ARTICLE – Following this month’s devastating earthquake, the UAE was the first Arab country to send its foreign minister to Damascus to express support to Bashar Assad. This move was a follow-up to the UAE policy to open up to Assad. Similarly, Turkiye has been warming to the Assad regime. The two countries have different objectives. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is facing an uphill battle, wants an election stunt, while the UAE wants to contain Iran’s presence in the region. However, Assad is neither willing nor capable of delivering on this objective, hence they need to play it smart.
Erdogan’s rapprochement with Assad is aimed at countering the Turkish opposition parties that state that, if they were to win the election, they would normalize with Assad and ensure that the Syrian refugees in Turkiye go back home. On the other hand, Erdogan and Assad have a common enemy: the Syrian Democratic Forces. The various negotiations between Assad and the SDF have failed. Erdogan sees in Assad a potential partner who can facilitate any potential assault on the northwest of Syria. While Iran publicly praises the potential rapprochement between Syria and Turkiye, in reality it dreads it. Any normalization with Turkiye would mean less influence for Iran.
The Turks are sending mixed signals. They say Erdogan is ready to meet with Assad, while also saying that any normalization would have to abide by UN Security Council Resolution 2254. The opposition criticizes Erdogan by saying that the return of refugees can only be secured through an agreement with Damascus. However, this is illogical, as Assad cannot provide the basic condition for their return, which is a safe environment. There is nothing called the Syrian Arab Army. The army is a loose coalition of warlords; it is not a cohesive structure with clear control and command. The only two real legions are the 4th Armored Division led by Maher Assad, which takes orders from the Iranians, and the Tiger Forces that take orders from the Russian Hmeimim airbase.
Assad’s forces cannot deploy all over Syria and other Arab countries definitely do not trust him enough to give him the funds and equipment to beef up his military. They do not trust him due to the Iranian connection. In order for Gulf countries to fully normalize with Assad, he needs to downgrade his ties with Iran. However, the case of Sudan’s Omar Bashir will send an alert to Assad. Bashir gave up on relations with Iran but he was still deposed. The same could happen with Assad. So, guarantees are needed that he will limit the Iranian presence in Syria.
Read the article written by Dania Koleilat Khatib on Arab news.