by Israel. Israel continues to bomb Syria, and particularly military sites connected to Iran and Hezbollah, but before the Arab Spring held secret talks with the regime with a view to signing a peace treaty.

“Israel views the potential Saudi-Assad rapprochement positively,” Melamed said. He said the Arab states saw normalisation with the regime as a way of reducing Iranian influence.

In 2020 the UAE recognised Israel for the first time and although Riyadh has not followed suit, it has made little secret of having a “co-operative” relationship on security and other issues. Like the UAE it sees secure borders and stable regimes as more important than human rights problems.

Britain, France and America argue that lifting sanctions would embolden Assad without significantly helping ordinary Syrians, because of the regime’s notorious corruption.

Human rights groups and Syrian opposition groups are also critical. Hiba Zayadin, senior Middle East researcher for Human Rights Watch, said: “Arab states seeking to normalise relationships should recognise that the Syrian government in power today is the same one that has forcibly disappeared tens of thousands of people and [committed] other serious human-rights violations against its citizens even before the uprisings began.”

The French made their opposition to any change in policy clear last week when a senior representative to the UN, Isis Jaraud-Darnault, told a security council meeting: “France’s position remains clear: in the absence of a credible and inclusive political process we will not change our position with regards to the Syrian regime.”

A Foreign Office spokesman said: “The UK does not engage with the Syrian regime, which has committed innumerable crimes and abuses against the people of Syria. We will continue to hold the regime to account for its failure to engage with the UN facilitated political process.” […]

Find Richard Spencer article quoting Avi Melamed’s “Arab states bring Syria’s Bashar al-Assad in from the cold”, Originally published in The Times | UK | March, 06 2023.

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Avi Melamed
Avi Melamedhttps://insidethemiddle-east.com
Avi Melamed is an expert on current affairs in the Arab & Muslim World and their impact on Israel & the Middle East. A former Israeli Intelligence Official & Senior Official on Arab Affairs, Fluent in Arabic, English, and Hebrew, he has held high-risk Government, Senior Advisory, Intelligence & Counter-Terrorist intelligence positions in Arab cities & communities - often in very sensitive times - on behalf of Israeli Government agencies. He is the Founder & CEO of Inside the Middle East | Intelligence Perspectives - an apolitical non-partisan curriculum using intelligence methodology to examine the Middle East. As an Author, Educator, Expert, and Strategic Intelligence Analyst, Avi provides Intelligence Analysis, Briefings, and Geopolitical Tours to diplomats, Israeli and foreign policymakers, global media outlets, and a wide variety of international businesses, organizations, and private clients on a range of Israel and Middle East Affairs.

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