The one consistency that Arab rulers never fail to display is their inconsistency. One day they are biting each other’s noses and the next they are kissing each other. This is what is witnessed in the manner in which Syria has been welcomed back into the Arab League fold (also see here).
On May 19, Syrian President Bashar al Asad made a triumphant entry into the hall in Jeddah where the Arab League summit was being held. He was warmly welcomed and embraced. His welcome stood in sharp contrast to 11-years of Arab rulers’ attempts, backed by the US, Israel and Turkey, to overthrow his government.
One is forced to ask what exactly did these Arab rulers achieve except causing the murder of half a million Syrians and turning another seven million into refugees? If they have seen sense, that is a hopeful sign.
Foreign ministers, parliamentarians and other officials from Arab countries have all been marching to Damascus to hug, kiss and make up with Asad. Now they call him their ‘Arab brother’ and say they want him back into the fold so that the crisis in Syria can be resolved through dialogue.
The military option they had pursued to overthrow Asad’s government since 2011 is no longer viable, they now admit. Had they adopted the same realistic attitude 12 years ago, so much innocent blood would not have been spilled and millions of Syrians would not be refugees today.
What has persuaded the Arab rulers to change course? True, one is the realization that Asad’s government cannot be overthrown by brute force. With support from Islamic Iran, Hizbullah and since September 2015, Russia, Syrian government forces have steadily pushed back the terrorist groups that were unleashed in 2011. The Arab rulers except Qatar, have withdrawn their support of the terrorists, who are now confined to pockets in Syria’s Idlib province.
Asad has vowed to liberate every inch of Syrian territory. The Arab rulers have also recognized this and have pledged to respect Syria’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. This is welcome development but it would be wrong to assume that Arab rulers have arrived at this conclusion because of altruistic reasons.
What terrifies them is the fact that the Islamic Republic of Iran is far ahead of them in terms of policies and relations with Syria. There are clear signs that Damascus is moving from war to the reconstruction phase.
Tehran already has a head-start over the Arab regimes as was evident from the two-day visit of Iranian President Ebrahim Raiesi to Syria, the first by an Iranian president in 13 years. Heading a large delegation, President Raiesi was received with great warmth and appreciation in Damascus.
During the two-day visit, 14 agreements were signed between the two countries. These were capped by the comprehensive agreement on long-term strategic cooperation between Tehran and Damascus. It was signed by President Raeisi and his Syrian counterpart Bashar al-Asad at the Presidential Palace in Damascus on May 3.
President Raiesi said the deal marked the beginning of a new chapter in “brotherly and friendly ties” between the two Muslim countries. He made the remarks during his meeting with Syrian Prime Minister Hussein Arnous in Damascus on the second day of his landmark visit. The Iranian president emphasized that Syrian officials should pay close attention to the implementation of agreements signed during his trip. The two countries must expand cooperation in economic and trade spheres so that they would reap great benefits, he said.
Arnous acknowledged—and hailed—Iran’s support for Syria during the 12-year-long foreign-backed war on his country. Foreign mercenaries flooded into the country from countries in the region, especially Saudi Arabia which unleashed hardened criminals from prisons to kill people in Syria.
The Syrian prime minister told the visiting Iranian dignitary and his delegation that the people and government of Syria will never forget Iran’s help during its most difficult period. He welcomed the expansion of Damascus-Tehran ties, and pledged to seriously follow up on the implementation of the 14 cooperation documents and the strategic cooperation agreement signed between the two sides.
These included trade interaction, oil and energy industries, technical and engineering sectors and house construction. After more than 12 years of war, much of Syria’s housing infrastructure has been destroyed. Rebuilding these homes would require immense effort and resources.
The Islamic Republic of Iran has great experience in this field. Following the eight-year war that was unleashed against it through Iraq (1980-1988), many Iranian cities lay in ruin. The Islamic Republic got to work to rebuild its war-devastated cities without foreign help.
In July-August 2006, following zionist Israel’s barbaric attack on Lebanon, especially south Beirut where hundreds of buildings were destroyed, it was the Islamic Republic that rebuilt them in cooperation with Hizbullah workers.
Other areas where cooperation agreements were signed between Iran and Syria included railroad and air transportation, private sector, telecommunication, earthquake safety, rescue operation, and facilitation of pilgrimage. They also agreed to set up free trade zones as well as reduce tariffs.
Agreements in the field of power generation and transmission, reviving Syria’s agricultural, industrial and energy sectors were also signed. Trade between the two countries would be facilitated by setting up a joint bank and an insurance company. Expansion of trade would require expanding transit facilities between Iran, Iraq, and Syria. Iraq would act as a bridge.
There is little doubt that Arab rulers have deep pockets. But it is also undeniable that they have small brains. Had they not spent tens of billions of dollars destroying Syria at the behest of Uncle Sam, Damascus would not need nearly $1 trillion today to rebuild its shattered infrastructure. If Arab rulers have realized their collective folly, it is a welcome development.
The story of Syria’s rehabilitation in the Arab fold would not be complete without considering broader regional developments. Two in particular stand out. First is the Chinese-facilitated rapprochement between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Second, is the emergence of a multipolar world order that stands in opposition to America’s unilateralism. Both developments have played an important role in making Arab rulers realize that the world is no longer beholden to the US or under its thumb. It is time for them to also move on.
One hopes their policy shift is genuine and not based on opportunistic calculations that have inflicted so much suffering on the people of the region for so long. These developments are also causing immense grief among the zionist occupiers of Palestine. That, too, is a good sign.