The move to readmit Syria to the Arab League is seen as a Saudi-led change in tactics to counter Iran’s influence on the country, reports say.
By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News
Eight years after suspending the Assad regime for its ruthless quashing of protests that led to a civil war, the Arab League is going to bring Syria back onto its membership roll in 2019, The Guardian reported Wednesday.
Certain countries among the current 22-member alliance have already begun publicly meeting with Syrian officials, with the highest-level one being Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who visited Damascus earlier this month.
According to the report, this was also seen as signaling a rapprochement with Arab League powerhouse Saudi Arabia, which has grown closer to Sudan ever since it severed relations with Saudi rival Iran in 2016.
Signaling a further thawing of Arab relations with Syria, it was announced Thursday that the Damascus embassy of the United Arab Emirates is set to reopen on Thursday after being shuttered since 2011.
The Saudis reportedly hope that bringing Syria back into the fold will reduce Iran’s influence in Damascus, an outgrowth of its heavy military support for the regime.
The oil giant’s deep pockets may tempt Assad away from Iran, as he faces an estimated $400 billion price tag to rebuild his country will cost around $400 billion. Iran can’t compete with Saudi money, especially with renewed U.S. sanctions weighing on its economy.
The Guardian reports that the United States is pressuring the Saudis and Egyptians to delay a vote on Syria’s reentry into the Arab League. In general, the West is not enamored with normalizing relations with the Assad regime unless a peace agreement between all the warring parties is signed. Free and fair elections for the presidency may be another Western demand.
However, the Arab League sees matters differently. Bahraini Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed al-Khalifa said at the U.N. during this year’s general assembly, “What’s happening in Syria concerns us more than anybody else in the world. Syria is an Arab country, after all. It is not right for its affairs to be handled by regional and international players in our absence.”
“Arab leaders in the Gulf have long acquiesced to the idea of Bashar al-Assad surviving in power,” Tobias Schneider, a research fellow at Berlin’s Global Public Policy Institute, told the British daily.
“In the end, in the big scheme of regional revolution and counter-revolution, Assad was one of them – an Arab autocrat fighting against what especially Emirati and Egyptian leaders consider subversive revolutionary and Islamist forces such as the Muslim Brotherhood.”