Why are the Arab countries in no hurry to return Syria to the Arab League?

18.01.2019

The Economic League of Arab States (LAS) will be held in Lebanon on January 19-20. Along with the question of allocating $ 11 billion in aid to Lebanon suffering from the economic and political crisis, the Syrian issue is also scheduled to be discussed at the forum. The invitation to the summit, along with 20 other Arab countries, was sent to Damascus.

This meeting may be another step in the emerging “warming” between Syria and the Arab countries.

In 2011, after the start of the civil war in Syria, it was expelled from the Arab League, and the Arab countries broke off relations with Damascus and imposed economic and political sanctions against Syria. However, much has changed since then. In 2015, when the Russian Military arrived in Latakia, Assad controlled a narrow strip of territory along the eastern Mediterranean, and now 70% of the country’s territory.

Together with Iran and Russia, the Syrian army squeezed Qatari and Saudi puppets from Aleppo, Homs, Eastern Guta, Dara and parts of Idlib. Turkey took control of part of northwestern Syria (Afrin, El-Bab), and the remaining Syrian territory beyond the Euphrates is in the hands of the Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

The countries of the Arab League understand that if they do not want to be kicked out of Syria at all, they need to seek contacts with the dominant force - Damascus. At the end of 2018, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon and Tunisia began to recognize Bashar Assad. The most courageous were Sudan, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. In December, Sudanese President Omar Bashir traveled to Damascus, becoming the first Arab leader to meet with Assad after 2011. Bahrain and the Emirates opened their embassies in Damascus. With the mediation of Egypt, a summit is planned to be held in Tunisia in March, at which for the first time in seven years, Arab leaders will look into Bashar Assad’s eyes.

However, a few days before the event, the leaders of Qatar, Kuwait and Egypt refused to go to Beirut. Contrary to expectations, Qatar made it clear that it is not in a hurry to restore relations with Syria. And the Saudi authorities publicly dismissed the rumors about the possible opening of the embassy in Damascus. Syria refused to send a representative to Beirut.

Why did the Sunni countries abruptly change their mind about moving closer to Damascus? The answer to this question is related to the confrontation between Iran and the United States. The United States fears that the rehabilitation of Syria in the Arab League will strengthen the position of Iran behind the Assad. And Tehran is the main enemy of Washington in the region.

After Trump’s decision to withdraw troops from Syria, Iran’s position is strengthened. The head of the White House, who feared this, gave the Arab allies a rationing so that they would not rush to recognize Damascus. The recognition of Assad by the allies of Washington from the Gulf would be completely out of place. On February 13-14, the Americans are planning to hold an anti-Iranian summit in Poland. Participants from Asia, Africa, America, Europe and the Middle East, among other issues, are invited to discuss the issue of neutralizing Tehran’s “destabilizing influence”.

Another concern of Washington, which is partly shared by the Sunni countries, is that Assad, legitimized by the international community, will become an even more inconvenient partner in the negotiations on a Syrian settlement. By refusing to accept in the Arab League, Assad's rivals are trying to bargain for his “concessions” in the political process in favor of the opposition.

Behind Trump’s pressure on the Arabs is seen the influence of Israel, which, like the American president and Sunni countries, fears Iran’s gain. The other day, Benjamin Netanyahu threatened that Tel Aviv would continue to bomb pro-Iranian forces in Syria, and the sooner Iran leaves the Arab country, the better.

If we talk about the interests of Russia, the refusal of Arab countries to recognize Assad harms the Russian strategy in the region. Damascus is an ally of Moscow, and the more countries recognize it, the better. Therefore, Moscow must use its influence in the region to prevent Washington from disrupting the return of Syria to the League of Arab States.