Regional Middle East media have been circulating early reports that the United Arab Emirates is preparing to re-open its embassy in Damascus after six years of closure, which is to kickstart a new regional shift. This comes as Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries are reportedly strongly considering the restoration of diplomatic ties with the Assad government after all GCC states had closed their Syrian embassies in 2012.
The significance of this is huge, coming after seven years of war driven by an official policy of Syrian regime change by these very GCC governments, foremost among them Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Qatar. Restoration of ties also means countries like the UAE could be major sources of financing reconstruction projects at a key moment when the United States is attempting to block all aid that could benefit the Syrian government.
According to Al Masdar News Abu Dhabi has “ordered full maintenance works to its Syrian embassy to be ready for opening within the next two weeks.”
Such a speedy turn around signals the UAE is ready to acknowledge Assad as the legitimate leader of Syria after emerging victorious as the international proxy war continues to wind down, and likely with other Gulf states to follow.
Prominent Syria analyst Joshua Landis noted this week there’s currently a monumental realignment underway as regional powers hasten to restore ties with Damascus:
Bahrain, Kuwait, Egypt and Jordan are reopening relations with the Syrian government. This suggests that they are not fighting “Sunnis,” but extremists that they seem to consider common enemies. No longer Sunni vs Shia – but Conservative vs Radical. Or Governments vs insurgents.
The rationale for this is also tied up in regional rivalries and the continuing fallout of the internal GCC schism, which has pitted Saudi Arabia and the UAE against Qatar.
Among the first to report the news is an expert who goes by the name Ehsani and writes for the influential analysis blog, Syria Comment — he’s obtained rare insider commentary from senior Syrian government sources concerning the historic shift and potential restoration of relations with GCC countries.
Ehsani presented his analysis based on insider sources as follows…
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Syria, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia are on the cusp of forming a new regional alliance to defeat the ideology and expansion of the Muslim Brotherhood long championed and supported by Qatar and Turkey.
This important shift comes on the back of intense and comprehensive meetings that took place recently in Abu Dhabi. The common objective of the parties is to stabilize Syria and ensure the return of the secular state that existed prior to 2011.
EXPECT REOPENING OF UAE EMBASSY IN DAMASCUS TO KICK START THE NEW REGIONAL SHIFT pic.twitter.com/pyTDFFn2RQ
— EHSANI2 (@EHSANI22) November 7, 2018
There is no doubt that this new shift will create a challenge for Damascus when it comes to its relations with its long ally Iran. At the same time, this shift will also be a perfect opportunity for Damascus to prove its independence when it comes to foreign policy.
The thinking in Gulf capital revolves around the idea that a stronger and more stable Syria is the best way to slow and reverse the expansion of Iran in the region. After all, Tehran’s influence was seen as to have grown as the Syrian state got weaker since 2011.
Meanwhile the Trump administration has launched its most concerted effort yet to pressure the Saudis to end the conflict in Yemen. Both Mattis and Pompeo in recent days have said “the time has come to halt more than three years of conflict”.
Once the war on Yemen subsides and soon comes to a halt following US pressure, this is likely to have positive impact on the region and will add traction to this UAE/Saudi/Syrian rapprochement. The money that is now wasted on this war can be better spent stabilizing Syria.