The UAE's diplomatic move in Syria is timely

Given Turkey’s close ties with Iran, handing Syria to Turkey would hamper any Arab effort to restore Syria to the Arab fold.
Thursday 03/01/2019
Change of heart. The building of the United Arab Emirates embassy in Damascus during its reopening, December 27. (SANA)
Change of heart. The building of the United Arab Emirates embassy in Damascus during its reopening, December 27. (SANA)

It’s been years since Arab diplomacy left Syria and, because the Syrian scene was left unattended, Iran and Turkey moved in to fill the void. Then came the Russians and the Americans armed with military agendas that did not necessarily include protecting Syria from Iranian and Turkish intrusions.

Now, the United Arab Emirates has taken the initiative of filling the Arab void in Syria and of restoring Arab diplomatic presence in Damascus.

The UAE's move followed the US announcement of its withdrawal from Syria. Observers of the Syrian situation said the American withdrawal would give Iran and Turkey more latitude to move inside Syrian territory.

During the past few years, the United Arab Emirates stayed away from Syria in compliance with the majority opinion in the Arab League. The purpose of that tough stance towards Syria was to pressure the Damascus regime because of the toll of the unfolding violence in the Syrian cities.

Now, however, the security situation in Syria is stabilising gradually and the justification for an Arab boycott of Syria no longer stands.

Given the scope of Iranian interference in Syria and of Turkish ambitions there, it has become necessary for Arabs to take intensive actions to re-establish balance in Syria. In this context, an Arab presence is needed to deter external forces wreaking havoc in Syria and taking advantage of the Damascus regime’s preoccupation with consolidating its presence in areas it recaptured.

When Qatari media speak of the sacrifices of the Syrian people under the banner of the Syrian revolution, this means that Doha is bemoaning the failure of the Muslim Brotherhood project in Syria. Indeed, Doha’s Islamist ally has endeavoured to work with extremist groups and regimes to turn the chaos in Syria into the right political tool for establishing a Muslim Brotherhood-type regime in Syria.

Common political sense and the interest of the Syrian people dictate that the Iranian and Turkish tide in Syria be stemmed. The major lesson learnt from years of conflict is that the diversity characterising the Syrian society requires a secular state that guarantees coexistence and tolerance. This obviously cannot be achieved if extremist forces take power and establish an extremist regime.

The ambitions of extremists in Syria and their desire to partition Syria justified their resorting to violence. In particular, they smuggled candidates for jihad in their ranks, especially across the Turkish borders with Syria.

The US withdrawal gives Turkey an opportunity to move along the Syrian border with its military contingents in accordance with a set of purely Turkish targets that should not be ignored. Therefore, an Arab presence in Syria is needed to fill the void.

The United Arab Emirates’ move in Syria sends another message: Preserving the Syrian state entity is a legitimate strategic option that outweighs the claims of those who support chaos in Syria and thus maintain circumstances conducive to breaching the Arab national security through the Syrian gate.

We have all witnessed how, when a state collapses or loses control over parts of its territory, malignant alternative entities arise to fill the void. This matter should not be easily dismissed.

Given Turkey’s close ties with Iran, handing Syria to Turkey would hamper any Arab effort to restore Syria to the Arab fold. There will be no use to cry over spilt milk, as the saying goes, if the Iran-Turkey alliance dominates Syria in addition to Iran’s dominance of Iraq.

The opportunity to restore Syria to the Arab fold is still there. The United Arab Emirates must be credited for taking the initiative to reopen its embassy in Damascus in the hope that other Arab countries will follow.