Arab states inch toward rehabilitating Assad, amid fears Iran and Turkey will step into Syria void
Gulf Arab nations, once the main backers of rebels trying to oust Assad, are lining up to reopen their embassies in Syria, worried about leaving the country at the heart of the Arab world to regional rivals Iran and Turkey and missing out on lucrative postwar reconstructive projects. Key border crossings with neighbors, shuttered for years by the war, have reopened, and Arab commercial airlines are reportedly considering resuming flights to Damascus.
And as President Donald Trump plans to pull out America’s 2,000 soldiers from northeastern Syria, government troops are primed to retake the area they abandoned in 2012 at the height of the war. This would be a significant step toward restoring Assad’s control over all of Syria, leaving only the northwest in the hands of rebels, most of them jihadis.
It can seem like a mind-boggling reversal for a leader whose military once seemed dangerously close to collapse. But Russia’s military intervention, which began in 2015, steadily reversed Assad’s losses, allowing his troops, aided by Iranian-backed fighters, to recapture cities like Homs and Aleppo, key to his rule.
Assad rules over a country in ruins, with close to half a million people killed and half the population displaced. Major fighting may still lie ahead. But many see the war nearing its end, and the 53-year-old leader is sitting more comfortably than he has in the past eight years.
“Rehabilitation by Arab states is inevitable,” said Faysal Itani, a resident senior fellow with the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East.
A key motive for Sunni Muslim Gulf countries is to blunt the involvement of their Shiite-led foe, Iran, which saw its influence expand rapidly in the chaos of Syria’s war.
“Saudi Arabia tried briefly to help overthrow him when he seemed most vulnerable using proxy militants,” Itani said. “With his regime likely to survive, however, Saudi Arabia would prefer to try and exercise influence over Assad to balance against Iran while avoiding escalation with Iran itself.”
Read More: The Japan Times
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