In Trying to Bring Syria Back into the Fold, Gulf States Double Down on a Bad Investment

Yesterday, the Saudi foreign minister arrived in Damascus to meet with President Bashar al-Assad, who for many years had been a pariah in the Arab world because of his bloody war against his own people and his alliance with Iran. The meeting follows on the heels of visits by the respective foreign ministers of Egypt, Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates—as well as delegations from six other Arab states. Andrew Tabler warns against the move to normalize relations with the Syrian dictator:

Abu Dhabi’s outreach to Assad [is] rooted in what Assad really wants—money with few strings attached. Throughout the war, the UAE sought to undermine its rival, Qatar, and Qatar’s ally in Syria, Turkey, which holds considerable territory in Syria’s northwest. In 2018, Abu Dhabi attempted to reopen its embassy in Damascus with the idea that outreach to Assad would make Turkey’s position in Syria more untenable.

As tensions with Qatar and Turkey have eased, Abu Dhabi now focuses on reducing Iranian influence—militias and weapons—in Syria. Abu Dhabi understands that Bashar is desperate for the kind of money only an Arab Gulf country can deliver to rebuild Syria. As the logic goes, a little recognition and some petrodollars for reconstruction could be used as carrots to alter Bashar’s logic at the negotiating table with the opposition, and perhaps more importantly, reduce [his] dependence on Iran in favor of Arab states—many of which are now aligned with Israel as part of the Abraham Accords.

At the same time, Tabler believes it unlikely that Assad will change his behavior, or that Congress will repeal its sanctions on his regime, with predictable results:

If there is not progress, the Arab countries normalizing with Assad and engaging in reconstruction will almost certainly be hit with Treasury designations and other sanctions violations. Unless there are major changes in the way Assad rules and does business, including his tolerance of Iranian militias and assets on Syrian soil and Captagon-production facilities, this will be yet another exercise of throwing good Arab money after bad to recoup steady losses to Iran in the Levant.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Arab World, Bashar al-Assad, Syria, United Arab Emirates

Hamas’s Hostage Diplomacy

Ron Ben-Yishai explains Hamas’s current calculations:

Strategically speaking, Hamas is hoping to add more and more days to the pause currently in effect, setting a new reality in stone, one which will convince the United States to get Israel to end the war. At the same time, they still have most of the hostages hidden in every underground crevice they could find, and hope to exchange those with as many Hamas and Islamic Jihad prisoners currently in Israeli prisons, planning on “revitalizing” their terrorist inclinations to even the odds against the seemingly unstoppable Israeli war machine.

Chances are that if pressured to do so by Qatar and Egypt, they will release men over 60 with the same “three-for-one” deal they’ve had in place so far, but when Israeli soldiers are all they have left to exchange, they are unlikely to extend the arrangement, instead insisting that for every IDF soldier released, thousands of their people would be set free.

In one of his last speeches prior to October 7, the Gaza-based Hamas chief Yahya Sinwar said, “remember the number one, one, one, one.” While he did not elaborate, it is believed he meant he wants 1,111 Hamas terrorists held in Israel released for every Israeli soldier, and those words came out of his mouth before he could even believe he would be able to abduct Israelis in the hundreds. This added leverage is likely to get him to aim for the release for all prisoners from Israeli facilities, not just some or even most.

Read more at Ynet

More about: Gaza War 2023, Hamas, Israeli Security