As the accompanying passage from a respected Middle East expert featured on Turkish online news portal Gazete Duvar convincingly argues, the winds are shifting in favor of Syria in the Middle East, particularly among some Gulf countries. The author points to a long list of recent developments indicating a thaw in Syria’s relations with many members of the Arab League, and a possible reinstatement of Syria’s membership into the Arab League before 2022. The U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan “and its focus on Asia,” he suggests, has led Arab countries to be more receptive to Syrian calls for normalization. He points out this is taking place in spite of the U.S. Caesar Act, which punishes economic relations with Syria, and which previously deterred these countries from working with Syria.

Syria has also experienced a warming of relations that can be seen in various levels of interaction with the UAE, Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. For example, the Syria-UAE Businessmen’s Council is being revived, and the two countries plan to improve trade and economic relations. Meanwhile, a recent phone call between Jordanian King Abdallah and Assad, discussing normalization of relations, came shortly after the Nassib/Jaber border crossing between the countries was opened last month after being closed since 2015. In September, ministers from Lebanon, Jordan, Syria and Egypt decided to help Lebanon’s electricity crisis by piping Egyptian natural gas to Lebanon via Jordan and Syria. The author also notes that Interpol has once again integrated Syria into its system. Even in Tel Aviv, he claims the shifting winds are being noted, where Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett “felt the need” to say the world’s normalizing relations with Assad would not impact the occupied Golan Heights.

Syria has been suspended from the Arab League since 2011, shortly after the Syrian conflict began. Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the UAE had initially supported the opposition and bet on the demise of the Assad regime. The changed course of the conflict after Russia’s intervention on behalf of the Assad regime, and Russia’s increasing influence among Gulf countries, which the author claims “are experiencing mistrust in their relations with the U.S.,” has accelerated the trend to bring Syria back into the fold.

The winds are starting to change for Damascus… Critical in this shift is Russia’s increasing influence among Gulf countries, who are experiencing mistrust in their relations with the US.

Source: Fehim Tastekin, “Esad’la Arap kucaklaşması yakın mı? (Is an Embrace between Assad and the Arabs Imminent?),” Gazete Duvar (online news portal critical of the Turkish government), 12 October 2021.

The winds are starting to change for Damascus. The idea to bring Syria back into the Arab world as a way to push back against Iran and Turkey is emerging. We’ve been talking about this tendency ever since the UAE opened up its embassy in Damascus in 2018. The reason the process has been moving slow, is the deterrence presented by the [US] Ceasar Act sanctions, which punished economic relations with Syria. Even though the US State Department said, “The US will not normalize, improve or encourage others regarding diplomatic relations with the Assad regime,” the fact that Arab countries have increased dialogue with Damascus, points to a flexibility [to this law] in practice.

Critical in this shift is Russia’s increasing influence among Gulf countries, who are experiencing mistrust in their relations with the US. In addition to the UAE; Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia have communicated with Damascus at different levels. Most recently, on 10 October, the UAE’s Ministry of the Economy announced an agreement to improve economic cooperation with Syria to pave the way for new opportunities for other sectors. It was announced that the trade volume between the two countries (outside of oil) was 272 million dollars in the first half of 2021, and that the UAE was Syria’s most important trade partner. This statement came after comprehensive meetings at the Expo 2020 Dubai… The Syria-UAE Businessmen’s Council is also going to be revived. The UAE leadership had also attracted attention on 5 October, when they issued a statement congratulating Syria’s leadership on the anniversary of the 1973 Arab-Israel War.

The most significant communication recently is the phone call between Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the Jordanian King Abdullah. According to Jordanian sources, the call entailed detailed discussion of developing relations between the two countries. In the call, King Abdullah expressed his support for Syrian sovereignty, stability, territorial integrity and protection of the public. This meeting also came after two separate delegations of Syrian ministers’ meetings in Amman. The Nassib/Jaber border crossing [between Jordan and Syria], which was closed in 2015, opened in 2018, and the closed again in 2020 due to Covid-19, was re-opened last month, as part of the steps towards normalization. Civilian flights between Damascus and Amman have started… The two sides refer to their relationship as “two brotherly countries.”

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