Arabian Gulf faces economic and political hurdles on the road back to Damascus

Preparations for the opening of the UAE embassy in Damascus - 27 December 2018 (Reuters)

Arabian Gulf faces economic and political hurdles on the road back to Damascus

Preparations for the opening of the UAE embassy in Damascus - 27 December 2018 (Reuters)

Yamen Moghrabi| Ali Darwish|Nour al-Deen Ramadan|Khawla Hefzy

Gulf countries are seeking to restore their relations with the Syrian regime and its President Bashar al-Assad due to Syria’s strategic and national depth from the political, security, and economic aspects of these countries.

The importance of this return grows along with the escalation of the region’s disputes between the UAE and Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Iran. These four countries have interests and influence on the Syrian lands, regardless of the different forces controlling the ground, whether it is the Assad regime, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), or the country’s northwest opposition forces.

This return also carries a great economic benefit for the Gulf States to share in Syria’s reconstruction process.

Some observers may see this return as straightforward; however, it is opposed by both the USA and some European countries, while Turkey and Iran’s attitudes remain suspicious, and Russia supports the move.

Enab Baladi discusses through this article the possibility of restoring the relations between the Gulf and the Syrian regime and the extent of the Gulf’s ability to contribute economically to Syria’s future.

Gulf embassies in Damascus… an indication for the Arab states’ full normalization with the Syrian regime?

Considering the indicators of the relations between the Gulf states and the Syrian regime, questions are being raised regarding how these relations can extend and their goals. This is particularly significant when we connect the case to the current Gulf-Iranian and the Gulf-Turkish disputes in which Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are the main players.

Some indications have emerged recently, such as the resumption of flights between some Gulf countries and Damascus, the normalization of sports relations that were cut off for a while, and other relations of greater importance, such as the call of the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Mohammed bin Zayed, by phone with the head of the Syrian regime, Bashar al-Assad.

On the other hand, the Syrian regime’s failure to criticize the Gulf States’ normalization of their relationship with Israel contributes to reinforcing these indicators because the Syrian regime has always considered itself the most prominent resistance to the occupation of Arab lands, including the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

Nevertheless, the Syrian regime’s reaction to the UAE and Bahrain’s normalization with Israel came cold and late with very few comments.

The Syrian Minister of Foreign Affairs Walid Al-Muallem meets with his Bahraini counterpart Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly meetings- 27 December 2018 (Reuters)

The Syrian Minister of Foreign Affairs Walid Al-Muallem meets with his Bahraini counterpart Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly meetings- 27 December 2018 (Reuters)

Can this be an indicator of a full normalization?

As published on the Oman News Agency, the Syrian regime’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Walid Al-Muallem received the Omani ambassador’s credentials, Turki bin Mahmoud Al-Busaidi on 4 October.

This makes Oman the third Gulf country to have restored embassy operations with the Syrian regime, following the UAE and Bahrain in the fall of 2018. However, the latter two have yet to appoint ambassadors, making the Omani ambassador the first Gulf ambassador to return to Damascus after the Gulf states limited representation in Syria. This is even though the Sultanate maintained its relations with Syria and never closed its embassy in the first place.

It is also worth noting that the Omani ambassador was appointed in Damascus by decree of the Sultan of Oman last March. However, Omani political analyst Salem bin Hamad al-Jhouri asserted that there was no rupture between Oman and Syria, as the embassy was open throughout the crisis. Al-Jhouri told the Russian News Agency, Sputnik, “Two years ago, I was in Damascus, and I met officials at the embassy, and things were normally going.”

The agency quoted political analyst Khamis Kotaite as confirming the same idea, “The Omani embassy did not stop its work in Syria, nor did the Syrian embassy in Muscat (the capital of Oman), and the diplomatic exchange did not stop after the closure of the embassies, and even the Omani embassy in Damascus was operating until about mid-2012. It was withdrawn only for security reasons and operating from elsewhere. Diplomatic relations continued until today and will do so until tomorrow, God willing,” as he put it.

During an interview with Enab Baladi, political analyst Hassan al-Nifi discussed the Gulf’s desire to restore relations with the Syrian regime, while this desire cannot be turned into a decision due to links to the American policy. The United States will not grant full freedom of decision for its allies in the Gulf to restore Damascus’s relations, as long as the American position against the Syrian regime continues. Iran preserves existence in Syria.

Al-Nifi expects an upcoming improvement in the Syrian regime’s relations, parallel to some Gulf States’ normalization with Israel. This might be an economic improvement that alleviates the economic suffering of the Syrian regime.

The attitudes and the depth of their relations towards the Gulf countries’ Syrian regime vary and differ from one another. This is especially so in light of the Gulf-Gulf disputes and each country’s associations with different regional countries, such as Qatar’s relations with Iran and Turkey, and the UAE and Bahrain’s relations with Israel. At the same time, Turkey and Israel have a political and military presence in the Syrian file.

The director of the “Syrian Center for Justice and Accountability,” Muhammad Al-Abdullah, believes that some Gulf countries’ return to Syria is related to political and economic reasons.

Al-Abdullah explained to Enab Baladi that there are several political reasons behind the division and political polarization in the region between two sides, Qatar and Turkey, on the one side, and Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Egypt on the other.

Al-Abdullah stated that “Sometimes, it’s merely a political havoc, we witnessed the UAE being the first country to reopen its embassy, aiming to pose pressure on the other side based on the principle that Turkey is the political opponent of Assad.” The plan was to strengthen Assad against Turkey. On the other hand, the relations were complex in the region; Qatar was supportive of Iran and Hezbollah even after the blockade, then this blockade pushed Doha to get closer to Iran, and this is one of the reasons for Qatar’s renormalization of its relations with the Syrian regime in sports and aviation.

In 2017, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the UAE declared a naval and air blockade on Qatar and closed their embassies in Doha along with a diplomatic boycott, in what they said was a response to Qatar’s support for Iran and the extensive relations with it.

According to Al-Abdullah, the region’s complexities resulted in daily political actions to identify friends and foes in different aspects, causing even more complexity to the situation. For instance, the UAE and Saudi Arabia clashed in Yemen, but they were both allies against Turkey at the same time.

After the chain of embassy returns in 2018, Kuwaiti sources commented on the possibility of opening the Kuwaiti embassy in Damascus, saying that the country’s position on closing the embassy was previously based on a decision by the Arab League, indicating that if there was a new decision for the League to restore relations with Damascus and the Arab countries to open their embassies. Kuwait will once again abide. According to what was reported by the Kuwaiti newspaper, Al-Qabas. The newspaper’s anonymous sources stated that the Syrian embassy in Kuwait has not been in operation. On the other hand, other Syrian sources stated, “The Kuwaiti embassy’s opening is imminent.” However, at the time of this article’s writing, it has not yet reopened.

During that time, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia officially denied its intention to re-open its embassy in Syria through its Ministry of Foreign Affairs. A position that has not changed, while Qatar remains silent in this regard.

After a political and economic boycott, the political relations are starting to retake place to create a distance between Syria and Iran. This context might also be related to the reconstruction projects, which are potentially beneficial for the participating countries or even related to being one step ahead of Turkey, which has had several serious disputes with many Gulf countries.

In February 2012, the Gulf Cooperation Council countries withdrew their ambassadors from Damascus, accusing the Syrian regime of committing “a mass massacre against the defenseless people,” referring to the suppression of popular protests before turning into an armed conflict that caused the deaths of more than 360,000 people.

Can these political and economic reasons to activate Gulf relations with Damascus result in keeping Assad afloat?

The Syrian land is of great importance, both strategically and geographically. It is considered one of the most important commercial outlets on the Mediterranean and Turkey’s gateway to the Arab countries; this makes it one of the conflict areas for influence among major and regional countries.

Despite the international sanctions that affected the Syrian regime and the announced estrangement by Arab countries since 2011, Oman, Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Bahrain have sought to reactivate their relations with the Syrian regime.

Both Turkey and Iran are leading different projects in the Arab region. Thus, any Arab move that hinders the Turkish project’s progress and efficacy without harming Iran’s interests will be welcomed by Iran, and vice versa.

In an interview with Enab Baladi, researcher Maher Alloush emphasized that Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Oman are not generally considered supportive of the Arab Spring revolutions. Even though they initially showed positive attitudes towards these revolutions initially, this does not mean that they support them.

According to Alloush, these countries did not see the Turkish project as a competitor or a threat to their strategic interests. They thought of Turkey as a regional country seeking its economic interest with no expansionist vision.

However, as the conflict in the region lasted for long, the balance of power shifted. The circle of change expanded, and many other changes occurred, making Turkey adopt new strategies in the region themed with much “direct intervention.”

This prompted some Arab countries to classify Turkey, led by the “Justice and Development” Party, as an urgent threat, when previously considered an ally.

Besides, some Arab countries fear Islamic groups taking control of the scene in the Arab region, especially the “Muslim Brotherhood” group, a threat that reached its peak with the appointment of the former Egyptian President, Mohamed Morsi, to power. This made many countries open to Turkish advances, particularly with Turkey entering the direct line of conflict in Libya, Sudan, Yemen, Somalia, and the Turkish military presence growing in several countries.

This necessitated redefining the risks to these countries’ national security, having Iran at the top ranking followed by Turkey, then Israel. Some of these countries even put the Turkish threat before the Iranian, even if that was not openly declared.

The Syrian regime was supposed to be within the group of countries against Turkey. Its presence is considered as a point of strength for that anti-Turkey group, especially as it is located in the south of Turkey, which means the Syrian regime’s ability to form a weak side of Turkey by creating chaos of arms and security issues that make a source of concern for it. However, several issues prevent the Syrian regime’s presence in this group, including that the regime has historically considered itself within the axis of resistance, which prevents it from taking a position in the same arena as Israel.

Moreover, the Syrian regime is a strategic ally of Iran, a target of the Arab axis, while Syria is a competition between the Gulf axis and Iran.

Bashar al-Assad and the former Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz 2010 (Associated Press)

Bashar al-Assad and the former Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz 2010 (Associated Press)

Two perspectives of the Gulf-Syrian rapprochement

According to researcher Maher Alloush, the official Arab rapprochement to the Syrian regime, especially by the Gulf, can be classified under two visions: strategic and tactical.

The recent moves can be interpreted within a strategic vision aimed at disengaging the regime from Iran, returning Syria to the Arab group, and integrating it again within those countries’ political systems. In doing so, this would act as a spearhead in the Turkish project’s face, especially since the Syrian regime now carries a great deal of hostility towards Turkey.

The tactical vision is explained by Arab moves within a phased vision to create a gap in Turkey. This would be doing by trying to undermine Turkish influence and creating problems for Ankara, which might eventually lead to direct Arab intervention in northern Syria and support the formation of anti-Turkish groups, perhaps particularly in northeastern Syria.

The Syrian regime will also have its share of the spoils of these moves, such as returning it to the League of Arab States or floating it among the Arab countries by restoring diplomatic relations and secretly providing it with economic aids, which would reduce or limit the impact of the “Caesar Act” on the regime.

Syria: The oil gateway for the Gulf States

In an interview with Enab Baladi, economist Younes al-Karim explained that the Gulf countries’ interest in Syria is primarily a gateway to the Gulf oil route to consumer markets and international relations. Moreover, Syria is the port that connects Asia to Europe and connects Europe and East Asia to the Arabian Gulf and Africa by land.

Consequently, whoever controls Syria economically will somehow own the Silk Road, focusing on Turkey being an exporter to the Gulf countries and the Arab Maghreb.

Syria also has investment importance besides the oil, a prominent factor for the interest of the Arab Gulf in Syria.

Al-Karim summarized the reasons for the interest of the Arab Gulf states in Syria in several motives:

  • Finding a gateway to the Mediterranean as an alternative to the Straits of Hormuz and Bab al-Mandab to overcome threats of the Houthis in Yemen and the Iranians on the oil route. The Gulf is also seeking a stable market away from the current tensions within the oil market and the financial fluctuations.
  • Exporting oil via Syria would reduce the shipment period from 21 days to approximately nine hours. This reduces costs, increases profits for oil companies, and provides better flexibility and privileges in the market. Syria owns the “Tabline” pipeline that the Gulf is trying to reactivate and build another new pipeline network.
  • Blocking Iranian access to the Mediterranean. This access represents a threat to the Gulf oil and the convenience of the current situation. Iran sought to sign the establishment of “The Friendship” pipelines between Syria and Iran through Iraq in 2013. Iraq has the Kirkuk-Tripoli pipeline to Iraq. Moreover, there is the Haifa-Baghdad pipeline. This matter constitutes a strong and fatal blow to the Gulf project, resulting in the Gulf’s effort to take Syria from Iran and prevent Iranian oil from possessing high flexibility and ease of transportation, making it less costly and rival Gulf oil.
  • The Emirati-Saudi-Turkish collision in Syria, which was reflected in industry and energy. The advent of Russian gas to Turkey provides the latter with energy sufficiency, granting it the power over the Islamic world. Turkey has also supported Qatar, which also tried to deliver gas to the global market via Syria. This curtails the role of both the UAE and Saudi Arabia, causing them severe loss and limitations on the political map in favor of their nemeses, to the detriment of their economies.
  • Restoring relations with Damascus has an important role in Turkey’s blockade by the Gulf States, as Syria is a transit country for Turkish goods.
  • Syria is of touristic economic importance, especially after reconstruction. The reconstruction would act as a station for the flow of funds and a place to build a new state loyalty to the state in power (in reference to Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, or Turkey.)
  • If the Saudi-UAE axis succeeds in controlling Syria, this will prevent Qatar from developing its gas resources and making a considerable income through the gas pipeline in Syria. Controlling Syria also prioritizes bartering with and curtailing Russia, which means prioritizing the oil and gas market.

Difficulties stand in the way of Gulf investments in Syria.

According to analyst Younes al-Karim, there are no sectors that the Arab Gulf can enter with Russia and Iran’s presence. This is because the interests of Moscow, Tehran, and the Gulf are common in Syria. These interests are relevant to the sea destination that Russia will not allow Iran and the Gulf to reach.

Apart from that, Syria’s oil investments are a subject of conflict and competition among Iran, Russia, America, and the Arab Gulf.

The Arab Gulf states cannot invest in tourism in Iran’s presence due to the sectarian rivalry between them; Wherever Iran and the Gulf come together, sectarian conflicts appear.

Furthermore, they cannot invest in electricity sectors as long as Russia controls water dams and the cities.

Economic researcher Yunus al-Karim ruled out the current political reconstruction with Russia and Iran’s presence and their acquisition of the Syrian state’s sovereign projects and political decisions.

Karim linked the start of reconstruction and states’ participation in it with a strong Syrian state that could reconcile, granting projects to allies and maintaining a part of its sovereignty.

Russia’s control of all sovereign projects means that the Syrian regime does not get to have a say in investment decisions. Therefore, no investor can risk money under current circumstances.

Consequently, neither the reconstruction can be started, nor the Gulf, Turkey, Russia, or Iran can invest in this situation where a sovereign state in Syria is absent. In fact, Russia and Iran believe that acquiring the largest amount of investments enables them to control Syria’s central policy. This is difficult to achieve because the main players in the Syrian file would not allow it.

 Gulf’s return amid European division and American opposition

The Gulf’s position towards the Syrian regime is divided on political and economic levels, especially with the Arab Gulf states’ ambitions to participate in Syria’s reconstruction.

This desire to participate makes it necessary for the Gulf States to return to Damascus, re-open their embassies, and engage with the Assad regime to ensure broader participation that will result in political and economic gains.

The attempts of some Gulf countries to normalize their relations with the Syrian regime are formed in political conflicts between the regional countries surrounding Syria, specifically between the Turkey-Qatar axis and the Emirati-Saudi axis.

However, the return of the Arab Gulf states is not only tied to their political will alone, but also the international will, namely the attitudes of the USA and EU. Both of which have set a list of sanctions against the Syrian regime and whoever deals with it.

The German Foreign Minister, Heiko Maas, had previously confirmed in an interview with the Qatari newspaper, Al-Arabi Al-Jadeed, that his country adheres to its conditions for restoring its relations with Syria, which is a “sincere” political process; otherwise, Germany would not engage in the reconstruction process.

The German attitude is not new. It reflects similar attitudes of the ‘Seven Great Powers’: Germany, France, Japan, Britain, the United States of America, Canada, and Italy.

On the other hand, Washington opposes any form of normalization of Gulf relations with the regime; Russia is trying to support this move for economic and political reasons related to its own gains in Syria and to preserve the goals it has achieved related to its access to the Mediterranean, the marketing of Russian weapons, and its military bases in Syria.


US President Donald Trump and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (Reuters)

US President Donald Trump and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (Reuters)

Will the Gulf States violate the “Caesar” act by returning to Damascus?

In 2019, US President Donald Trump signed the “Caesar Act,” a law targeting the Syrian regime and the companies and personalities that deal with it economically.

Previously, the US envoy to Syria, Joel Rayburn, had warned in a press conference in Istanbul attended by Enab Baladi last August, against any country, including the Arab Gulf states, dealing with the Syrian regime.

This statement is one of the dozens of statements made by US officials since 2019 in this regard.

Washington will not welcome the return of Gulf embassies to Damascus, especially as it pressures Assad to proceed with a political solution.

Professor of International Law at the Washington College of the American University, Diaa al-Ruwaishdi, said America has a clear vision of the Syrian file. The war is nothing more than a political tool only.

According to al-Ruwaishdi, this is done through the implementation of Security Council Resolution 2254, issued in 2015.

The resolution consists of 16 articles, of which the fourth paragraph provides support for a Syrian-led political process, facilitated by the United Nations, which will establish a credible ruling that includes everyone and is not based on sectarianism within a targeted period of six months.

The act also sets a schedule and a process for drafting a new constitution and expresses its support for free and fair elections to be held, following the new constitution, within 18 months under the United Nations’ supervision.

However, the recent Gulf states’ moves raise concerns about whether they might violate the Caesar Act, despite US warnings.

Muhammad al-Abdullah, the director of the Syrian Center for Justice and Accountability, explained to Enab Baladi that the act does not include the restoration of diplomatic relations with the regime and is limited to the economic and financial transactions only. Therefore, flights between two countries do not fall within the act’s scope as long as the matter does not reach financing the regime or opens commercial interests in the civil or military aviation and oil sectors.

In 2019, Qatar began crossing over the Syrian airspace, while the Syrian regime announced that they would be conducting two flights per week directly to the Qatari capital, Doha, on 19 October.

Al-Abdullah believes that Washington will not approve the Gulf states’ normalization of their relations with the Syrian regime, not even aggravating Turkey and Iran. Especially so since the Arab Gulf states somehow follow the path of America and the European Union, therefore these moves could have originated with an American request for one reason or another, or in agreement with Washington.

Europe experiences a political division over Gulf relations with Assad

The European Union has extensive economic coordination between its members, but this does not apply to politics.

European countries are suffering internal political crises in the form of the rise of right-wing parties that exploit refugee files to inflict defeats on the left or liberal ruling parties; all of these countries are not strictly opposed to supporting Gulf moves towards the normalization of relations with the Syrian regime.

The support from some European countries also stems from the high political and financial cost of the refugee file, according to Muhammad al-Abdullah.

According to Diaa al-Ruweidi, the European position is known and accepted to a far extent by Washington. America is also aware of the high cost of refugees to the European Union, and Washington wants “a generous return of the Syrian refugees to their countries.”

Al-Ruwaishdi believes that the refugee file is also associated with Europe’s economic crises and their increase after spreading the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

Consequently, European countries want to find an entrance to the reconstruction process on the one hand, and to attract Syrian businessmen investments instead of leaving them in favor of Dubai.

It is not possible to rely on a single European attitude on the return of relations with the regime, as the rejection is limited to a limited number of countries, including the major ones such as France, Germany, and Italy, and this attitude is consistent with that of the Group of Seven major countries, which adds Britain, USA, Canada, and Japan to the aforementioned countries.

However, other European countries have a different stance on the matter, such as Denmark, which has sought to deport Syrian refugees back to Syria.

Can Moscow float Assad across the Gulf?

While Washington and some European Union countries oppose the return of Gulf relations with Assad, Moscow sees this return as important and an additional gain in its ongoing negotiations and disputes with Iran, Turkey, and America over the Syrian file.

Gulf-Russian relations are intertwined in Syria, as Saudi Arabia had previously supported the Russian intervention in Syria in 2015.

On October 16, The Guardian published leaks about Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s support for Syria’s Russian intervention.

The newspaper mentioned that the source of information is Saad Al-Jabri, an opponent of the current Saudi crown prince, who previously worked as his advisor in Riyadh, noting that the former President of the United States of America, Barack Obama, sent a rebuke to Riyadh after this step.

The newspaper stated that it was unable to verify this information independently.

If proven true, these leaks indicate Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States’ moves towards the Syrian regime and Russia.

Muhammad al-Abdullah believes that Russia will support the Gulf moves in Syria, especially as it awaits reconstruction funds, and expects economic gains after its military intervention.

In his answer to Enab Baladi‘s questions, Al-Abdullah indicated that reconstruction is related to the “Caesar Act,” which the Gulf States cannot ignore or violate.

Do Gulf embassies play a part in the normalization of relations between the regime and Israel?

The Arab Gulf states severed their diplomatic relationships with the Syrian regime at the beginning of the Syrian revolution. They closed their embassies due to its use of repression against peaceful demonstrators. This estrangement continued until the United Arab Emirates announced, on December 27, 2018, the reopening of its embassy in Damascus without appointing an ambassador.

UAE is the first country to reopen its embassy in Damascus. Apart from this, the former Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir was the first Arab president to visit Syria a week before the Emirati embassy’s opening amid talks at the time of efforts to restore the Syrian regime to the Arab League.

About two years after the Emirati move, the Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem received the credentials of the Omani ambassador Turki bin Mahmoud Al-Busaidi on 4 October.

The Omani ambassador, Turki Al-Busaidi, is the first Gulf ambassador to return to Damascus. However, the Sultanate has maintained its relations with Syria and never actually closed its embassy in the first place.

The return of the Omani ambassador to Damascus coincided with the start of Arab countries normalizing their relations with Israel. The UAE was the first of those countries before Bahrain and Sudan joined to raise questions about the possibility of these countries affecting or contributing to the opening of the Syrian regime’s negotiations with Israel in one way or another, especially since Oman and UAE enjoy good relations with both the Syrian regime and Israel.

In an interview with Enab Baladi, Researcher at the Omran Center for Studies, Maan Talaa said that Arab ambitions for the return of the Syrian regime might warm up for negotiations with Israel, but linking both files would be “subjective.”

Talaa emphasized that the case of the Syrian regime’s normalization with Israel needs an agreement regarding the Golan, this has been the negotiations’ biggest obstacle since the 1990s, and that opening the file again requires a series of new negotiations, which has not started yet.

From a different aspect, and according to Enab Baladi, political analyst Hassan al-Nafi believes that Arab normalization with Israel does not directly reflect on the Syrian issue. This is because the Arab Gulf states agree with the US policy, and the Gulf States will not derail from the American route. This matter became obvious when Washington stood in the way of other countries to take a step similar to that of the UAE in 2018 regarding the reopening of the Emirati embassy in Damascus.

As for the American view on the impact of the Arab rapid normalization train on creating a possibility for Syrian-Israeli negotiations, the advisor to the American president Jared Kushner considered that the importance of such an agreement of normalization consists of allying against the Iranian presence in Syria and Lebanon. This came in a press interview on 17 August after weeks of the Emirati-Israeli normalization.

As per a statement by Kushner, the people of the region are aware of their countries’ instability and that they are under threats by Tehran. This is considering that the Iranian-backed militias are the ones that destabilize Yemen, Syria, and Lebanon. Kushner believes that it is in the interest of the countries in the region to establish a rapport with Israel to confront Iran, implying that the countries in the region should unite, making it difficult for Iran to sow discord as it has done for years.

Despite the assertion from President of the Syrian regime Bashar al-Assad, there are no current negotiations; he did not establish “normal” relations with Israel. Rather, he considered it a “straightforward matter.” Still, he stipulated that on the condition of the restoration of the land in return for normal relations, as stated in an interview with the Russian agency Sputnik posted on 8 October.

Assad did not mention “comprehensive Arab peace,” which contradicts the Syrian Foreign Ministry’s statement at the beginning of last October. This indicated that the Syrian attitude rejects concessions and individual agreements with Israel, regardless of their form or content, based on its “firm conviction that such agreements harm Arab causes in general.” These words came in the first official statement regarding the normalization of Arab countries with Israel.

Two stances preceded the Foreign Ministry’s statement on Arab normalization with Israel. First when Walid al-Muallem, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates, said in a speech before the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly, on 28 September, that “the era of annexing the lands of others by force has passed, and deluded is who believes that the crisis in Syria can divert us an inch from our right to retake the entire Golan.”

The second stance was presented by the permanent representative to the United Nations Office and other international organizations in Geneva, Hussam al-Din Alaa, on 30 September, as he ignored the talk about normalization and criticized Israel for its “practices in the occupied Syrian Golan and Palestine, and its violation of human rights.”

The regime’s stance regarding Arab normalization with Israel at the time came just days after Al-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper reported that there was a “widespread belief in the existence of secret negotiations between Damascus and Tel Aviv.” on 27 September.

The newspaper cited that whenever the Syrian regime was in isolation or a crisis, the “exit” was to resume negotiations, saying, “The road to Washington always passes through Tel Aviv.”

The Syrian Foreign Minister receives the credentials of the Omani ambassador; Turki bin Mahmoud Al-Busaidi (Al-Arab)

The Syrian Foreign Minister receives the credentials of the Omani ambassador; Turki bin Mahmoud Al-Busaidi (Al-Arab)

Public peace talks between Israel and Syria:

Madrid Conference 1991: Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine also participate, sponsored by the United States and Russia, and based on the principle of “land for peace.”

– 1999 talks: Attended by the Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Barak, and the Syrian Foreign Minister, Farouq al-Sharaa, in Virginia.

– January 2000: Israel showed its unwillingness to fully withdraw from Golan, and wanted to keep lands near Lake Tiberias, which caused the collapse of the negotiations.

– March 2000: Hafez al-Assad meets with US President Bill Clinton in Geneva to resume negotiations, but it collapses due to Clinton’s refusal to pressure Barak to withdraw completely from the occupied Syrian territories.

– January 2004: Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is ready for talks if Damascus stops supporting Palestinian organizations and Hezbollah.

– June 2007: Israel announces the return of all lands on condition of disengaging Damascus and Tehran, and expelling Palestinian groups from Syria.

– April 2008: Israel is ready to withdraw from the occupied Golan in exchange for peace.

2011- The outbreak of the Syrian revolution, and the suspension of all public talks.

Since 2011, Israel has launched dozens of airstrikes throughout Syria.


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