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Assad’s Rapprochement with Arabs: Rebellion Against Iran or Acting According to Vision?

Sources within the Arab Summit reveal to Syria TV that it was the Syrian regime's delegation that initiated the request for a meeting with the Saudi Crown Prince.
Assad’s Rapprochement with Arabs: Rebellion Against Iran or Acting According to Vision?

The 33rd Arab Summit in Manama, Bahrain, marked a significant moment of reconciliation between Bashar al-Assad and Arab nations, notably highlighted by his meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on the sidelines. While speculation surrounded Assad’s absence from the General Summit, attributing it to his reluctance to involve Syria in the Gaza war to maintain a stance of non-escalation or dissatisfaction over handling drug trafficking from Syrian territory, it became evident that Arab countries, spearheaded by Saudi Arabia, are committed to advancing their dialogue with Assad despite setbacks, such as the stalled Arab Liaison Committee meeting originally planned for Baghdad in mid-May.

The Syrian regime and Saudi Arabia 

Information from sources within the Arab Summit reveals that it was the Syrian regime’s delegation that initiated the request for a meeting with the Saudi Crown Prince, underscoring its eagerness to understand the obligations it must fulfill towards Arab countries.

In contrast to its approach with the Arab Liaison Committee, where it has not displayed sufficient responsiveness, the regime places emphasis on rebuilding ties with Saudi Arabia. This was evidenced by the visit of its Foreign Minister, Faisal Mekdad, to Riyadh last April, mere months after the return of the Saudi embassy to Damascus with a charge d’affaires.

Riyadh holds paramount importance for the Syrian regime on two fronts. Firstly, politically, due to its influential position in the Arab arena and its crucial diplomatic channels with the United States. These channels recently facilitated talks aimed at forging a political and security agreement to redefine the relationship between Riyadh and Washington. Consequently, the regime relies on these channels to advocate for a reconsideration of economic sanctions by Washington. Secondly, economically, Saudi Arabia is among the countries targeted by the regime for funding early recovery operations, albeit under the auspices of the United Nations.

Conditional support for alignment

The recent Arab overtures towards the Syrian regime appear to align closely with, rather than oppose, the broader Iranian context, particularly since Saudi Arabia’s engagement with Damascus coincided with the restoration of diplomatic ties between Riyadh and Tehran in March 2023.

Iran has evidently provided leeway for its allies in the region to engage with Arab states through various measures. This includes the normalization of relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which subsequently led to developments in Riyadh’s relations with both the Syrian regime and the Iraqi government.

Simultaneously, Tehran is actively seeking rapprochement with Jordan, a move not objected to by Amman. Furthermore, Iran is responding positively to overtures from its allies in Iraq and Syria, provided that its security concerns are addressed.

An important indication of Iran’s tacit support for the Syrian regime’s outreach to Arab countries, particularly during the Gaza war, is its commitment to refrain from using Syrian territory to threaten Israel’s security. Despite suffering significant losses, including the deaths of senior Revolutionary Guards leaders on Syrian soil, Iran has scaled back the activities of its militias in Syria. Instead, it is increasingly coordinating with Arab tribes in northeastern Syria to exert pressure on U.S. forces in the region. This approach appears aimed at avoiding embarrassing the Syrian regime in front of Arab states and facilitating the path towards normalization.

Moreover, Iran has redeployed loyalist forces in Quneitra, southern Syria, near the Golan Heights, alongside numerous Russian observation points. In Iraq, Iran is allowing its allies room for maneuver to improve relations with neighbouring countries and the United States, albeit while safeguarding Iranian interests.

Regional countries are evidently beginning to consider direct engagement with Iran to address outstanding issues. This trend has gained traction, particularly among Iran’s allies, following the realization of the instability in U.S. policy towards Tehran due to changes in administrations and the Democrats’ consistent efforts to maintain diplomatic channels with Iran.

Messages of reassurance to Iran 

In late 2023, Saudi Arabia and the UAE notably abstained from participating in Operation Guardian of Prosperity, led by Washington to restore stability in the Red Sea. This decision came in response to escalating tensions caused by the Iran-backed Yemeni Houthi group. It signified an Arab inclination to send conciliatory messages to Iran, aimed at averting further strain in relations, especially following Tehran’s categorical rejection of the operation and its threats of confrontation.

Since OperationaAl-Aqsa Flood, Tehran has consistently communicated its willingness to engage in joint coordination with regional countries to reassess the regional landscape post-Gaza war. However, the continuation of this path of calm and efforts to enhance relations hinges on several factors, chief among them being Iran’s genuine commitment to forging robust understandings with its neighbouring states.

Convergence according to the Iranian vision 

In general, according to the current data, Assad’s rapprochement with the Arabs seems closer, but it is proceeding according to the Iranian vision, and not a rebellion against Tehran, despite Assad’s efforts to delude the Arabs to the contrary, and this does not prevent him from considering alternative options that provide him with survival in the event that there is a real trend in the future to weaken Iranian influence.  

 

This article was translated and edited by The Syrian Observer. The Syrian Observer has not verified the content of this story. Responsibility for the information and views set out in this article lies entirely with the author.

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