Shortly after Washington announced the withdrawal of troops from Syria, both the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain—two reliable supports of American efforts to contain Iran—reopened their embassies in Damascus, effectively announcing their recognition that Bashar al-Assad is the victor in the civil war and thus has regained legitimacy. Worse, the UAE has repeatedly shown interest in investing in Syria. David Adesnik argues that the U.S. must tighten sanctions on Assad and make clear to its allies that they should follow suit:
Well before the White House announced that U.S. troops were coming home, there were signs that the UAE was pursuing reconciliation with Assad. Last August, a leading Emirati investor reportedly met with Syrian regime officials to discuss investment in the Marota City project, the centerpiece of the regime’s reconstruction plans. While reconstruction may sound like a humanitarian endeavor, it is a means for Assad to enrich his accomplices at the expense of impoverished Syrians. To acquire land for Marota City, the regime evicted thousands of residents and razed numerous properties in the neighborhood of Basateen al-Razi, a hub of protests in the early days of the uprising against Assad. . . .
Last November, a senior Emirati trade official announced that his country was complying with all U.S. sanctions on Iran, which the White House had recently re-imposed. The UAE fears Iran—with good cause—and relies on its partnership with the U.S. for security. The White House should make clear that this is a two-way street.
The Assad regime could not survive without Iran’s support. In turn, it serves as a conduit for the transfer of Iranian weapons to Hizballah. It has also begun serving as a base for direct Iranian attacks on Israel. A coherent policy to counter Iran’s malign influence cannot ignore the role of Syria. Turning up the pressure on Assad is both a strategic necessity and a moral imperative.