Steven Sahiounie, journalist and political commentator
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is embarking on a new beginning that could change the Middle East. To enhance security and stability, a Saudi delegation headed by the head of the intelligence service, Lieutenant General Khaled Al-Humaidan, visited Damascus on Monday and met Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad and the Vice President for Security Affairs, Major General Ali Mamlouk. The talks were aimed at restoring diplomatic relations after a ten-year pause, reported the private London-based Arabic daily, Rai Al-Youm.
Saudi Arabia will reopen its embassy in Damascus following continuing talks planned in Damascus after the end of Ramadan, and the Eid al-Fitr holiday. The Syrian ambassador to Lebanon issued a positive statement on the topic.
Lebanon remains at the core of Saudi interests in the eastern Mediterranean region, and the assistance of Damascus in stabilizing Lebanon is crucial. A US State Department assessment in 2020 found evidence that Damascus was regaining its pre-eminent place in Lebanese politics. Following the collapse of Lebanese banks, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has worked towards making Riyadh a player in Lebanon again, and the Saudis need President Assad on their side to help shape the region.
Saudi Arabia is recalibrating its foreign policy and repairing relations with its neighbors as it works to stop the influence of global powers in the region. The visit to Damascus comes after the UAE and Bahrain have publically shown support for the Assad administration in recent years.
Giorgio Cafiero, CEO and founder of Gulf State Analytics, a geopolitical risk consultancy based in Washington, said "The Saudis have to be pragmatic in how they deal with Syria.
"It's very clear that Damascus isn't on the verge of falling and I think the Saudis are coming to terms with the inevitable in moving toward some sort of rapprochement with Syria," he said. "It's important to realize that as Assad has proven triumphant on the ground and as the Saudis have deepened their relationship with Russia," said Cafiero.
"We need to keep in mind that Syria is very much in need of reconstruction and redevelopment and the Syrian government is going to want help from the wealthy Gulf countries, so this is certainly a card that the Saudis can play at some point - to support reconstruction with deep pockets," said Cafiero.
Syria would also be able to lobby Washington indirectly through Abu Dhabi and Riyadh to lift sanctions, and thereby access the funds being offered by the Gulf states to rebuild Syria. The UAE has publicly called for the removal of US Caesar Act sanctions, and is delivering regular medical aid and helping to facilitate Syria's regional rehabilitation. The Emirati foreign minister had declared that "the return of Syria to its environment is inevitable and is in the interest of Syria and the region as a whole, and the biggest challenge facing coordination and joint work with Syria is the Caesar Act."
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