After Syria rejoined the Arab League Sunday, countries around the world had different reactions: While UAE and most other Arab countries welcomed the move as a further step towards Arab reconciliation, Qatar has reiterated the importance of resuming the political process. Meanwhile, Iran has welcomed the agreement and expressed its readiness to supply the Assad regime with advanced weapons. At the same time, Jordan has launched a strike in Southern Syria, killing one of the country’s most renowned drug lords.
How has the world reacted to Syria rejoining the Arab League?
Al Jazeera toured some Arab and international responses to the Arab League decision to reinstate Syria.
UAE: a “positive step”
Some Arab states, including the United Arab Emirates, have pressed to end al-Assad’s isolation and welcomed the decision.
Anwar Gargash, diplomatic adviser to the UAE’s president, tweeted that Syria’s readmission was “a positive step” and “the UAE believes in the necessity of building bridges and maximising partnerships to ensure regional prosperity and stability”.
Qatar accepts reinstatement, not normalisation
Other Arab nations have opposed full normalisation without a political solution to the Syrian conflict and want there to be conditions on Syria’s return.
Qatar had previously opposed Syria’s return to the Arab League. In a statement to the Qatar News Agency, a Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson said the country’s position “on normalisation with the regime had not changed”.
However, the spokesperson also said the country would still support the “Arab consensus and will not be an obstacle to that”.
“The reinstatement of Syria does not mean normalisation of relations between Arab countries and Syria,” Arab League Secretary General Ahmed Aboul Gheit told reporters in Cairo. “This is a sovereign decision for each country to make.”
Responding to whether al-Assad could participate in Arab League meetings, Aboul Gheit told reporters: “If he wishes because Syria, starting from this evening, is a full member of the Arab League.”
Washington “sceptical” as Moscow “welcomes” move
A United States Department of State spokesperson said Washington shared the goals of its Arab partners on Syria, including building security and stability, but remained “sceptical of Assad’s willingness to take the steps necessary to resolve Syria’s crisis”.
“We do not believe Syria merits readmission into the Arab League at this time,” the spokesperson said, adding that US sanctions would remain in full effect.
Russia, a key ally of al-Assad, was supportive of the move. “Moscow welcomes this long-awaited step, the logical result of the process, which has gained momentum, of returning Syria to the ‘Arab family’,” Maria Zakharova, spokesperson for Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said in a statement.
Jordan looks to curb drug smuggling
Syria’s readmission follows a Jordanian initiative laying out a road map for ending Syria’s conflict, which includes addressing the issues of refugees, missing detainees, drug smuggling and Iranian fighting groups in Syria.
Jordan is both a destination and a main transit route to Gulf countries for captagon, a highly addictive amphetamine produced in Syria, and has hinted it could take unilateral action to curb the multibillion-dollar trade.
A Jordanian official said Syria would need to show it is serious about reaching a political solution because this would be a condition to lobby for the lifting of Western sanctions, a crucial step for funding reconstruction in Syria.
Congratulations from Iran
Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Nasser Kanaani “congratulated the success of Syria in regaining its place and its seat in the Arab League to the government and people of the country”, according to the ministry’s Twitter page.
Saudi Arabia softens stance
Several Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia, supported rebel groups fighting government forces in the early years of the war in Syria. However, more recently, it has shown a desire to soften relations as part of a greater shift in regional diplomacy, including a rapprochement with Iran.
Saudi Arabia signed a Chinese-brokered landmark deal with Iran – Syria’s key regional ally – this year, in which they pledged to restore diplomatic ties.
After the Saudi-Iran rapprochement, Saudi state television reported that Riyadh was discussing the possible resumption of consular services between it and Damascus.
China welcomes, supports Arab solidarity
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said on Monday that China welcomes and congratulates Syria on its return to the Arab League.
According to reports, the Arab League convened a special foreign ministers’ meeting on Sunday, which agreed to readmit Syria to the group.
“We believe this is conducive to the strength and unity of Arab states, the development and revitalization of the Arab world and peace and stability in the Middle East. This serves the long-term interests of Arab states,” Wang told a press briefing.
Obstacles not removed
But the road is not quite smooth. Syria’s readmission to the Arab League on Sunday has paved the way for President Bashar al-Assad to attend the May 19th Arab summit in Riyadh.
However, Syria still faces significant challenges in achieving full normalisation with all member states. While some Arab League members hosting Syrian refugees are eager for them to return home, the majority of Syrians living below the poverty line need aid and investment in reconstruction.
Additionally, the presence of US and Turkish troops, the issue of disappeared persons, and the billion-dollar trafficking in Captagon must also be addressed. Jordan has proposed a plan that includes the safe return of Syrian refugees and reconciliation, but implementing it will require significant resources and cooperation from other Arab governments.
Furthermore, Lebanese authorities have issued a decree requiring Syrians to register with municipalities before renting property or conducting transactions, causing panic among refugees who fear deportation. The Syrian government could issue amnesty for men who fled to avoid army service, and rural refugees need assistance to resume farming.
Urban refugees require the creation of jobs through reconstruction and economic revitalization.
Iran Says Ready To Arm Syria With Advanced Weapons
Iranian Defense Minister Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Ashtiani said Tehran is prepared to equip the Syrian military forces with sophisticated weapons and open “strategic defence gear” factories in the Arab country, Iranian media has said.
The Iranian defence minister, who was accompanying the Iranian president during a visit to Syria last week, held a meeting with his Syrian counterpart Ali Mahmoud Abbas in Damascus to weigh plans for closer cooperation between the two states.
Highlighting Iran’s support for Syria in a full-fledged war against the Daesh (ISIL or ISIS) terrorist group, General Ashtiani said the Defense Ministry of Iran is prepared to arm the Syrian armed forces with the most advanced defence weapons, Tasnim News Agency reported.
Voicing Iran’s readiness to establish “defence and multilateral infrastructures” in Syria and strengthen the Arab nation’s military arms capabilities, the defence minister said Iran can cooperate with Damascus in the construction of factories and production of “strategic defence equipment” in order to improve the Syrian people’s security the Iranian official news agency added..
For his part, the Syrian defence minister expressed gratitude to Iran for contributing to security and stability in his country.
General Mahmoud Abbas underlined that strengthened defence power will prepare Syria as a member of the axis of resistance in the war on terrorism.
Iran used earthquake to transport weapons to Syria – Washington Post
The Washington Post has reported, citing classified information from a CIA leak last month, that Iran has used aid transports meant for earthquake-stricken Syria to smuggle weapons into the country. The report suggests that an Iran-linked militia in Iraq transferred rifles, ammunition, and drones hidden within the aid, meant to help Syrians affected by the earthquake. These weapons were allegedly intended for future attacks against US forces in Syria. The leaked documents also implicate Abu Fadak al-Mohammadawi, a senior official within Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces, which has been linked to Iran. The Iranian government has denied any involvement in sending weapons to Syria through earthquake-related shipments. Iran finances and arms various militias throughout government-held areas of Syria.
Iran, Syria to increase direct flights
On a different note, Iran and Syria have decided to increase the number of weekly flights between the two countries from June 5th, the head of Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization (CAO) has said.
The topics of air transport and increasing flights for passengers and cargo, particularly pilgrims, were discussed during a recent visit to Syria and meeting with Syrian officials, Mohammad Mohammadi-Bakhsh was quoted as saying by Tehran Times.
Increasing flights between the two countries will also increase air traffic by 50,000 passengers each year, the official added.
Both countries also agreed to develop necessary tourism infrastructure to serve tourists and travellers more properly, he noted.
Meanwhile, A Hezbollah operative in Syria tasked with enlisting locals to gather intelligence on Israel appears to have resumed his activities after lying low in response to the recent arrest of one of the spies, Israeli television reported Sunday.
Ghaith Abdullah, 26, was arrested in January by troops after crossing into Israeli territory from Syria for unspecified reasons and was later charged with spying on the Lebanese terror group’s behalf.
The Israel Defense Forces has said Abdullah was part of the so-called “Golan File,” a Hezbollah plot that mostly involves collecting intelligence and recruiting operatives, but also has weaponry in its possession, namely explosives, light arms, machine guns, and antitank missiles.
According to the Kan public broadcaster, Abdullah was recruited by a Hezbollah member known by the nom de guerre Abu Ali, who is in charge of enlisting spies for Hezbollah in southern Syria.
To enlist local Syrians, he allegedly gave recruits such as Abdullah large quantities of oil and food, exploiting their poverty to bring them on as spies. Though Abdullah reportedly figured out Abu Ali was Lebanese, he agreed to photograph IDF positions in exchange for the provisions, according to the report.
Airstrikes kill well-known Syrian drug kingpin
Airstrikes over southern Syria early Monday killed one of the country’s most well-known drug dealers, an opposition war monitor and a pro-government radio station reported.
ABC News reported that the rare attack came days after Jordan warned it would use force inside Syria to eliminate drug trafficking to its territories and from there to oil-rich Arab gulf nations.
The strikes also come a day after Arab governments reinstated Syria to the Arab League following the country’s suspension for its crackdown on protests that ultimately led to a lengthy civil war. As Arab governments gradually rekindle ties with Damascus, one of the key topics of discussion has been Syria’s illicit drug industry, which has flourished during the ongoing conflict — especially the illegal amphetamine Captagon.
Western governments estimate that Captagon has generated billions of dollars in revenue for President Bashar Assad, his Syrian associates and allies. Damascus has denied the accusations.
The first strike hit a home in the Syrian village of Shuab in Sweida province near the Jordanian border, killing Merhi al-Ramthan, his wife and six children, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Jordanian state media shared news of the airstrike, but only cited Syrian media and added that al-Ramthan was wanted by Jordanian authorities. Jordan’s foreign minister at a press conference Monday following a meeting with his Dutch counterpart said Syria had committed to cooperating with Arab countries on drug smuggling during last week’s talks in Amman, and that he will call his counterpart in Damascus to “translate this agreement into a clear mechanism.”