موقع إخباري يهتم بفضائح و انتهاكات دولة الامارات

Emirates-Led Arab Push for Assad Normalization Fizzles Out Despite Year of Diplomatic Efforts


 A recent analytical inspection revealed that Arab efforts to normalize ties with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government, initiated by the United Arab Emirates over a year, were fruitless. Moreover, the utilization of a “carrot” strategy seemed counterproductive, as it only served to embolden the Syrian regime in its illicit activities, including the smuggling of Captagon and weapons.

The report released by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy emphasized that Bashar al-Assad participated in the recent Arab League summit held in Bahrain, marking his presence nearly a year after Syria’s readmission to the Arab League during the summit convened in Saudi Arabia in 2023.

However, a glance at the work of the Arab League’s “Arab Ministerial Liaison Committee on Syria,” along with the recent increase in Jordanian military strikes against cross-border Captagon smuggling networks, shows that Arab engagement with Assad has failed to rehabilitate the regime.

With the prospect of more strict actions against Damascus emerging in Capitol Hill (the hub of the US government in Washington), it becomes vital for the United States to strive towards bipartisan agreement in extending the “Caesar sanctions,” thereby guaranteeing accountability for the widespread atrocities perpetrated by the Assad regime.

The study stressed the importance for Washington to promptly undertake actions to enable the delivery of essential humanitarian assistance to Syria and engage in consultations with its Arab allies to formulate a strategy for the forthcoming phase. This strategy should encompass a comprehensive approach to addressing the trafficking of drugs and weapons out of Syria.

Arab normalization and the American response

In 2021, a decade after the Arab League suspended Syria’s membership over the Assad regime’s harsh crackdown on the uprising that ignited the civil war, Jordan and Egypt cautiously initiated a conditional reconciliation with Damascus.

In a bid to reopen the northern border, stimulate trade, and facilitate the repatriation of Syrian refugees, Amman released a white paper outlining an intricate strategy for engagement. This plan involves the transportation of Jordanian electricity and Israeli and Egyptian natural gas from Syria to Lebanon.

The obstacle to this endeavor was Assad’s isolation in the region and the US sanctions enforced by the “Caesar Act.” These sanctions limit investment in the reconstruction of areas in Syria under Assad’s control until key regime figures are held responsible and a viable political resolution is achieved.

At the time, the Biden administration was supporting the energy initiative as a way to improve the domestic humanitarian situation.

In efforts to bypass congressional sanctions, according to various accounts, officials in the US administration argued that the proposed arrangement— involving the transfer of gas and electricity through Syria and compensating Damascus with in-kind payments equivalent to 8 percent of the energy transferred—would not trigger substantial repercussions under the “Caesar Act.”

Ultimately, the concept failed to materialize, partly because the US administration couldn’t furnish concrete written assurances that the proposed transactions would be immune to sanctions.

While Arab officials were endeavoring to execute the 2022-2023 energy agreement, networks associated with the Assad regime were markedly ramping up the production of Captagon, a potent synthetic stimulant, and clandestinely trafficking substantial volumes of it across the region.

Determining the exact revenue generated (and ongoing) by this operation for the Syrian regime poses a challenge, but regions under Assad’s control in Syria were responsible for the bulk of the global illicit Captagon trade. Estimates placed the value of this trade at $5.7 billion in 2021.

In Saudi Arabia alone, 107 million pills were seized in 2022, which would have been worth $2.7 billion at an approximate street price of $25 per pill.

In 2023, both the United States and the European Union enforced sanctions against Assad’s sibling, Maher, for leveraging the “Fourth Division” within the Syrian army to aid in the manufacturing and trafficking of Captagon, in collaboration with the Lebanese group “Hezbollah” and various Iranian militias.

Amid the escalating Captagon crisis, worsening humanitarian conditions following the significant earthquake in February 2023, and the absence of progress toward a political resolution in Syria, Saudi Arabia opted to renew ties with Assad and endorse his nation’s readmission to the “Arab League” during the Jeddah Summit in 2023.

This approach, first proposed by the United Arab Emirates, was intended to solve many intractable problems at once by giving Assad positive incentives to change his behavior. Accordingly, the “Arab Ministerial Liaison Committee on Syria” was established at the summit, which includes the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States and representatives of Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and Syria.

The committee was tasked with four primary objectives:  limiting the production and trafficking of Captagon, facilitating the return of refugees to Syria, promoting progress in the Syrian political process via the Constitutional Committee, and establishing a panel to “coordinate regional security.”

Although a specific target wasn’t explicitly outlined, it was implicitly included in the initiative, aiming to diminish the widening influence of Iran and Hezbollah in Syria, which includes, among other factors, the Captagon networks.

Following Syria’s reentry, legislators in the US House of Representatives proposed the “Anti-Normalization Act” concerning the Assad regime. This legislation aimed to close or restrict loopholes and exceptions that allowed US backing for endeavors like the Jordanian-Egyptian energy proposal.

Yet, the legislation failed to pass through the US Senate, sparking extensive deliberations between humanitarian organizations worried about its ramifications on aid efforts and US-Syrian groups advocating for accountability regarding Assad’s crimes.

Increased Captagon production and Jordanian strikes

After the initial gathering in Cairo last August, the Contact Committee essentially failed to take off, primarily because of the ongoing proliferation of Captagon, compelling Jordan to escalate its military interventions.

By the end of September, the kingdom’s forces had shot down four drones launched from Assad-controlled territory and launched air strikes on drug production facilities near the Syrian border village of Umm al-Rumman.

In response, Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi, who openly supported Assad’s inclusion, publicly acknowledged that drug trafficking had increased in the years since Amman opened normalization talks.

This trend continued to grow in the following months, especially as winter fog provided cover for smugglers to evade border patrols and surveillance cameras.

On January 17, a Jordanian airstrike against drug warehouses in Syria’s Suwayda governorate killed ten civilians, sparking a rare public war of words between Damascus and Amman.

The Syrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs conveyed its “astonishment” at the “unwarranted” airstrikes and accused Amman of disregarding the regime’s purported communication concerning smuggling and border security concerns. Additionally, the ministry highlighted Jordan’s alleged past allowance of “terrorists” to enter Syria—a term employed by the Syrian regime to refer to armed opposition factions during the civil conflict.

In response, the Jordanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs emphasized that the smuggling of drugs and weapons from Syria threatens the kingdom’s national security. They pointed out that Damascus has failed to address these issues, despite receiving detailed intelligence from Amman, including the names of known smugglers, their backers, and maps of manufacturing sites, storage locations, and smuggling routes.

In total, Jordan has reportedly carried out at least eight air and artillery strikes in southern Syria since last August alone.

Jordanian forces have also engaged in several significant border skirmishes with drug smugglers, whose groups can include up to 400 armed individuals.

Meanwhile, the Assad regime reported seven drug seizures during the same period—a relatively low figure considering the sharp increase in smuggling operations, which now employ various tactics to bypass enforcement, such as using flocks of carrier pigeons.

Arms smuggling

Jordanian authorities are increasingly alarmed by the rising number of weapons being smuggled from Syria, as these arms could be used within Jordan or sent to the West Bank, potentially escalating Israeli-Palestinian tensions amid the conflict with Hamas.

Recently, Jordanian sources have disclosed Iran’s apparent role in facilitating these transfers.

Reports on the cache seized in March revealed that Iranian-backed militias in Syria had supplied weapons to a Hamas-affiliated Muslim Brotherhood cell in Jordan.

Given these revelations, Amman might find it increasingly difficult to maintain a cautious silence regarding Iran’s involvement in the various threats emerging from Syria

Recent diplomatic attempts

Initially, Arab diplomats intended to tackle this escalation at the second ministerial meeting of the “Contact Committee,” set for March 7. However, the meeting was canceled after Damascus failed to respond to the committee’s inquiries about Captagon and other matters.

Instead, the Syrian regime dispatched Foreign Minister Faisal al-Miqdad to Riyadh to discuss these issues directly with his Saudi counterpart, Prince Faisal bin Farhan, and the newly appointed Syrian ambassador, Ayman Soussan.

May 8 was then rescheduled for the ministerial meeting in Baghdad, but Syria again declined to provide a written response to the committee’s questions, prompting officials to cancel the event at Amman’s request.

On May 13, Al-Miqdad met with Al-Safadi directly, but a subsequent Jordanian statement implied that no progress had been made on any of the committee’s long-standing requests.