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A Short Window of Opportunity for Bashar al-Assad?

Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, London, October 3

When relations were normalized between the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and the State of Israel, all eyes turned immediately to Damascus: How will the axis of resistance respond? But Damascus did not respond to the Gulf-Israeli move. It seemed to tacitly accept what happened. Even the common trope of “we will react when in the right time and place,” which Arab officials typically provide in response to Israeli attacks, was never made. The Syrian presidency, the Foreign Affairs Ministry, and all state television and radio channels, were silent. The only responses came from nonofficials speaking on their own accord. A spokseperson for the Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party, for example, denounced the agreement in a short statement, describing it as a “blatant aggression against the Palestinian cause and the rights of the Palestinian people.” Several writers and commentators, who pointed out the oddity of this Syrian silence, went further and suggested that Bashar al-Assad might consider a deal with Israel himself. “When will the Syrian-Israeli negotiations begin with American auspices?” they questioned. While this hasn’t happened yet, it would be foolish to rule it out. Let’s not forget that there are greater political changes unfolding in the region today. On May 7, the day Mustafa Al-Kadhimi was tasked with forming a new Iraqi government, a page seems to have turned in Iraq: the Iranians and their militias in the country agreed to give Al-Kadhimi, whom they had considered a traitor just weeks earlier, an opportunity to rule the country. One of their factions, Kata’ib Hizbullah, did not hesitate to accuse him of complicity in the killing of Qasem Soleimani. This revealed just how bankrupt the mullah regime had become. Tehran is economically depleted and isolated regionally and internationally. Its ally, Bashar al-Assad, has been weakened. And Hizbullah and the Iraqi Shiite militias have grown less and less popular in their respective countries, as the Beirut Port disaster already revealed. This does not mean that the axis of resistance has surrendered or that it will do so in the future. It is more likely that Iran is setting its eyes on Washington, awaiting the US presidential elections. Although the window of opportunity that opened is short, it may be unprecedented. The political conditions around us are such that Assad might just be ready to make concessions to the United States and Israel. –Hazem Saghieh (translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)