The Syrian regime and the gate to normalisation

Al-Quds Al-Arabi – Oct. 12, 2020, issue 10053, p. 21

Responding to the possibility of opening up to normalisation with Tel Aviv, Assad said with clarity and confidence that talks about peace with Israel are possible under one condition, namely the return of the occupied Syrian territories. This statement may be seen by some close to the so-called axis of resistance as a complement to the line adopted by Assad the father, entitled: “Land in exchange for Peace”. As for him personally, this statement, at this time and within the current balance of the Syrian scene, the economic complications and the wave of Arab normalisation led by Abu Dhabi, may be an implicit message and an actual translation of secret talks led by Moscow as a representative of Assad and mediated by the Emiratis. The possibility of this step to become true on the ground requires us to discuss the details of the Syrian scene internally, and then expand to Iran and the US.

Assad’s Syria

The public scene in Assad’s areas of influence suffers from a deep and complex crisis on several levels. The security situation in southern Syrian is almost inconsistent. Despite Assad’s control over the governorates of Daraa and Quneitra, the attacks and assassinations have become daily events. These attacks are divided into three parts. Assassinations by Assad’s intelligence against former revolutionary activists, some of them bear the fingerprints of ISIS and focus on elements of Assad and the Fifth Brigade belonging to Russia, and a third part carries Israeli fingerprints against elements affiliated with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and the Hezbollah militia. Despite this terrifying situation in southern Syria, hell was and is still prevailing along the Syrian desert where the effectiveness of Islamic State cells is increasing day after day, and their attacks are spreadimg even to the vicinity of the city of Salamiyah in the eastern countryside of Hama.

Observers may see the Assad regime threatened by security, military and intelligence chaos and its impact on the ground, but the truth is that the greatest danger to Assad at the current stage is the dire financial situation in all its aspects. The diesel crisis will hardly end until the gasoline crisis begins, which is followed by a shortage in the quantities of wheat, meaning a shortage of bread, and when the crisis reaches the bread of the people, the alarm sounds in any country in the world. Furthermore, with US sanctions on the rise under “Caesar Law”, the possibility of Assad emerging from this financial impasse has only one way out, and is limited to the approval of the White House administration through a political solution that reduces Assad’s powers and paves the way for a slow change of the regime, an option that Assad did not accept even in his worst military situation on the ground. Now that he is victorious, he will definitely not accept it. In the midst of this crisis came the wave of normalisation, which Moscow is presenting as an alternative exit and B-plan for Assad.

Russian mediation

In short, the plan is based on opening the door to Syrian-Israeli negotiations with Russian-Emirati mediation which would result in Assad’s approval of a comprehensive Iranian withdrawal from the Syrian geography and his pledge to prevent the presence of Lebanese Hezbollah militia members on Syrian soil with an undeclared concession of the Golan to the Israeli side. In return, the Israeli lobby will play an important role in changing the American attitude towards him and towards the political solution in Syria, and thus the lifting the US economic sanctions, which in turn will mean a green light towards reconstruction of Syria. The United Arab Emirates will play an important role by pushing the Gulf countries, especially Saudi Arabia, to restore diplomatic relations with Damascus and contribute effectively to reconstruction.

These details, which began to spread in the diplomatic corridors of Moscow, Abu Dhabi and Tel Aviv, confirm that there are low-level diplomatic talks. However, to reach this point, the most important and only obstacle is actually Tehran’s view of this agreement. Here we must emphasize that the Iranian hand in the Syrian scene is not only military, but also economic, social and religious, and it almost surrounds Assad’s neck. Therefore, it is not possible, in any way, that an event of this importance can take place without the Iranian green light, either overt or implicit.

The scene in Tehran

With Washington announcing new economic sanctions against the Iranian regime a few days ago which involving the banking sector, what is certain is that Trump’s victory in the upcoming presidential elections will deal a serious blow to this regime and its influence in the region in general, while Biden’s victory will mark the beginning of a gradual breakthrough out of the bottleneck. Within this division, Tehran will continue in the coming weeks until the date of this election with strategic patience. According to this, reading Tehran’s reaction to the idea of ​​normalising relations between Assad and Israel at the expense of its influence in Syria, will inevitably be linked to the results of the American presidential elections. So, the approach will be as follows:

Trump in the White House

This will mean more pressure, sanctions and blockade, and it will put Tehran in front of more complex options than it was four years ago, as American sanctions against the Lebanese Hezbollah militia are beginning to bear fruits and the militia has begun to feel the danger of popular anger and French and American pressures on its domestic and regional influence. The scene in Damascus is not better in any way, and the exhausted Iraqi government at all levels is trying to strike a balance, albeit a little, between Tehran’s influence and the need for the West.

Therefore, Tehran’s choice to continue along the same path could lead to splits within the axis of its allies. This reality may push Tehran to tacitly endorse the idea of ​​its ostensible military withdrawal from Syrian territory, while maintaining coordination with Assad and keeping the Iranian economic and social influence, as well as promises that Iranian companies will participate in reconstruction projects and not prejudice the line of connection with the Hezbollah militia in Lebanon. Tehran may also set an additional condition to be included in the Syrian normalisation deal such as lifting sanctions on the Hezbollah militia in Lebanon. In my personal view, this approach will be adopted by Tehran as part of a broader deal with Washington that includes lifting sanctions and making concessions regarding the nuclear file and the ballistic missile file.

As for the second option that Tehran can come up with, it is to take a step forward through a military escalation in the region and an attempt to blackmail Washington into the Hormuz crossing or through the northern Israeli front. In this context, Tehran will categorically reject the idea of ​​rapprochement between Damascus and Tel Aviv.

Biden in the White House

Following Biden’s views during his tenure as former Vice President in the Obama administration, the closest thing for him is to choose to gradually reduce the level of sanctions against the Iranian regime and try to return to the previous nuclear deal. As a result, Tehran will not be obliged to make concessions in the files of Syria and Lebanon. Most likely, Tehran will again reject the idea of ​​Syrian-Israeli normalisation.

In conclusion, this deal may be merely scattered ideas expressing Russian dissatisfaction with the Iranian presence in Syria on the one hand and the limited economic benefits on the other. Thus, the option of normalisation can be a magic solution suitable for both problems. As for what is certain until this moment, the course of normalisation recently led by Abu Dhabi has not affected in the slightest the unstable reality of Tel Aviv, whichd espite the media propaganda, it still in an awkward atmosphere and the Arab peoples’ rejection of the normalisation in all its forms.