March 9, 2023 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1682

Following Earthquake In Syria, Arab Rapprochement With Assad Regime Gains Momentum: 'A Consensus Is Forming That Isolating Syria Is No Longer Helpful'

March 9, 2023 | By O. Peri*
Syria | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1682


The earthquake that struck southeast Turkey and northwest Syria in early February 2023 accelerated the rapprochement which began several years ago between the Arab countries and the Assad regime, and appears to have provided the Arab leaders with an excellent opportunity to "unveil" their new and more lenient approach toward this regime.[1] As part of this approach, in the weeks since the earthquake, Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad has received phone calls from many Arab leaders expressing their condolences over the disaster as well as their willingness to provide aid. In some cases, this was the first contact between the sides since the outbreak of the Syria crisis in 2011. Moreover, the foreign ministers of the UAE, Jordan, and Egypt, and officials from other Arab countries, visited Damascus after the quake. Assad himself made an official visit to Oman on February 20, and a visit to the UAE in the near future is reportedly on the cards as well. 

Saudi Arabia, which throughout the war has been considered one of the chief opponents of the Assad regime, is also showing signs of a shift in attitude. For the first time since the start of the war, Saudi planes carrying aid landed at Syrian airports controlled by the regime. Furthermore, during the recent Security Conference in Munich, Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan, who is reportedly scheduled to visit Damascus in the near future, made startling statements about the Syrian regime. He said that the Arabs are coming to a consensus that isolating Syria is not helpful, and that "there will have to be dialogue with the government in Damascus at some stage," in order to resolve the main humanitarian problems attending the Syria crisis.

Additionally, in recent days there have been reports in the Arab press about an initiative to restore Syria's relations with the Arab world. The initiative was conceived several months ago, but the quake apparently provided an opportunity to reveal and promote it. According to the reports, as part of this initiative the Arab states have presented the Syrian regime with a series of demands. These demands include Syria's weakening of its relationship with Iran and working against the Iranian military presence in Syria, especially on the border with Jordan; launching serious negotiations with the Syrian opposition to reach a political solution for the crisis; and guaranteeing the safe return of the Syrian refugees to their homes. In return, the Arab countries are offering to strengthen their relations with the Syrian regime and to provide it with financial and humanitarian aid. Some reports also state that if the initiative proceeds as planned, Syria may participate in the next Arab League summit, slated to take place in Riyadh later this year, for the first time since its membership in this organization was suspended in 2011.

As noted, the rapprochement between Syria and the Arab countries began several months before the earthquake, with the prominent involvement of the UAE, which in December 2018 officially renewed its relations with the Assad regime. Jordan, Syria's neighbor to the south, has also been conspicuously involved in the efforts to bring Syria back into the Arab fold, in the belief that stability in Syria and good Arab relations with it will help to secure Jordan's border against the threat currently posed by the Iranian military presence in Syria. The UAE's and Jordan's contacts with Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries, with an eye to promoting this goal, were initially kept under the radar, but the earthquake, which necessitates the provision of aid to Syria, provided an opportunity to advance them more openly.  

Amidst these developments, the one Arab country that is overtly maintaining its hostile stance toward the Syrian regime is Qatar, which is also the only Arab country still supporting the Syrian opposition and helping the residents of the Syrian provinces that are not under the regime's control. Following the earthquake, Qatari Foreign Minister Majed Al-Ansari said that Qatar's position regarding the Syrian regime had not changed and that the circumstances that led to Syria's suspension from the Arab League still obtain.[2]Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad said at the opening of the 5th United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries, on March 5, that it was "wrong to abuse the humanitarian aid [delivered to the earthquake victims] for political purposes," in an oblique reference to the Assad regime.[3]

The Syrian regime used the Arab openness toward it in order to spread propaganda that its isolation in the region and the world is ending, while the Syrian opposition strongly condemned the Arab rapprochement with the regime.[4]

Another factor that apparently facilitated this rapprochement is the U.S. suspension, for a period of 180 days, any sanctions on the regime that affect the provision of humanitarian aid to the earthquake victims.[5] Later, Britain and the EU also announced that following the earthquake they too would ease sanctions on Syria for a period of 180 days.[6] European countries, too, renewed their contact with the Syrian regime after the quake in order to deliver aid. A plane sent by the Norwegian Red Cross, which arrived at the Damascus international airport on February 22, was the first European aircraft to land in Syria in 12 years. Syrian Red Crescent head Khaled Hboubati called this "the first step toward breaking the siege" on Syria.[7]The next day, a plane sent by the German Red Cross arrived,[8] and on February 26 a plane carrying aid from several EU countries also landed.[9]

It should be noted that even prior to the earthquake, there were signs of rapprochement between Turkey and the Syrian regime; this peaked on December 28, 2022 with a Russia-sponsored meeting in Moscow between Syrian Defense Minister 'Ali Mahmoud 'Abbas and his Turkish and Russian counterparts Hulusi Akar and Sergei Shoigu. Following the meeting – the first of its kind since the severing of Syria-Turkey diplomatic relations in 2012 – Turkish and Russian officials expressed their hope that there would be subsequent meetings between the countries' foreign ministers and even their presidents. However, due to significant disputes between Turkey and the Syrian regime, especially regarding Turkey's military presence in northern Syria and its support for the Syrian rebels there, the warming of relations between the two countries was suspended.[10] 

Arab leaders stand in line to "kiss and make up" with Assad following the earthquake (, February 27, 2023).

This report reviews the recent warming of relations between the Arab countries and the Syrian regime.

Rapprochement Between Arab Countries And Assad Regime, Reports On Initiative To Bring Syria Back To Arab Fold

As stated, the earthquake that struck parts of Turkey and Syria on February 6 gave a boost to the process, already underway, of Arab rapprochement with the Syrian regime, leading Arab leaders to contact their Syrian counterparts for the first time following years of silence. On the day of the quake, Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad spoke on the phone with the King of Bahrain, Hamad bin 'Issa Al-Khalifa. This was the first phone call between them since the outbreak of the Syrian crisis, although Bahrain had already reopened its embassy in Syria in late 2018.[11] On the same day, Assad also spoke on the phone with UAE President Mohammed bin Zayed.[12]

On February 7, Assad spoke with Egyptian President 'Abd Al-Fattah Al-Sisi for the first time since the latter came to power in 2014.[13] Two days later, on February 9, Tunisia announced that it would strengthen diplomatic ties with Syria.[14] On February 12, UAE Foreign Minister 'Abdullah bin Zayed visited Damascus and met with President Assad[15]; on February 15, Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Al-Safadi, who in the past maintained a hardline stance against the Syrian regime, made his first visit to Damascus since 2011 and met with Assad and with his foreign minister Al-Miqdad.[16]

Several days later, on February 27, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry came to Damascus and met with Assad and Miqdad. This, too, was the first visit by an Egyptian official there since 2011.[17] The online daily posited that Shoukry's visit had been coordinated in advance with Saudi Arabia, and that Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan would also make a visit to Syria soon, to pave the way for Syria's participation in the Arab League summit in Riyadh later this year.[18] The editor of the Egyptian state daily Al-Ahram, Ashraf Al-'Ashry, confirmed that Egypt had discussed Al-Shoukry's visit to Damascus with several Arab and Gulf countries, with an eye to normalizing the Arabs' relations with the Syrian regime and readmitting Syria to the Arab League, or at least obtaining recognition of the Syrian regime at the next Arab League summit. He stated that Shoukry had presented the Gulf States' terms for welcoming Syria back to the Arab fold, chiefly a demand to weaken its relations with Iran.[19]

In addition, on February 26, a delegation from the Arab Parliamentary Union visited Damascus. It was headed by the union's president, Iraqi Parliament Speaker Muhammad Al-Hlabousi, and included MPs from the UAE, Jordan, the Palestinian Authority, Libya, Egypt, Oman and Lebanon.   The delegation came to Damascus directly from the union's conference in Baghdad, and met with President Assad. Its members reiterated the call for Syria's return to the Arab fold, and stated that the visit was the first step toward achieving this.[20] In this context, it was also reported that the Arab Parliamentary Union's conference in Baghdad had decided to return the union's headquarters to Damascus, after it was moved in 2011.[21]

Front page of Syrian daily celebrates the visit of the Arab Parliamentary Union delegation: "Our [Arab] Brothers in Damascus" (Al-Watan, Syria, February 27, 2023)

Another important development was Assad's official visit to Oman on February 20 – his second to an Arab country since 2011 (the first was to the UAE last March). Omani Sultan Haitham bin Tarik said during a meeting with Assad that "Syria is a sister Arab country and we expect its relations with all the Arab states to resume their natural course."[22]

Highlighting the improvement in the standing of the Syrian regime, the pro-regime Syrian daily Al-Watan noted that Assad had flown to Oman on a Syrian Airlines plane, unlike in the case of his visits to the small number of Arab countries that had agreed to receive him during the war.  Moreover, he was greeted with an official reception at the airport, and the streets of the Omani capital were hung with Syrian flags, again in contrast to his other state visits in recent years.[23] 

Omani Sultan Haitham bin Tarik with Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad (image:, February 20, 2023)

Furthermore, since the earthquake, many Arab countries have begun sending extensive humanitarian aid to the Syrian regime. In this context, on February 21, the Syrian opposition website reported on an Arab initiative for rapprochement with the Syrian regime, as a counterweight to Iran's and Turkey's presence in the country. According to the report, the initiative was born some five months ago, but the earthquake provided some Arab countries, chief among them Saudi Arabia and Egypt, with a "golden opportunity" to promote it openly.

The first phase of the initiative calls for the Assad regime to combat the smuggling of drugs from Syria into the neighboring countries and to take serious measures to contend with Iran's military presence in the country, in return for Arab humanitarian and financial aid, initially on a limited scale. The next phase calls for confidence-building measures with the Syrian opposition, such as releasing political prisoners, disclosing the fate of missing persons and providing guarantees for the safe return of the Syrian refugees to their homes.

These measures are meant to enable a serious dialogue with the opposition toward reaching a political solution based on UN Security Council Resolution 2254. The report claims that the purpose of Assad's visit to Oman was to discuss this initiative, and that an Arab delegation will visit Damascus in the near future and make an official announcement about it.[24]           

Several days after this report was published, the opposition website reported that at an August 2022 meeting of Turkish and Egyptian officials, the former had proposed a regional initiative for resolving the Syria crisis that would not exclude Iran. The report speculated that the Arab countries were amenable to this move not due to a desire for normalization with the Syrian regime but out of fear that a collapse of Syria's state institutions would jeopardize the security of Syria's neighbors.[25]  

Cartoon on Syrian opposition website: "Re-legitimizing Assad!" (, February 23, 2023)

Saudi Arabia Adopts New Attitude To Syrian Regime, Calling For Dialogue To Promote Political Solution

Following the earthquake, several Saudi planes carrying aid landed at Syria's airports for the first time since 2012.[26] This was perceived as a sign of rapprochement between the Syrian regime and Saudi Arabia, which had been one of the regime's strongest opponents throughout the war. Moreover, on February 16 Russian media reported that Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan planned to visit Damascus in the near future, in what would be the first visit by a Saudi official to Syria since the start of the crisis, although the report was later denied on Russia Today TV, and bin Farhan himself refused to "comment on rumors."[27] However, reports about this planned visit continue to appear.[28]

Syrian Red Crescent employees unload Saudi aid at Aleppo airport (image:, February 16, 2023)

Saudi statements following the quake likewise mark a shift in attitude toward the Syrian regime. At a February 18 meeting on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference, Foreign Minister bin Farhan spoke of the need for a new attitude toward this regime and for dialogue with it, at least on humanitarian issues. He said: "You will see, not just among the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] but in the Arab world, that there is a consensus growing that the status quo is not workable."   He added that in the absence of a path leading to "maximalist goals" for a political solution, another approach was "being formulated" to address the issue of Syrian refugees in neighboring states and the suffering of civilians, especially after the devastating earthquake that hit Syria and Turkey. "So that's going to have to go through a dialogue with the government in Damascus at some point in a way that achieves at least the most important of the objectives especially as regards the humanitarian angle, the return of refugees, etc.," he said.[29]

During his visit to London on March 7, bin Farhan repeated his remarks about the consensus that had been reached in the Arab world that isolating Syria "wasn't working," and that there was a need for dialogue with the Syrian regime, especially in order to contend with the humanitarian situation in the country. In statements to journalists he said: "Increased engagement with Syria might pave the way for its return to the Arab League as ties thaw after more than a decade of isolation, but it was currently too early to discuss such a step."[30]

The Saudi press also reflected the change in the country's position. A February 15, 2023 editorial in the daily Al-Riyadh, about the Saudi aid to the earthquake victims in Syria, stated that the kingdom "is completely entitled to try and reshape its relations [with Syria] on new foundations based on shared interests and positive mutual positions that do not harm either side."[31]  

The Lebanese online daily reported on February 23 that Saudi Arabia and Syria are holding a security dialogue, and that this may lead to political dialogue if the Syrian regime meets 10 terms presented by Saudi Arabia, chief among them the release of dozens of prisoners, some of them political prisoners. Other conditions include holding a serious dialogue with the opposition to reach a political solution based on Security Council Resolution 2254; refraining from signing more strategic, economic, and real estate agreements with Iran; distancing the Iranian forces from the Jordanian border; holding a dialogue about deploying Arab forces in Syria to help secure its borders; and maintaining safe zones under Arab and international oversight to allow the safe return of the Syrian refugees to their homes.[32] 

The warming of Saudi-Syrian relations actually began in the months before the earthquake, apparently as a result of mediation efforts by the UAE and Jordan. In December 2022 it was reported that Syrian intelligence chief Hassam Louqa had made a four-day visit to Riyadh, and that his relations with his Saudi counterpart, Khaled Al-Humaidan, were very friendly.[33] Ahead of Chinese President Xi Jinping's visit to Saudi Arabia in December 2022, the Syrian flag was flown along with other Arab flags in the diplomatic quarter in Riyadh,[34] and in January 2023, the Syrian government allowed imports from Saudi Arabia after the Syrian Foreign Ministry announced that there was "no diplomatic reason" to prohibit them.[35]  

On January 19, 2023, Saudi Foreign Minister bin Farhan told the Bloomberg news agency on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos: "We are working with our partners to find a way to engage with the government in Damascus that will lead to concrete moves toward a political solution that can then allow for Syrian return to some engagement with its partners in the Arab world..."[36]

Saudi Arabia's main concern in the Syrian context is about the Iranian presence and influence in the country. Given Iran's deep infiltration into every aspect of life in Syria,[37] the possibility that the Syrian regime would sever ties with Iran seems remote, no matter how much Saudi Arabia desires it. Nevertheless, Arab analysts assess that Saudi Arabia seeks to affect some weakening in Syria's relations with Iran, for instance through the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 2254 from 2015, which calls for incorporating oppositionists in the Syrian government – oppositionists who are likely to be opponents of Iran.[38]  

At the same time, some Saudi figures remain opposed to the rapprochement with the Syrian regime, including intellectual Khaled Al-Dahil, who tweeted on February 15; "Any call to maintain ties with Bashar Al-Assad on the pretext of the earthquake is, deliberately or inadvertently, a call to legitimize the Syrian president who brought foreign militias to destroy Syria's cities above the heads of their residents and exile half of Syria's population. Is it conceivable that [this regime] will now [change its ways] and do the opposite? Or will it use the situation to legitimize the survival of the regime, with Russian and Iranian support?"[39]

Egypt: Foreign Minister Shukry's Visit To Damascus Symbolizes Syria's Return To Egypt And Egypt's Return To Syria

Egypt is another country that has shown signs of drawing closer to the Syrian regime since the earthquake. As stated, on February 7, Egyptian President Al-Sisi spoke on the phone with President Assad for the first time, and on February 27, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry came to Damascus, which was the first visit by an Egyptian official to Syria since 2011. Furthermore, Egypt's Speaker of the House of Representatives Hanafi Jabali was a member of the Arab Parliamentary Union delegation that visited Damascus on February 26.

It should be mentioned that from the start of Al-Sisi's presidency, the Egyptian regime has adopted a policy of relative openness toward the Syrian regime, to the chagrin of its allies, such as Saudi Arabia. While Egypt refrained from stating explicitly that it supports Assad's remaining in power, it did not present his ouster as a necessary condition for resolving the Syria crisis. It also stated that the solution to the crisis must be purely political and not military.[40] Moreover, in 2016, Al-Sisi expressed clear support for "the Syrian army's" war on the "terrorists," and in 2017 Egypt was among Arab countries that called for restoring Syria to the Arab League. Throughout the years of the war Egypt also maintained security contacts with the Syrian regime.[41] 

The recent Egyptian rapprochement with the Assad regime was accompanied by positive discourse about Syria in the Egyptian dailies. Under the headline "Syria's Return," Gamal Ziada, a columnist for the state daily Al-Ahram, wrote, "[No] Arab ever stopped dreaming of bringing Syria back [to the Arab fold]. Despite the conflict in and around Damascus since 2011, the Arabs love this country, which has made great contributions to history and to mankind. Despite the complexities of politics, the Syrians have always been in [our] hearts. There isn't a single Egyptian who does not love Syria and the Syrians, even if he has never set foot on Syrian soil. The Egyptians will always remember the warm welcome given them by the Syrians when they visited the Al-Hamidiya market in Damascus... Not to mention the memories of the older generation, [who remember] the union [of Egypt and Syria in 1958-1961] and who regarded this union as completely natural and even more than that.

"Hence, Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry's Damascus visit, and that of parliamentary speaker Hanafi Jabali there as part of the Arab Parliamentary Union delegation, marked a very important turning point in [Egypt's] foreign policy, putting it on an essential course of preserving Egypt's regional interests. This turning point leads Egypt to embrace an Arab country whose soil has been desecrated by international forces, [forces] in which Arab interests sadly had a part…"[42] 

Egyptian journalist Suleiman Gouda wrote on February 28 in his column in the Egyptian daily Al-Masri Al-Yawm:  "When I saw the picture of Minister Al-Shoukry's meeting with Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Al-Miqdad, [I thought]: I wish this meeting had taken place years ago. I hope this meeting marks the beginning [of rapprochement] that will lead to much more than [rapprochement] between Cairo and Damascus and also between Damascus and the rest of the Arab capitals.

"The Syrians have been abandoned to their fate since the so-called Arab Spring. Since 2011 they have suffered immense losses, and [the state of] Syria has suffered even greater ones. The Arabs punished Syria for the sin of its government, and made no distinction between the government and the people. They did not understand that, if there is a problem with the government of Bashar Al-Assad, this government is temporary, like any government in the world, whereas Syria is eternal, like any homeland.

"This was Minister Shoukry's first visit to Syria, just as the phone call between President Al-Sisi and the Syrian president on the day of the earthquake was the first phone call between the two presidents. [The meaning] of both events is that Syria has returned to Egypt and Egypt has returned to Syria. This return is inevitable and there is no alternative to it, whether it is a general return of all the Arabs [to Syria], or just an Egyptian return. The loss suffered by Syria since the so-called Arab Spring is beyond anything we can conceive of. It would be a mistake to regard it as a purely Syrian loss, because it was and still is an Arab loss as well."[43] 

The UAE Mediated Between Saudi Arabia And The Assad Regime, Promoted Rapprochement With Syria Even Before The Earthquake

Among the Arab states, the UAE has been especially conspicuous in its support for the Syrian regime since the earthquake. The relations between the two countries have in fact been improving since the UAE reopened its embassy in Damascus in December 2018, and this rapprochement has accelerated recently. In November 2021 Emirati Foreign Minister 'Abdullah bin Zayed was the first Arab official from the anti-Syrian camp to visit Damascus since the start of the Syria crisis,[44] and in March 2022, the UAE was the first Arab country to host Assad since the outbreak of the crisis.[45] As stated, on February 12, about a week after the earthquake, bin Zayed was among the first Arab officials who visited Damascus and met with Assad.

Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad with Emirati Foreign Minister 'Abdullah bin Zayed (Source:, January 4, 2023)

Even before the earthquake, there were reports about Emirati efforts to mediate between Syria and other Arab countries, chiefly Saudi Arabia. On January 4, for example, Saudi Foreign Minister bin Farhan met with Assad in Damascus, and there were many reports framing this as a step toward Syria's return to the Arab fold, and especially toward restoring its relations with Saudi Arabia. On January 7, the Lebanese daily Al-Nahhar described Emirati efforts to mediate a Syrian rapprochement with Saudi Arabia and with the Arab world in general, and noted that the Emirati Foreign Minister had delivered a Saudi letter to Bashar Al-Assad and had received a letter in response from Assad to the Saudis. According to the daily, the UAE seeks to reach an interim solution to the Saudi demand that Assad diminish his relations with Iran.[46]  The Syrian Al-Watan daily likewise reported that bin Zayed's visit to Damascus was one of a series of moves toward renewing Syria's relations with the Arab countries in general and Saudi Arabia in particular.[47]  

Emirati Press: "No Choice But To Bring Damascus Back To Arab Fold"

The Emirati press also stressed the importance of returning Syria to the Arab fold, describing this as a national responsibility and an urgent task. The February 28 editorial of the Al-Khalij daily stated:

"The visit of Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry to Damascus and his meeting with Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad and with [Syrian] Foreign Minister Faisal Al-Miqdad, and before this the visit of the Arab Parliamentary Union delegation to the Syrian capital, including the president of the Emirati Federal National Council, Saqr Ghobash, and before this the visit of [Emirati] Foreign Minister Sheikh 'Abduallah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan and the visit of Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Al-Safadi – all these [visits] are consecutive steps leading to Syria's return to its natural Arab fold. They [reflect] an Arab [trend] about which there is an almost complete consensus, namely that it is time for Syria to be free of its disaster, which has been ongoing for a very long time, and to resume its historic role as the beating heart of Arabhood and a partner on the path of Arab solidarity and of uniting the positions and attitudes regarding the challenges facing the Arab nation…

"The Egyptian foreign minister conveyed to the Syrian leadership a message of solidarity and encouragement following the recent earthquake. This is a clear message from Egypt, Syria's historic and natural partner, that the Arabs will not abandon it to its fate and that it will remain a central pillar of Arab national security. This is [also] a clear signal that the Arabs have put aside the position of waiting and marking time [with respect to Syria], and have turned to a position of coming out against the pressures and the siege that Syria is experiencing, challenging all the attempts to isolate it and control its affairs, and opposing  all the pressures that were exerted [on it] in the previous period with the aim of leaving it to lick its wounds alone … Damascus is now reopening its gates to the Arab brothers, and the Arab brothers are opening their hearts to it."[48]    

Emirati journalist Salim Hamid wrote in a similar vein in the daily Al-Ittihad on January 14: "There is no choice but to bring Damascus back to the Arab fold and to its natural environment… This requires a serious joint effort to end the crisis and launch a new phase of helping this country to resume its progress. As is its custom, the UAE is spearheading [this move], and is quicker than others to extend a helping hand to its brethren and to promote joint Arab action to help Arab countries in crisis…  [Establishing] the Arab role in Syria must be the main issue [on the agenda] in the coming period, while also blocking any regional and international interference seeking to take over Syria in any way. Only the Arabs are [truly] acting in Syria's benefit…"[49]

Emirati Journalist: Supporting Syria's Economy Is The Only Way To Distance It From Iran

A prominent assessment in the Arab media is that the Arab rapprochement with the Syrian regime is aimed at distancing it from Iran, which is perceived as a threat to the security and stability of the region, especially due to its arming of militias loyal to it in various Arab countries, and due to its drug trade throughout the region.[50] In this context, Emirati journalist Salam Al-Kutbi explained, in a January 23, 2023 article on the Saudi website Elaph, that Syria is unlikely to make this move on its own in the near future. He wrote that the Arabs should therefore seek to establish influence in Syria, as a counterweight to the Iranian influence, by extending economic aid to the Syrian regime. "Is it possible to persuade Assad's Syria to distance itself from Iran? The answer is no," he said, "since in the present circumstances it will be difficult for Syria to give up its alliance with Iran, especially in light of the West's constant insistence [on maintaining its rigid] attitude toward the regime of President Bashar Al-Assad. Moreover, the Arab opinions are divided as well, and this does not encourage Syria to risk distancing itself from its ally Iran, either now or in the foreseeable future..."  

Al-Kutbi continued: "A more realistic option is to seek to establish Arab-Gulf-Emirati influence in Syria, in parallel to the Iranian influence, through the most effective and efficient channel in [today's] post-conflict Syria, namely the channel of economic [aid] and investments, and through rebuilding efforts. This is the only way to counterbalance the Iranian influence and perhaps even gradually weaken it. But for this to work there must be strong Arab support for the UAE's diplomatic efforts to restore Syria's role on the Arab and regional levels."[51]

Jordan Is Promoting Arab Normalization With Assad Regime In Return For Its Weakening Of Its Relationship With Iran

As noted, Jordan was also involved, along with the UAE, in the efforts to bring Syria back to the Arab fold and to formulate "a joint Arab position setting out terms for normalizing [relations with the Syrian regime], so that this will not be granted for free," as the Al-Sharq Al-Awsat daily put it.[52] Jordan's main concern is the increase in the smuggling of drugs and weapons across the Syrian border into its territory, and the Iranian military presence in southern Syria near its border.

Lebanese political analyst Ibrahim Rihan stated that Jordan's King Abdullah, during his visit to the UAE on January 4, had requested that the Arab states formulate a joint paper setting out the terms for normalization with Syria. These terms include a withdrawal of the Iran-backed militias in Syria to a distance of 100 km from the Jordanian border; a change in the nature of the relationship between the Syrian regime and Iran; curbing Iran's influence in Syria; and stopping the smuggling of drugs and weapons from Syria into Jordan.[53] 

It should be mentioned that in June 2021, there were already reports about an initiative from several Arab countries, promoted by Jordan, to resolve the Syria crisis by recognizing the Syrian regime as legitimate while working to change its policies.[54] Although this initiative yielded no tangible results, in the wake of the earthquake Jordan's moves vis-à-vis the Syrian regime appear to have accelerated once again. Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Al-Safadi said during his February 15 Damascus visit that "the visit was an opportunity to discuss our bilateral relations and the efforts being made to find a political solution to the Syria crisis, that will preserve Syria's unity and sovereignty; restore its security, stability and role; pave the way for the safe return of the refugees; and free the country of terror, which is a threat to all of us."[55]

Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Al-Safadi with Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad (image:, February 15, 2023)

In addition, during Safadi's visit to Syria, more than 20 Jordanian MPs signed a memorandum urging the Jordanian government to call on the U.S., the EU, the UN, and all the countries taking part in the sanctions against the Syrian regime to lift these sanctions immediately.[56]

Articles In Jordanian Press: Ending Syria's Isolation Is A Strategic Jordanian Interest

Jordan's desire to end Syria's isolation in the Arab world was also expressed in articles in the Jordanian press published since the earthquake calling on the Arab countries to reassess their relations with the Syrian regime. Jordanian journalist Fares Al-Habashneh wrote on February 15 in the daily Al-Dustour: "After the opening of Arab channels to deliver aid to the disaster-struck Syrian cities, there is need to seriously discuss ending Syria's isolation and take a political Arab decision [about this]... Jordan's diplomacy has been using its wise political soft power to [promote] an Arab program of reconciliation with Syria... Breaking Syria's isolation is a strategic Jordanian interest..."[57]

Former Jordanian Information Minister Samih Al-Mu'aita wrote on February 14 in his column in the daily Al-Ghad, "The earthquake disaster has not broken the ice between Syria and some prominent countries in the region and the world, but it has nevertheless proved that isolating Syria is no longer a legitimate act... To date, the Arabs have not decided to readmit Syria to the Arab League, since the Arab League's decisions require a consensus and the consent of certain countries. However, at the same time, there is no longer a decision to boycott Syria. Many of those who boycotted it in the past are now very close to it, and there is no longer any talk about an alternative [to the Syrian regime] or about the opposition. Regardless of whether one likes or hates the Syrian regime, the political reality is that the boycott has become partial… I do not wish to either advocate or oppose establishing ties [with Syria], but only to understand the changing reality, which can always produce surprises."[58]

Muhammad Hassan Al-Tal, the former chairman of the board of the Jordanian state daily Al-Rai, addressed this issue in a February 11 article on the Jordanian website He wrote that, "the disaster currently requires all the Arabs to stand with Arab Syria as much as they can and help it overcome this complex situation. This is an opportunity to reexamine the political considerations that have guided our thinking for a decade..."[59]

* O. Peri is a Research Fellow at MEMRI.


[2] Al-Arabi Al-Jadid (London), February 16, 2023.

[3] Al-Arabi Al-Jadid (London), March 5, 2023.

[5], February 9, 2023.

[6], February 15, 2023; and, February 23, 2023.

[7] Al-Watan (Syria), February 23, 2023.

[8], February 23, 2023.

[9], February 26, 2023.

[10] This was explicitly expressed by Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Al-Miqdad, who said after the earthquake that there was "no coordination between Syria and Turkey, not even on the humanitarian level, although this would have been natural" (, Feburaury 7, 2023). See also MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 1605 – Pro-Regime Syrian Journalist Supports Renewing Relations With Turkey: It Won't Be Easy, But It Will Benefit Both Countries, And The Region –September 14, 2022.

[11], February 23, 2023.  

[12], February 6, 2023.

[13] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), February 7, 2023.

[14] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), February 11, 2023.

[15], February 12, 2023.  

[16], February 15, 2023.

[17], February 27, 2023.

[18], February 27, 2023.

[19], February 27, 2023.

[20] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), February 27, 2023.

[21], February 26, 2023.

[22], February 20, 2023.

[23] Al-Watan (Syria), February 21, 2023.

[24], February 21, 2023.

[25], February 24, 2023.

[26], February 14, 2023.

[27], February 16, 2023;, February 17, 2023; and February 19, 2023.  

[28], February 23, 2023; Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), February 27, 2023;, February 27, 2023.

[29], February 19, 2023.

[30], March 8, 2023.

[31] Al-Riyadh (Saudi Arabia), February 15, 2023.

[32], February 23, 2023.

[33], December 9, 2022.

[34], December 14, 2022.

[35] Al-Watan (Syria), January 17, 2023.

[36], January 19, 2023.

[38] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), February 28, 2023. See MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis No. 1214 - UN Security Council Resolution 2254 On Syria: International Community Softens Its Position On Assad Regime – December 28, 2015.

[39], February 15, 2023.  

[40] Inquiry & Analysis No. 1202 - Egypt-Saudi Arabia Relations: Substantial Rifts Despite Shared Basic Interests – November 11, 2015; Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1274 - The Egypt-Saudi Dispute Over A Resolution To The Syria Crisis Goes Public – October 18, 2016.

[42] Al-Ahram (Egypt), March 1, 2023.

[43] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), February 28, 2023.

[44] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), November 10, 2021.

[45], March 18, 2022.  

[46] Al-Nahhar (Lebanon), January 7, 2023.

[47] Al-Watan (Syria), January 24, 2023.

[48] Al-Khalij (UAE), February 28, 2023.

[49] Al-Ittihad (UAE), January 14, 2023.

[50] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), February 16, 2023; Al-Arabi Al-Jadid (London), February 22, 2023; and, February 25, 2023.

[51], January 23, 2023.

[52] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), January 8, 2023.

[53], January 13, 2023.

[54] See MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 1602 – Jordan, With U.S. Consent, Spearheads Efforts To Return Syrian Regime To Arab Fold – October 19, 2021.

[55], February 15, 2023. It should be noted that on September 26, 2022, Safadi said that Jordan was seeking regional and international support for an Arab-led political process to end the war in Syria;, September 26, 2022.

[56], February 15, 2023.

[57] Al-Dustour (Jordan), February 15, 2023.

[58] Al-Ghad (Jordan), February 14, 2023.

[59], February 11, 2023.

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