A remarkable development witnessed in the relationship between the UAE and Syria during the past 24 hours, after about 10 years of estrangement between the two countries against the backdrop of the outbreak of the Syrian crisis in 2011. with the Assad regime.
On Wednesday, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan received a phone call from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and the two sides discussed developments in Syria and the Middle East, according to the Emirates News Agency.
The contact dealt with developments in Syria and the Middle East, in addition to all issues and files of common interest, according to the agency.
The call from the two sides came nearly three years after the UAE announced the reopening of its embassy in Damascus, which had been closed since the first months of the start of the conflict in Syria in 2011 until the announcement of its reopening in December 2018.
The call also coincided with Syria’s participation in the Expo 2020 Dubai, where the Syrian and Emirati Ministers of Economy recently discussed revitalizing the Business Council between the two countries.
Observers believe that there are political and other economic motives that led the UAE to change its policies towards the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, most notably the attempt to counter the influence of non-Arab actors in the Syrian scene, such as Iran and Turkey.
The researcher on Syrian affairs, Firas Faham, said that the contact that took place between Mohammed bin Zayed and Assad is “a continuation of the path that the UAE started in late 2018 after opening its embassy in Damascus.”
Faham added in an interview with Al-Hurra that the UAE, through this step, wants to play a more effective role in the Middle East and the Mediterranean region at the political level, and is also looking for investments in Syria, on the economic level.
Professor at the Middle East Institute, Hassan Mneimneh, implicitly agrees with this vision. Iranian in this country.
The countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council, including the UAE, withdrew their ambassadors from Damascus in February 2012, accusing the Syrian regime of committing a “mass massacre against the defenseless people”, in reference to the suppression of popular protests before they turned into a civil war that killed more than 360,000 people.
The Syrian conflict, since its outbreak in March 2011, has caused the displacement and displacement of more than half of the population inside and outside the country, including more than 6.6 million refugees, who fled mainly to neighboring countries: Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.
Tehran supported the Assad regime by sending military advisors and loyal militia members from Iraq, Lebanon and Afghanistan, who fought on the side of the regime, which almost eliminated the uprising that began ten years ago, with the decisive help of Iranian and Russian forces.
Mneimneh stresses that “talking about confronting Iranian influence does not mean that we can ignore the crimes committed by the Syrian regime.”
And he continues, “Any communication or interaction with the regime contributes to its impunity after it committed major crimes over an entire decade,” adding that “this step harms the image of the UAE.”
But Mneimneh added, “We should also not forget that there is a fait accompli that the Syrian revolution can no longer do anything, and this makes us understand the logic that pushes the UAE to communicate with Syria, which is a geo-strategic logic.”
On the other hand, the expert in political and strategic affairs, Amjad Taha, believes that other countries will follow the UAE’s example in dealing with the Syrian file.
“Whoever hesitates today will do what the UAE did tomorrow,” Taha said in a tweet on his Twitter account, adding that “the return of Arab Syria to its rightful surroundings means stability and security and the return of Damascus’s tender for amnesty among its sons for the sake of peace and construction.”
It is noteworthy that Jordan fully reopened its main border crossing with Syria in late September, with the aim of strengthening the faltering economy in the two countries and strengthening the efforts of Arab countries to reintegrate Syria.
Jordan’s King Abdullah spoke with Assad for the first time in a decade this month. The Egyptian and Syrian foreign ministers met last month on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, in what Egyptian media described as the first meeting at this level in nearly ten years.
Firas Faham links the changes that began in the relations between the UAE and other Arab countries, such as Egypt and Jordan on the one hand, and Syria on the other, to the change that occurred in the White House after the advent of US President Joe Biden.
Faham said that “the previous US administration during the time of President Donald Trump was frank when it threatened to impose sanctions within the framework of the Caesar Act on countries that have relations with the Assad regime.”
He added, “Today we see the opposite, because Washington did not express its opposition to extending the gas pipeline known as the Arab Gas Pipeline between four countries: Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.”
“Most likely, Washington will try, in coordination with Russia, to ease the sanctions and restrictions imposed on Syria in order to ensure that Moscow deals with the issue of pressure on Iran in the nuclear file,” according to Faham.
In turn, Hassan Mneimneh does not expect Syria to fully return to the Arab system, “because it was not based on an independent basis in the previous stage, especially after Bashar al-Assad’s accession to power.”
Mneimneh says, “During the era of Hafez al-Assad, Syria was able to balance its relations with Iran, Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Arab countries, and it was a self-determining authority, but after Bashar came, we noticed the regime’s submission to Iran.”
Mneimneh suggested that “Arab countries are moving towards normalization with Syria, but without the matter reaching full normalization,” pointing out that “the countries that deal with the Syrian regime seem to have forgotten all these crimes and are ready to turn the page on the past and try to deal with the logic of God’s forgiveness of what has preceded.” “.
On the 11th of this month, Reuters news agency quoted Syria’s ambassador to the UAE, Ghassan Abbas, as saying that the UAE had invited Syria to participate in the Dubai Expo despite attempts to “demonize” the Syrian government.
He added, “In the past ten and a half years, there have been many attempts to demonize the Syrian government. But there are countries like the United Arab Emirates that have insisted on dealing with us on the grounds that we are among the countries recognized in the United Nations. On this basis, a position was taken to invite Syria.”
He concluded by saying, “Is there a new approach to dealing with Syria? Yes.”
Last week, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken reiterated the US position rejecting the normalization of relations with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
“What we did not do and do not intend to do is to express any support for efforts aimed at normalizing relations” with Assad, the US minister said during a press conference, without calling the latter the title of president.
Blinken pointed out that the United States “has not lifted any sanctions imposed on Syria or changed its position against the reconstruction of Syria unless irreversible progress is made towards a political solution that we believe is necessary and vital.”
Blinken said Washington’s priorities in Syria focus on providing humanitarian aid, stopping any militant activity that might target the United States, and stopping the violence.
And entered into force, last year, the US Caesar Act, which imposes sanctions on every company that deals with the Assad regime, which seeks to rebuild his country after a war that has been going on for more than 11 years.
The law aims to hold accountable those involved in human rights violations committed by the Syrian regime and to encourage a political solution in Syria.
Syria recently worked with Egypt and Jordan to secure gas and electric power for neighboring Lebanon, which has been suffering from a severe fuel crisis for months, and from which Syrian forces withdrew in 2005.
The New York Times, in a report a few days ago, quoted an American official as saying that the United States supports a plan to deliver gas to Lebanon through Syria.
The administration of US President Joe Biden has taken a “less severe” approach towards Assad than former President Donald Trump, but it continues to urge its Arab partners not to normalize relations with him, according to the report.