The U.S. Should Discourage Its Arab Allies from Reconciling with Syria

Oct. 11 2021

On October 3, King Abdullah of Jordan had a phone conversation with Syria’s Bashar al-Assad—the first between the two heads of state since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war in 2011. And nearly three years ago, the United Arab Emirates reopened its embassy in Damascus. Washington, Josh Rogin reports, is refraining from pressuring friendly countries not to normalize relations with the Syrian dictator, who was once a pariah in the Arab world:

This new approach, in which the United States publicly opposes normalization but privately looks the other way, was on clear display in the weeks after Abdullah’s meeting with President Biden at the White House [in July]. Soon after, a deal was struck to pipe Egyptian natural gas to Lebanon through Jordan and Syria, which will surely result in cash payments to Assad. Rather than stand in the way, the Biden administration advised the participating countries that they could avoid sanctions [on Assad] by financing the deal through the World Bank, essentially promoting a loophole in U.S. law.

Regional countries got the message. At last month’s UN General Assembly, Syrian officials met with several Arab leaders, after which Egypt’s foreign minister pledged to help “restore Syria’s position in the Arab world.”

Proponents of normalization argue that ten years of isolation and pressure on Assad have not produced any progress on a political settlement, while sanctions have exacerbated Syrians’ suffering. They also argue that Arab engagement can dilute Iranian power in Syria. . . . The glaring problem with this approach is that the Assad regime and Russia have violated every deal they’ve struck with local groups, subjecting them to new cruelty and suffering. The long-term result will be more extremism, refugees, and destabilization.

There are no good choices in Syria, but tacitly allowing a mass murderer to be welcomed back into the diplomatic fold is not an acceptable choice. Normalizing Assad won’t end the war, and looking the other way is a morally and strategically bankrupt strategy.

Read more at Washington Post

More about: Bashar al-Assad, Egypt, Jordan, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy, United Arab Emirates


When It Comes to Peace with Israel, Many Saudis Have Religious Concerns

Sept. 22 2023

While roughly a third of Saudis are willing to cooperate with the Jewish state in matters of technology and commerce, far fewer are willing to allow Israeli teams to compete within the kingdom—let alone support diplomatic normalization. These are just a few results of a recent, detailed, and professional opinion survey—a rarity in Saudi Arabia—that has much bearing on current negotiations involving Washington, Jerusalem, and Riyadh. David Pollock notes some others:

When asked about possible factors “in considering whether or not Saudi Arabia should establish official relations with Israel,” the Saudi public opts first for an Islamic—rather than a specifically Saudi—agenda: almost half (46 percent) say it would be “important” to obtain “new Israeli guarantees of Muslim rights at al-Aqsa Mosque and al-Haram al-Sharif [i.e., the Temple Mount] in Jerusalem.” Prioritizing this issue is significantly more popular than any other option offered. . . .

This popular focus on religion is in line with responses to other controversial questions in the survey. Exactly the same percentage, for example, feel “strongly” that “our country should cut off all relations with any other country where anybody hurts the Quran.”

By comparison, Palestinian aspirations come in second place in Saudi popular perceptions of a deal with Israel. Thirty-six percent of the Saudi public say it would be “important” to obtain “new steps toward political rights and better economic opportunities for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.” Far behind these drivers in popular attitudes, surprisingly, are hypothetical American contributions to a Saudi-Israel deal—even though these have reportedly been under heavy discussion at the official level in recent months.

Therefore, based on this analysis of these new survey findings, all three governments involved in a possible trilateral U.S.-Saudi-Israel deal would be well advised to pay at least as much attention to its religious dimension as to its political, security, and economic ones.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Islam, Israel-Arab relations, Saudi Arabia, Temple Mount