Another Arab Government Restores Relations With Assad

Oman returns ambassador to Syria after breaking diplomatic relations in 2012

The presentation of the Letter of Credence in Damascus on October 5 by the newly appointed envoy of Oman marks a defining moment in the Syrian conflict. The regional states recognise that the legitimacy of the Syrian government headed by President Bashar Al-Assad is not in doubt. The UAE already reopened its embassy in Damascus headed by chargé d’affaires.

Oman took the momentous step just 5 days after the fifth anniversary of the Russian intervention in Syria, which turned the tide of the war in favour of Assad — who nonetheless insists, justifiably so, that Russia’s major naval and air bases in his country will continue to help counter the influence of Western powers in the region. 

Oman’s example may be a trend-setter. Egypt may follow suit — maybe, Jordan and Kuwait, too. The Saudis may drag their feet, given the embarrassment that their intervention in Syria ended in dismal failure. Qatar? Not unlikely, despite its alliance with Turkey. 

However, the crux of the matter is that Oman, a Gulf state which closely synchronises its diplomacy with UK and the US. Oman played a key role as ‘facilitator’ in the US-Iran standoff. Will it perform a similar role to facilitate contacts between Washington and Damascus? Arguably, this could be the leitmotif of the Omani move. Muscat almost certainly consulted Washington and London.

In every sense, therefore, diplomacy is shifting gear apropos the Syrian conflict. In Iraq, US has lately adopted an approach to use coercive diplomacy — ‘smart power’ — to good effect so much so that it is able to leverage its influence in Baghdad to loosen Iran’s grip over its immediate neighbour. 

Israel which is helping the US militarily, as the recent air attacks on pro-Iranian militia groups suggest, will be hoping for a similar approach with regard to Syria as well. For Israel, continued US presence in Syria is an imperative need. And, of course, the US military presence in Syria is unsustainable without a presence in Iraq as well. 

Meanwhile, Israel’s agenda toward Syria is transforming, too. A need arises now to switch back to dealings with Assad who used to be a cooperative interlocutor previously. If a conversation begins between Washington and Damascus, trust Israel to tap into it. 

Source: Indian Punchline

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