New Age Islam
Tue Oct 20 2020, 01:37 PM

Current Affairs ( 25 Jun 2008, NewAgeIslam.Com)

Syria should forge Arab unity: Shared optimism

By Duraid Al Baik

It is clear by now that Syria has managed to get out of diplomatic isolation imposed on the country and the ruling regime by the West following the assassination of former Prime Minister, Rafik Hariri, in February 2005.

Slowly but steadily, Syrian President Bashar Al Assad, managed to establish strong relations with Iran, mend his fences with Turkey and promote the relations between the two countries to the level of trade and political partners.

Most recently, Bashar refreshed Syria's relations with India using the economic card to gain the political support he badly needs. On the other hand, Syria has already broken the ice with France with the participation of Bashar in Union for the Mediterranean to be held in Paris next month.

The three years of isolation imposed on Syria, proved that there will be no peace or stability in the region without Syria.

The motto, floated by Arab political analysts after Egypt and Israel signed a peace deal in Camp David in September 1978, that no war without Egypt and no peace without Syria, has been test proven in the past three years not only in the war with Israel but in achieving stability in the region.

The developments which took place in Doha and Cairo, where two diplomatic 'fire-extinguishing' operations were successfully conducted, proved that Syria still holds the keys to peace in the region and is maintaining the position of goal keeper in the region.

The physical presence of the world's superpower, the USA, next to Syria's eastern borders did not help turning down Syrians ambitions of playing a regional role as the Americans hoped.

Damascus has fully exploited the mistakes committed by the US in Iraq and the region and used it to the benefit of the rulers of the country who were extremely patient to improve their bargaining position in their struggle against isolation and marginalisation.

Politically, Syria is more influential now than it was some three years ago, but the level of power injected in Syria is not sufficient for Syrian leaders to achieve their objectives.

Syrian diplomacy still lacks a powerful 'chip' in its foreign affairs and unless such a 'chip' is restored in the right place; the improvement being achieved on other fronts is not going to live long.

It is no secret anymore that the relations between Syria and its traditional strategic Arab allies are still not normal regardless of the diplomatic wording to describe the row between Syria and both Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

The three countries, which formed once what had been known as the tripod of Arab joint-work leverage, are no more standing united and firm.

Syria is busy establishing new relations and reviving old ones after it realised that the roads to Cairo and Riyadh are a bit bumpy if not closed.

This, in other words, means that the Arab joint-work tripod is not functioning satisfactorily in supporting Arab interests and what we see as a sort of a balancing dynamics in the region is just a false facade of more tense and volatile conditions that are ready to explode at any moment.

 Shared optimism

The whole world shares Syrian optimism these days about three major developments that took place in the region.

The easing of the political tension in Lebanon following the Doha Agreement and the election of President Michel Sulaiman, the truce in Gaza between Hamas and Israel through Egyptian mediation and the launch of indirect talks between Syria and Israel through Turkey are key developments in an area that lived through hostility in the past 60 years.

The three positive developments occurred in less than a month proving that the region is loaded with pleasant surprises as well and the development which looked distant occurred surprisingly fast with Syria key in achieving all three.

But Syria, in spite of its proven strategic position, cannot fulfil the three projects alone without valuable support from its Arab counterparts. Syria which also enjoys reasonable support from other Arab states still badly needs the support of its heavy-weight Saudi and Egyptian partners.

The glimmer of hope, Bashar can see now after the long bleak years in the region and the changes 'that make the picture more positive' could - as he has rightly warned - worsen again; if not backed with the right measures.

The statements a hopeful Bashar made in India, reflect a triumph of Syrian diplomacy, but fell short of being complete as it lacked the right steps forward.

Syria said the three developments are one package and unless resolved simultaneously, it would be very easy for chaos to prevail again in the region. The prescription to prevent such a backward move lies with mending fractured Arab unity and reviving a reasonable level of cooperation and coordination amongst Arabs.

All signs indicate that Arab states including Syria, Saudi Arabia and Egypt are aware of the fact that the situation in the region is too critical and the ray of hope falling on the region is not yet sufficient to celebrate as light.

The Syrian president as chairman of the Arab Summit for the current year should renew his efforts to return Syria to third-leg position in the Arab tripod along with both Saudi and Egypt.

Bashar could have held on till after his return from Paris next month, to revive Arab unity and take up his right position in the Arab world. But Bashar can no longer wait for the US presidential election and the political developments in Israel because the situation in the region is critical.

Furthermore, Syria is the only country in the world that can mediate between Arab states and Iran and ease GCC worries about the latter's nuclear programme. Such a move is necessary to help in putting an end to another devastating confrontation still looming on the horizon.

* Published on June 22, 2008 in the UAE's GULF NEWS, where Duraid Al Baik is the Foreign Editor.