by Ayman Ahmed (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 50, No. 8, Safar, 1443)
Last month’s liberation of Deraa, the town in southern Syria close to the border with Jordan, brings Syrian government forces closer to reclaiming the entire country from the clutches of Daesh terrorists. The deal for these foreign-backed mercenaries to lay down their weapons in return for amnesty was brokered by the Russian Center for Reconciliation after months of negotiations.
Civilians returned to their virtually destroyed homes, after 10 years of fighting. Deraa, a sleepy little town of no major political significance except for its proximity to the Jordanian border—hence its attraction for foreign meddlers to use it for undermining Syria—was used to launch attacks against government forces in February 2011. The situation quickly escalated as unidentified gunmen attacked both sides—Syrian forces and police, as well as civilians—to create mayhem.
Mercenaries were smuggled into Syria from other parts of the Middle East as well as further afield. The US, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey and Jordan were behind this diabolical plot to overthrow the Syrian government when the Islamic awakening movement (aka Arab Spring) swept the region. Despite 10 years of blood-letting that has killed hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians and displaced millions more, the Syrian government has not collapsed.
This was primarily the result of support provided by Hizbullah, Islamic Iran, and since September 2015, by the Russian air force. Syrian forces gradually clawed back territory from the mercenaries. With the exception of Idlib province, the rest of the country has been cleansed of mercenaries.
Accompanied by Russian military officers, the Syrian army entered the town of al-Yadudah in Deraa al-Balad province on September 13. The deal was brokered with tribal elders. After the Syrian army entered the town, a center was set up for the formal handover of weapons and control of the town. Not all armed men, however, have surrendered their weapons. To deal with their threat, Syrian troops have set up checkpoints along the roads.
Upon entry into al-Yudadah, the Syrian army removed road blocs to facilitate the return of civilians. It also launched anti-mining operations to ensure no civilians are injured or killed.
There have also been other developments reflecting the new reality. Jordan that was the main transit point, together with Turkey for mercenaries and weapons into Syria, has decided to mend fences with Damascus. On September 19, Syria’s Defence Minister and chief of the armed forces General Ali Ayyoub visited Amman. Commenting on the visit, the official Jordanian news agency Petra, said Ayyoub’s meeting with Jordanian army chief of staff General Yousef Huneiti was aimed at “ensuring the safety of the joint borders between the two countries, the situation in south Syria, fighting terror and working together to stem drug smuggling.”
This is a far cry from King Abdullah’s call as recently as 2017 when he had implied to the Washington Post that President Bashar al-Asad should resign. “Common sense dictates that somebody who is the figurehead of such bloodshed towards his people probably will move on.” But the putative, unelected Jordanian monarch has since changed his tune telling CNN in July 2021 that Asad and his government were staying in Syria for a long while, and that dialogue and coordination were needed.
In fairness to Abdullah, he is not the only one who has been forced to change his stance because of the ground realities in Syria and the region generally. Uncle Sam, their patron saint, is packing his bags. America’s defeat in Afghanistan has raised serious doubts about its staying power. These illegitimate rulers are thus scrambling to try and save their hides. Reducing tensions with Iran, Syria and Lebanon top their priorities.
The American magazine, Foreign Policy, sounded the alarm on August 25 when it wrote: “Given US President Joe Biden’s policy toward Afghanistan, predicated on a similar declaration of ‘mission accomplished,’ they [Arabian regimes] will likely prepare for Washington’s exit from Syria. After all, it’s hard to find anyone in the US administration who publicly argues Syria is a vital US interest.”
Throughout the war on Syria, Oman, unlike other Arabian regimes, did not break off diplomatic relations with Damascus. It could be dismissed as a lightweight but even the UAE re-opened its embassy in 2018. The Saudis have established intelligence contacts with Syria even if no formal diplomatic relations are contemplated at present.
Foreign Policy also noted that some Arabian rulers, notably from Jordan, the UAE, and others have lobbied at the highest levels in Washington in favor of sanctions waivers to support expanding their outreach to Syria. There have also been other moves that indicate that the Arabian rulers have reconciled to the fact that Asad cannot be dislodged from power by force and that it is best to make amends.
Even before Syrian government forces formally entered Deraa, Jordan’s Prime Minister Bisher al-Khasawneh had said on August 19 that Jordan and Egypt were pushing to reintegrate Syria into the Arab League. “Jordan and the government of Egypt, as well as other brotherly countries, wish for Syria to regain its seat in the Arab League.”
It is unlikely anyone in Damascus lost sleep over exclusion from the Arab League, which is viewed as an irrelevant entity. It is at the economic and political levels that Syria wants recognition. These are well underway even if some regimes may be reluctant to re-establish formal ties yet.
For instance, a meeting was held in Amman on September 8 between the energy ministers of Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan, in which they discussed the details of getting Egyptian gas to Lebanon via Syria and Jordan. These are unmistakable steps toward Syria’s re-integration into the Arab fold and acceptances of the fact that the conspiracy to overthrow the Syrian government has failed.