After Nearly a Decade of Ostracization, Arab States Are Making Their Peace with Bashar al-Assad

On Monday, the United Arab Emirates’ national-security adviser visited Tehran, in an apparent attempt to smooth over relations with a country it generally sees as a threat. But three years ago, the UAE took what might be considered a step in this direction by reestablishing diplomatic ties with Bashar al-Assad’s Syria, which is Iran’s closest ally. The Arab league had expelled Syria in 2011 after Assad launched a bloody war against his own people. And the Emiratis are not the only ones interested in reconciliation. Amotz Asa-El explains what has changed:

The role of the global superpowers in the Middle East has transformed dramatically since the [Syrian] civil war’s outbreak. Back then, Russia was on the region’s margins, where it had been since Egypt’s defection from Moscow’s orbit to Washington’s in the 1970s. This configuration ended in 2015, when Russia opened the Khmeimim airbase in western Syria and thrust its air force into the thick of the Syrian civil war—and soon determined that war’s outcome.

The Obama administration’s failure to oppose the Russian move, even verbally, alongside President Obama’s failure to follow through on his threat to punish Assad for launching chemical-weapons attacks on his own people, led Arab leaders to conclude that Washington’s strategic domination of the Middle East was being seriously challenged, and possibly eclipsed, by Moscow. Russia’s agenda therefore won new respect, and the first item on that agenda was the preservation of the Assad dynasty—which has been loyal to Moscow since its establishment in 1971, and provided Russia with a Mediterranean naval base at Tartus, a precious asset from the Russian point of view.

At the same time, Arab governments are also being pushed back toward Assad’s presidential palace by two regional players, Turkey and Iran.

In Asa-El’s view, reconciliation with Damascus doesn’t necessary signal reconciliation with Tehran:

The anti-Iranian dynamic [driving the Gulf Arab states] became glaring [last] month, when Emirati and Bahraini warships joined Israeli and U.S. vessels in a multilateral naval exercise in the Red Sea. This was an Arab-Israeli show of military harmony that until recently was unthinkable—as unthinkable as a renewed pan-Arab embrace of Bashar al-Assad and his regime.

Read more at Australia/Israel Review

More about: Bashar al-Assad, Iran, Israel diplomacy, Middle East, Russia, U.S. Foreign policy, United Arab Emirates


The ICJ’s Vice-President Explains What’s Wrong with Its Recent Ruling against Israel

It should be obvious to anyone with even rudimentary knowledge of the Gaza war that Israel is not committing genocide there, or anything even remotely akin to it. In response to such spurious accusations, it’s often best to focus on the mockery they make of international law itself, or on how Israel can most effectively combat them. Still, it is also worth stopping to consider the legal case on its own terms. No one has done this quite so effectively, to my knowledge, as the Ugandan jurist Julia Sebutinde, who is the vice-president of the ICJ and the only one of its judges to rule unequivocally in Israel’s favor both in this case and in the previous one where it found accusations of genocide “plausible.”

Sebutinde begins by questioning the appropriateness of the court ruling on this issue at all:

Once again, South Africa has invited the Court to micromanage the conduct of hostilities between Israel and Hamas. Such hostilities are exclusively governed by the laws of war (international humanitarian law) and international human-rights law, areas where the Court lacks jurisdiction in this case.

The Court should also avoid trying to enforce its own orders. . . . Is the Court going to reaffirm its earlier provisional measures every time a party runs to it with allegations of a breach of its provisional measures? I should think not.

Sebutinde also emphasizes the absurdity of hearing this case after Israel has taken “multiple concrete actions” to alleviate the suffering of Gazan civilians since the ICJ’s last ruling. In fact, she points out, “the evidence actually shows a gradual improvement in the humanitarian situation in Gaza since the Court’s order.” She brings much evidence in support of these points.

She concludes her dissent by highlighting the procedural irregularities of the case, including a complete failure to respect the basic rights of the accused:

I find it necessary to note my serious concerns regarding the manner in which South Africa’s request and incidental oral hearings were managed by the Court, resulting in Israel not having sufficient time to file its written observations on the request. In my view, the Court should have consented to Israel’s request to postpone the oral hearings to the following week to allow for Israel to have sufficient time to fully respond to South Africa’s request and engage counsel. Regrettably, as a result of the exceptionally abbreviated timeframe for the hearings, Israel could not be represented by its chosen counsel, who were unavailable on the dates scheduled by the Court.

It is also regrettable that Israel was required to respond to a question posed by a member of the Court over the Jewish Sabbath. The Court’s decisions in this respect bear upon the procedural equality between the parties and the good administration of justice by the Court.

Read more at International Court of Justice

More about: Gaza War 2023, ICC, International Law