Analysts believe that the Kingdom has recently pursued a new strategy in the Middle East, that it is no longer subject to alliances adopted by other international parties, and that it will independently initiate planning and implementation of its policies that can change the face of the region.
Nearly 12 years after Syria was expelled from the League of Arab States following a popular uprising that was suppressed by force and turned into a bloody conflict, the Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad, participated in the Arab Summit held in Jeddah yesterday, Friday, after the Saudi King, Salman bin Abdulaziz, directed him to , official invitation.
The Hebrew newspaper Haaretz indicates that Al-Assad is the only Arab leader who was able to hold on to power after the Arab Spring, and that he was a witness during the past era to the fall of several Arab regimes.
The gradual return of Syria
Analyst Zvi Barel adds in the newspaper that Assad has also succeeded in regaining most of the lands lost by the government in the last decade, with the help of Russia and Iran, and now he is succeeding in returning to the Arab arena after the UAE paved the way since 2018 for this return, taking the decision at that time to renew diplomatic relations with Syria.
However, at that time, many countries were still opposed to the Emirati idea, most notably Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Egypt and the United States. The latter imposed new sanctions on Syria during the Trump era, most notably the Caesar Act, which made rapprochement with Damascus dangerous for Washington’s allies.
Bariel indicates that the Saudis have decided to normalize relations with Syria and that they are ready to start discussing economic cooperation, even though the US sanctions are still in force.
The latest Saudi move came almost in parallel with a larger, surprising move, which was the normalization of relations with Iran, with Chinese mediation.
Saudi analysts close to the Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, had previously warned that the cold attitude shown by the White House towards Crown Prince Bin Salman would eventually push him to search for new partners.
Biden’s visit to Saudi Arabia did not change much in that: Saudi Arabia responded to a certain extent to Biden’s request to pump more oil into the markets, but after three months it retracted it and decided with the OPEC group to cut production, a decision that Haaretz said was an “insult to the White House.” .
The writer in the prestigious newspaper points out that Saudi Arabia has not recently hidden its diplomatic activity from the Americans, nor has it asked them for permission, nor has it taken their concerns into account.
New Saudi strategy
Bariel believes that the Kingdom has recently pursued a new strategy in the Middle East, that it is no longer subject to alliances adopted by other international parties, and that it will independently initiate planning and implementation of its policies that can change the face of the region.
Even before the reactivation of relations with Tehran, Riyadh had moved towards improving its relations with Turkey, whose president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, waged a major international campaign against Saudi Arabia following the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in his country’s consulate in Istanbul in early October 2018.
This has boosted the ailing Turkish economy.
The political analyst points out that Syria’s invitation to the Arab summit is not only a logical sequence to reactivate relations between Riyadh and Tehran, but the invitation is part of a broader Saudi strategy that seeks to put an end to wars and tensions in the Middle East.
Instead of Saudi Arabia continuing to lead an anti-Iranian coalition, bin Salman chose to build a “balance of deterrence” that would force Iran to some extent to coordinate its policies with the policies of Arab countries, especially Saudi Arabia, and in return Iran would obtain political gains that the kingdom would secure.
The new normalization of relations gives Iran and Syria greater Arab legitimacy, which may turn into international legitimacy in the future. In parallel, this normalization may give Saudi Arabia the tools required to end the political and economic crisis in Lebanon and the war in Yemen.
Haaretz indicates that the next big step will be the renewal of Egyptian-Iranian relations.
It is expected that Iranian and Saudi officials will meet again next July, after a meeting between them last March in Baghdad and another in Beijing in April.
The Iranian Foreign Minister, Hossein Amir Abdollahian, previously said that he expected to “break the deadlock” in relations between Tehran and Cairo, while political analysts in Iran started talking about a meeting between Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and Iranian Ibrahim Raisi.
Egypt, according to the newspaper, would not have risked this meeting, without a brighter Saudi light.
Israel is watching the collapse of the anti-Iran alliance
Haaretz indicates that Israel is watching the collapse of the old anti-Iranian alliance after all these new diplomatic moves led by Saudi Arabia. Indeed, Tel Aviv is also witnessing the collapse of the traditional political approach that America’s allies in the region cannot be partners with Iran.
The editor adds that the equation of “either you are with us or against us” has changed completely recently, and it is not the Israeli side that is changing it, but the Saudis.
The new Saudi strategy in the Middle East is also likely to limit Israel’s freedom of action in Syria. Syria, which has regained its membership in the Arab League, is on the verge of renewing relations with Turkey and still enjoys Russian support, may be able to mobilize its new partners to end Israeli operations in its territory.