Chinese and Gulf states rapprochement with Syria


We find that throughout the years of the Syrian war, there were a number of indications of (secret cooperation) between some Arab governments in secret with the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, and accusations were also leveled indicating the involvement of other governments in supporting and arming Syrian opposition groups against the Syrian regime), especially  the Gulf countries that sought to revenge against the regime of President “Bashar Al-Assad” for Syria’s close alliance with Iran, which is the sworn enemy of countries in the Gulf region. Here we can analyze and understand the following:

The desire of the Gulf countries and the UAE to open prospects for trade with Syria, and most importantly (reducing Syria’s strategic dependence on Iran) is the most important reason for their recent attempt to rapprochement with Damascus.

The UAE rapprochement with Syria comes as part of a Gulf strategy called (the almost certain regional rehabilitation of Bashar Al-Assad). Here, we find that “the speed of the train of Arab and Gulf normalization, mainly with Syria, has increased significantly”, and what is deeper than that can be analyzed by confirming that “a number of Arab governments have not completely severed their ties with Damascus since the beginning of the events in Syria”.

The “state of Jordan” is currently considered one of the most prominent of those Arab countries that exert pressures for normalization with the capital “Damascus” as Jordan’s neighbor in terms of its northern borders, where recent indications are that (the Kingdom of Jordan is on the verge of restoring full relations with the Syrian regime). In fact, it is possible to analyze the reasons for the start of the Jordanian capital, “Amman”, as a close ally of the United States of America, to open the way for Washington’s other allies in the Gulf region to rapprochement with Syria, in order to (neutralize the Syrian regime and exert subsequent pressure on the Iranian side to accept the American conditions in the Iranian nuclear file).

On the other hand, (Lebanon needs the Syrian energy networks to help alleviate the fuel crisis that has paralyzed Beirut). We can as well identify (Syria’s situation in the strategy of supplying Lebanon with fuel as a result of the current Lebanese fuel crisis) has an important analytical aspect, especially after (Jordan’s approval on October 6, 2021, to send the surplus of Jordan’s electric power to Lebanon through the Syrian network, which indicates the American flexibility regarding  relating to the relations imposed on Damascus).

However, there are fears from a number of Lebanese forces and currents of allowing an increase in Iranian and Syrian influence in Lebanon, especially with (a previous public condemnation of Hezbollah for bringing Iranian fuel into Lebanon through Syria, describing it as a “violation of the country’s sovereignty”).  Likewise, the public positions of the Lebanese government not to visit or normalize relations with Syria without the blessing of the international community, stressing Lebanon’s desire to distance itself from conflicts in the region.

We find here (the support of the Lebanese Shiite movements in Lebanon for President Bashar Al-Assad). In particular, the “Iran-backed Hezbollah movement is the main supporter of rapprochement with Syria”, especially with (the role of Hezbollah militias in Lebanon, along with the Russian air force, in changing the course of the civil war in favor of Bashar Al-Assad inside Syria). The political bureau of the “Amal Movement in Lebanon”, the other main Shiite party in Lebanon, renewed its calls for strengthening relations with Syria in an official statement on October 4, 2021. On the other hand, there are other Lebanese political forces that have remained staunchly opposed to what they see as Syrian and Iranian interference in their country’s affairs.

Here, we find that this new shift in the UAE’s Gulf position for rapprochement with Syria is due to the visit of the Jordanian monarch (King Abdullah) to the United States of America in July 2021.  He will remain in office, and then the international community will have to deal with him one way or another.

From my analytical point of view, according to objective indicators, (King Abdullah) has obtained permission from the United States of America to resume Jordan’s commercial ties and relations with Syria, so that Jordan is excluded from the sanctions regime that targets any country that has commercial transactions with Damascus, which is known as (Caesar’s Law). A series of talks between Syrian and Jordanian officials in September 2021 led to the reopening of the (Jaber-Naseeb border crossing), and also opened the door to negotiations on October 3, 2021, related to trade, energy and agriculture, moving from mere (economic ties to fully resuming political relations between Jordan and Syria). This is in line with the desire of the capital, Amman, to (return Damascus to the Arab League before the next Arab summit, which may be held in 2022).

Here, too, the indicators point to the agreement (Jordan and Egypt with Syria) to start (rehabilitating and operating the Arab Gas Pipeline to export Egyptian gas to Lebanon via Jordan and Syria, and then to Europe via Turkey), which is mainly for the benefit of reviving the Egyptian economy, and thus encouraging Egypt to rapprochement with Damascus for economic interests.  As well as the meeting of the Egyptian Foreign Minister “Sameh Shoukry”, with his Syrian counterpart “Faisal Miqdad”, in September 2021, during his participation in the meetings of the United Nations General Assembly, and his declaration after that of his “support for the return of Syria as an active party in the Arab framework”. Also, the geopolitical considerations for the Egyptian side, driven by the network of economic interests, and Egypt’s desire to (play a role in profitable deals for the reconstruction of Syria may be an important factor for Egypt to rapprochement with Damascus).

As scholar, I have reached an important analysis here, which can be monitored through the desire of a number of Arab countries to (maintain the government of “Bashar Al-Assad as another military force in opposition to the Arab revolutions or what is known as the revolutions of the Arab Spring) may also stand behind the efforts of a number of Arab countries to normalize with the side  Syrian.

As for Iraq, the “Iraqi side has openly opposed the isolation of Syria”, and has repeatedly declared that it supports its return to the Arab League.  Iraq did not sever its ties with Syria, and in 2011 Iraq abstained from voting on a decision to expel it from the university, and Iraq kept its embassy in Damascus throughout the war. We find as well that (the Iraqi government coordinated with President Bashar al-Assad in cross-border operations against the Islamic State, or what is known as ISIS).  There are still several (Iraqi militias backed by Iran on the Syrian-Iraqi border), and some are also inside Syrian territory (in the context of efforts led by Iran to put pressure on the American forces there, to support Assad and to keep transport corridors open).

The benefits of the Syrian-Emirati rapprochement come through what the (UAE Ministry of Economy) announced that “it has agreed to strengthen economic cooperation and explore new horizons with Syria”. A few weeks after the meeting between the Emirates ministers and his Syrian counterpart in Dubai to discuss about the issue of the (reconstruction of Syria), Emirates officials stated that they hoped the situation in Syria would return “to what it was before the crisis” that erupted in 2011.

In March 2021, both the UAE and Saudi Arabia demanded the “return of Syria to the Arab fold”.  Coordination is currently underway on new horizons for Emirates and Gulf cooperation with Syria, especially in vital sectors, in order to “enhance investment partnerships”.

The Saudi indication also came that its geopolitical interests in Syria are still strong, with the statement of Crown Prince “Mohammed bin Salman” in March 2018, that:

“President Bashar Al-Assad will remain in his place, but “Bashar Al-Assad’s interests” will not be to allow the Iranians to stay to play a role, although the restoration of all diplomatic relations remains a remote possibility, the Syrian-Saudi relations are witnessing a warmth”

We find the most prominent indicators of Saudi rapprochement with Syria, representing in (the visit of the Syrian Minister of Tourism to Saudi Arabia in May 2021, which is the first visit of a Syrian government official to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia since 2011).  At about the same time, the director of Saudi intelligence met his Syrian counterpart in Damascus.

However, one of the challenges facing Riyadh is (the strong opposition within the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to the pro-Iranian Baathist regime of Damascus). We find the position of the Saudi media strongly opposing the Assad regime in Syria, with the Saudi criticism directed against the Syrian government’s actions against the Sunni majority. Knowing that this Saudi orientation was reciprocated with the Syrian regime, with previous accusations from the official Syrian media outlets loyal to the regime of President “Bashar Al-Assad” for criticizing what they described as “an active Saudi and Qatari role in provoking sectarian strife and fueling the civil war in Syria”.

But on the other hand, the Syrian-Arab consensus on a number of issues by following the (pragmatic method) in solving political and economic issues is enough to guarantee its return to the Arab League, including consensus with President “Bashar Al-Assad” on a number of issues, foremost of which are: (Syria’s steps to form a stable government agreed upon by various political forces, including the political opposition, attempts to return Syrian refugees from abroad, the urgent need for Syrian fuel for the Lebanese, and the latter restricting Iranian influence in Syria and curtailing “Bashar Al-Assad’s relations with Tehran).

    Here, in my personal analytical viewpoint and analysis of the reality, all of the above points have become important indicators to push officials in a number of Arab countries to try to (reach political understandings with their Syrian counterparts and be more openly with the dialogue).

Dr.Nadia Helmy
Dr.Nadia Helmy
Associate Professor of Political Science, Faculty of Politics and Economics / Beni Suef University- Egypt. An Expert in Chinese Politics, Sino-Israeli relationships, and Asian affairs- Visiting Senior Researcher at the Centre for Middle Eastern Studies (CMES)/ Lund University, Sweden- Director of the South and East Asia Studies Unit