A year ago the U.S. Democratic President Joe Biden was elected to succeed the Republican President Donald Trump, but until this moment his policy on Syria, if any, has not been announced. We have long realized a reluctance concerning the Syrian issue, although the U.S. State Department occasionally repeated its opposition to dealing with the Assad regime before reaching a political solution according to international decisions. Since Biden came to power, his administration kept repeating that it wouldn’t participate in floating the Syrian regime, although it stopped short of announcing its absolute rejection to normalization of ties with the regime, contrary to the past administrations.
The stance was taken by the Democratic Administration, particularly Biden, who was formerly Obama’s vice president, is not surprising. Still, the frequent question posed during the past few months was: “When will the U.S. Administration completely abandon the Syrian issue?” Although the U.S.-Iranian negotiations have had their ups and downs, the Iranian regional expansionism was never an obstacle to returning to the nuclear deal.
All that said, some still bet on a possible Arabization of the Syrian regime, which didn’t happen and repeatedly failed during the past 16 years. This spans the period from the assassination of the Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri, and the subsequent attempts to separate Assad from Iran to the outbreak of the Syrian uprising and direct and indirect Iranian intervention in Syria via militias, in addition to plunging the country into the Revolutionary Guards’ mercenaries of various nationalities.
It was notable that a few weeks ago, during the visit of Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to Russia, Israel, the closest ally of the U.S., agreed with Moscow that the Israeli raids will not target the Syrian regime nor its infrastructure. Strangely, Israel is counting on the Russians to contain the Iranian role in Syria, at least to distance Iranians from Israel’s northern borders. That was previously agreed upon, but Russia has failed or has been unwilling to fulfill the promise since 2018.
If Israel was unable to act due to the absence of American cover and stance on Iranian intervention, and Russia is unable or unwilling to distance Iran from Israeli borders, how would floating the Assad regime be the means to get Iran out of Syria? Or even limit its influence?
Since Hafez Assad seized power in a 1970 coup, Syria was the soft spot that enabled Iran to infiltrate into the region. Now Iran leaves no chance to assert with usual impudence that it controls four Arab countries. Betting on returning the Syrian regime to the Arab league and normalizing ties with it, in order to weaken the Iranian regime, is in fact legitimization of the Iranian occupation and would offer Iran a new seat and vote in the Arab League. We have not forgotten pro-Iranian stances against Arab countries, taken by former Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil during the AL meetings, top of which is Saudi Arabia.
Bashar Assad and his regime are indebted to Iran for staying in the Tishreen Palace in Damascus. Even earlier, the Syrian regime since the 1970s was indebted to the Islamic Republic of Iran for its existence. Thus, the incentives of reconstruction and returning to the Arab League won’t help in Arabizing Assad. The one who wreaks havoc on his country won’t feel it urgent to rebuild it; the one who besieged Syrians and left them to starve to death is not concerned with their current suffering.
The main point most writers and commentators ignore is that Assad’s problem is not only caused by Iranian hegemony over Syria because Syria is not about geography or regime, but it is the Syrians. Hundreds of thousands of Syrians were killed and millions more were displaced by Assad, so will it make sense to turn a new page with the murderer?
During my teenage, I was interested in Agatha Christie’s novels. I read them passionately to see if there was ever a perfect crime, but all the novels ended with uncovering the perpetrator in spite of his/her shrewdness and attempts to hide all evidence. Today, we have grown up to see a crime that was seen live, and the murderer doesn’t even bother to hide any of its traces - he even takes a “selfie” of the crime and posts it lives on social media. Nevertheless, this crime is “perfect”. The murderer is known, the murder’s methods are documented, and the victims are just names and torn bodies, but the perpetrator may go unpunished. If Agatha Christie was alive, what would she have said about this crime that was beyond her imagination?