Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, an ally of Iran and Lebanese Hezbollah, was received with honors in the United Arab Emirates, which recently normalized ties with Israel, for his first visit to an Arab country since 2011. An event that could not last without Iranian approval, experts believe, and which brings Syria a step closer to reintegration into the Arab League.
Bashar al-Assad’s visit to the United Arab Emirates on March 18, the Syrian president’s first visit to an Arab country since 2011, may have caused some astonishment among those unaccustomed to the great paradoxes of the Middle East. Or simply principles of Realpolitik.
In fact, how can one explain that the ally of Iran and Lebanese Hezbollah, who helped save his regime with Russia and who are part of the “Axis of Resistance” against Israel and the United States, was able to to go Emirates, the leader of the Arab countries who normalized its relations with the Jewish state under the Abraham Accords dreamed up by the American government and one of the main players in the Yemen conflict?
Realpolitik, then, because the region’s experts agree that this visit could not take place without the consent of the Iranians, with whom the Syrian President has to compose in his own country.
“Syria is on high alert over suspicious moves by some Arab countries to normalize relations with the Zionist regime,” May 1 saidah On March 11, General Ali Mamlouk, the powerful Syrian intelligence chief, confronted Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian during a visit to Tehran.
Iranian green light
“Bashar al-Assad doesn’t have much leeway, he can’t distance himself from Tehran by going without his consent to the Emirates, the main regional power that has recently normalized its relations with Israel, which is considered the enemy Iranians hate said Fabrice Balanche, lecturer at the University of Lyon 2, geographer and expert on Syria, interviewed by France 24.
An opinion shared by Ziad Majed, a professor at the American University of Paris, a specialist in the Middle East and one of the authors of In the Head of Bashar al-Assad, Actes Sud.
“The Syrian regime’s diplomacy is modeled on that of its Russian and Iranian protectors, to whom it remains committed and cannot break free,” he says. It has therefore certainly received an Iranian and Russian green light to return to Abu Dhabi because both find there some interest in seeing him debate with Mohammed ben Zayed, says MBZ, the very influential Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi.”
Ziad Majed explains that the Iranian Islamic Republic “like the pro-Iranian Hezbollah in Lebanon has ‘always’ been ‘in an extremely pragmatic attitude, where everything is allowed, where it is allowed any kind of contacts, alliances or maneuvers while everything is forbidden to his adversaries”.
“Abraham’s agreement or not, the Iranians also have an interest in having contacts with the Emiratis through Bashar al-Assad or other actors, particularly to discuss Yemen, where they intervene in opposing camps, but without the slightest concession accepting the Syrian President would harm their interests and preclude any idea of normalization between Syria and Israel”.
Tehran’s interest could also be of an economic nature, emphasizes Fabrice Balanche, who also mentions “red lines that must not be crossed for Syria”, especially on all issues related to the Jewish state.
“If Bashar al-Assad manages to get financial aid from the Gulf countries to revitalize the economy and start the reconstruction of the country, it will relieve the Iranians, who will have less need to financially help Bashar al-Assad’s regime.” , said Damascus can only survive economically thanks to its allies, particularly thanks to Iranian oil and financial support from Tehran, which it is costing dearly while its own economic situation is dire.”
A “symbolic” visit
The Iranians, like the Russians, have a keen interest in seeing the Syrian president back on the Arab chessboard because he would spell another failure for the Westerners, who had been calling for and working for regime change in Damascus before Tehran and Moscow did don’t save the day.
“Bashar al-Assad traveled to the Emirates with confidence, in the sense that the Syrian President and MBZ have had quite cordial relations for several years, as this Gulf country is the first to have reopened its embassy in Damascus and has been working for some time to get Syria rejoined in the Arab League, Fabrice Balanche continues. So, if the Syrian President finds himself in Algiers, where the next Arab League summit is being organized, in early November 2022, and being photographed with other leaders and heads of state, it will mean that he has won his bet by re-entering the Arab world family and regained its legitimacy, and it will also be a victory for its Russian and Iranian godparents.”
Banned from the international community by Western powers, accused of using chemical weapons against its people, isolated by the region’s Sunni powers, the Syrian regime was suspended from the ranks of the Arab League in November 2011 in protest at the repression of the insurgency against the regime.
“Bashar al-Assad turns to his Arab partners who have the means to give him economic aid to rebuild the country because he knows he can’t expect much from the Westerners and that “he suspects that there is being like that will be more difficult to restore its image and regain its legitimacy with them”.
Ziad Majed believes that with “Western sanctions against Moscow and international public opinion clamoring against the war the Kremlin has started against Ukraine, it is very unlikely that we will give the few voices raised in the West to support the resumption.” demand to be heard again “normalization of relations with Bashar al-Assad’s regime”.
“While Syria finds itself in a dire economic and financial situation while the regime is stifled by sanctions, Bashar al-Assad, accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity, can therefore only turn to the Arab countries and pay less attention to their balance sheets .” he adds.
And finally: “Hence the importance of this highly symbolic visit for the Syrian leader, who wants to show that he is popular again in the Arab world and, after an honorable reception, is back on the regional stage in a country that is a very plays an active role and is currently a member of the Security Council”.