Arab nations inch toward rehabilitating Syria’s Assad
BEIRUT — He has survived eight years of war and billions of dollars in money and weapons aimed at toppling him. Now Syrian President Bashar Assad is poised to be readmitted to the fold of Arab nations, a feat once deemed unthinkable as he forcefully crushed the uprising against his family’s rule.
Gulf Arab nations, once the main backers of rebels trying
to oust Assad, are lining up to reopen their embassies in Syria, worried about leaving the country at the heart of the Arab world to regional rivals Iran and Turkey and missing out on lucrative post-war reconstructive projects. Key border crossings with neighbors, shuttered for years by the war, have reopened, and Arab commercial airlines are reportedly considering resuming flights to Damascus.
And as President Donald Trump plans to pull out America’s 2,000 soldiers from northeastern Syria, government troops are primed to retake the area they abandoned in 2012 at the height of the war. This would be a significant step toward restoring Assad’s control over all of Syria, leaving only the northwest in the hands of rebels, most of them jihadis.
It can seem like a mind-boggling reversal for a leader
whose military once seemed dangerously close to collapse. But Russia’s military intervention, which began in 2015, steadily reversed Assad’s losses, allowing his troops, aided by Iranian-backed fighters, to recapture cities like Homs and Aleppo, key to his rule.
Assad rules over a country in ruins, with close to half a million people killed and half the population displaced. Major fighting may still lie ahead. But many see
the war nearing its end, and the 53-year-old leader is sitting more comfortably than he has in the past eight years.
“Rehabilitation by Arab states is inevitable,” said Faysal Itani, a resident senior fellow with the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East.
Akeymotiveforsunnimuslim Gulf countries is to blunt the involvementof theirshiite-ledfoe, Iran, which saw its influence expand rapidly in the chaos of Syria’s war.