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.

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Read more at Washington Post

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

 

The End of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, and the Rise of the Arab-Israeli Coalition

Nov. 30 2022

After analyzing the struggle between the Jewish state and its Arab neighbors since 1949, Dan Schueftan explains the current geopolitical alignment and what it means for Jerusalem:

Using an outdated vocabulary of Middle Eastern affairs, recent relations between Israel and most Arab states are often discussed in terms of peace and normalization. What is happening recently is far more significant than the willingness to live together and overshadow old grievances and animosities. It is about strategic interdependence with a senior Israeli partner. The historic all-Arab coalition against Israel has been replaced by a de-facto Arab-Israeli coalition against the radical forces that threaten them both. Iran is the immediate and outstanding among those radicals, but Erdogan’s Turkey in the eastern Mediterranean, Syria—and, in a different way, its allies in the Muslim Brotherhood—are not very far behind.

For Israel, the result of these new alignments is a transformational change in its regional standing, as well as a major upgrade of its position on the global stage. In the Middle East, Israel can, for the first time, act as a full-fledged regional power. . . . On the international scene, global powers and other states no longer have to weigh the advantages of cooperation with Israel against its prohibitive costs in “the Arab World. . . . By far the most significant effect of this transformation is on the American strategic calculus of its relations with Israel.

In some important ways, then, the “New Middle East” has arrived. Not, of course, in the surreal Shimon Peres vision of regional democracy, peace, and prosperity, but in terms of a balance of power and hard strategic realities that can guardrail a somewhat less unstable and dangerous region, where the radicals are isolated and the others cooperate to keep them at bay.

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Read more at Tablet

More about: Abraham Accords, Israel-Arab relations, Middle East, Shimon Peres, U.S.-Israel relationship