Tag Archives: Syria

The new phase of terrorism

Many observers believe that recent developments in security measures have increased the effectiveness with which we can face terrorism, as evidenced by the falling number of attacks by IS or other groups. While we may have developed strategies and tact…

The path toward the regional settlements

Since the Astana negotiations the crisis in Syria has been on the path towards resolution. We have seen multiple factors working towards this resolution including the shift in Turkey’s position, the Russo-Turkish alliance and more recently the Gulf crisis and the rising Qatari-Saudi hostilities.

As the Qataris have positioned against Saudi Arabia, armed groups in Syria have lost financial and logistical support and as the Qatari Iranian rapprochement has developed, Syria and its allies have strengthened as Iran, Russia and Hezbollah have been draining the resistance in many areas across Syria.

As a major neighbor, Jordan has also begun to reposition as a result of these shifts. Stability in the south of Syria is a primary objective due to the direct link to stability and national security within Jordanian borders. In addition to security, from an economic and political perspective the stabilization and reopening of the border with Syria is a critical step in normalizing and rebuilding the Syrian state.

In parallel and of equal strategic importance for Jordan are efforts to reengage with Iraq and reopen that border. Broader regional developments have created new challenges on this front. Stability and security remains fragile, as does Jordan’s ability to build strong political ties. Additionally, the potential for renewed relations for Iraq with Saudi Arabia and the possibility of new border openings between them will be distracting and a higher priority for Iraq.

Given that regime change is no longer the priority in Syria and all of the key stakeholders have changed their narrative, resolution of the Syria issue and outlining a pathway to bring Syria back into the Arab League should become a priority. Egypt is in the box seat given that since the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood there, Egyptian-Syrian relations have been progressively improving.

While Saudi Arabia led the anti-Syria campaign in the region, they have cause to reconsider their position. They are seeking to disengage from conflict and crisis in Yemen and Syria as Qatar develops the upper hand in Syria and Iran encouraging the wasting of their resources in Yemen.

While Saudi Arabia has been quick to war and capable of building coalitions against shared enemies, the Minister of Defence, who has become the Crown Prince is transitioning to become King, which could very well result in a transition from war to peace.

Saudi Arabia has many great challenges to face in the coming generation and needs development and economic growth in order to face them. So while successfully waging war may have made him Crown Prince, stability and growth is the path to becoming King.

As a result, we may see a regional shift towards peace, social development and economic growth, things the Arab world greatly need.

Dr. Amer AL Sabaileh

The risk of political isolation

The ever dynamic geopolitics of the Middle East have been particularly fluid recently. Since the recent visit to Riyadh by President Trump, which included a summit and announcement of an anti-terrorism coalition, Saudi Arabia has positioned itself as the main political protagonist in the region.

If Saudi Arabia is serious about taking the initiative for real progressive reform within the Islamic world, then there is hope for change. However, it will not be easy, especially given the internal politics that the ruling class in Saudi is facing.

Separating the religious state and the nation state is the only real way to end the continuous official exploitation of religion. A clear division between the religious mandate as the custodian of the two holy mosques and the King of Saudi Arabia’s mandate as leader of the state is required. Religion must be depoliticized in order for an independent nation state in Saudi Arabia.

This would also mean that the Sunni Islam community would have a single interlocutor, who is also the custodian of the two holy mosques. This clear division could also create a clearer religious identity and legitimacy for the custodians.

In the meantime, we are also seeing normalization of relations between Israel and some Arab countries. The Israeli Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu has referred to this on two different occasions recently. Firstly he said that Israel is more interested in peace with Arab countries. Secondly, when he welcomed President Trump to Israel, he commented that he looks forward to the day when a plane could do the same route that President Trump did but directly go from Jerusalem to Riyadh, rather than having to route through a third country.

The increasing normalization of Israeli-Arab relations and the potential for an exclusive group representing the Sunni Muslim community, combined would have wider implications across the region and the world. In particular it could politically isolate some countries and reduce their influence.

Jordan is one of the countries that could be affected by these developments. Sovereignty over al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem could stir competition and rivalry among Muslim political system. We saw the potential for this in the recent issues as several groups claimed to have influenced the Israeli decision to reopen the mosque.

Jordan’s strategic geography has always been an advantage, but clever strategic thinking is required in order to leverage that advantage. Given recent developments, Jordan should be seeking a complete change in attitude, strategies and political decisions.

Jordan should seek to reengage with Iraq and Syria, as in any process of re building Syria, Damascus could be the lungs from which Jordan breathes. Jordan also needs to pivot to bolster its internal systems as true legitimacy comes from a strong internal political system. There is a real risk of increased weakening of the internal regime as a result of external factors like the Al Aqsa mosque.

It is important also to review how Israeli-Jordanian relations have deteriorated to this point. The Israeli Ambassador and entire staff have left Jordan, which is effectively an unofficial severing of diplomatic ties. Given the peace treaty between Jordan and Israel, it is important to revise how both countries got to this point.

Jordan must focus and be smart enough to avoid the potential political isolation that could be a result of recent developments in the region.

Dr. Amer Al Sabaileh

amersabaileh@yahoo.com

What Arabs need from the coming Arab summit in Amman

The upcoming Arab Summit in Amman is an important moment for the region. With ongoing crises in Yemen, Libya, Syria and others, the real challenges appear to be within Arab countries themselves. 

One of the major issues is the return of Syria to the Arab League after more than 6 years of crisis in Syria. The political solution seems to be the only option so Arab countries should make the political play to bring Syria back in to play a key role in stabilizing and rebuilding Syria. Past positions of staying out of the solution is no longer an option.

Yemen and Libya are also important issues to be solved under the Arab umbrella. They also need a new way of thinking and repositioning of major Arab countries. Egypt, as the most active Arab country could pave the way for better Arab cooperation, but the Saudi position is still the major indicator of how efficient this Arab effort to solve the crises will be.

Arab countries must understand that the longer the crises endure the worse it is for them. With Saudi concerns about Iranian influence in the region, it is important to review past policies and understand how they may have given Iran more space to influence, especially in the places where crises appears, Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and now Yemen.

The sectarian trends cannot be countered by more sectarian polices, Arab Shia in Lebanon, Iraq, Bahrain and Yemen are originally Arabs, but the policies adopted by some Arab countries have pushed many of them closer to Iran and away from Arab leaders. These are important issue to bear in mind when we think of the need to learn from the past and avoid its mistakes. It is important that Arab countries develop new policies that work to unify people rather than dividing them.

For Jordan this summit is critical, as it provides the opportunity to restore the political importance of Jordan as a country involved in these crises and building a new phase of Arab understanding will have positive impacts on Jordan. If this attempt fails then Jordan may find itself alone in facing three major issues, the growing economic crisis, the new phase of combatting terrorism and the risks of a failed peace process. On top of this Jordan could face the end of unity on a two state solution, and the inherent complexities of a one state solution, recognizing Israel as a Jewish state.

Arab states need to encounter that Israel’s current narrative which is based on a wider regional peace and rather than focusing on the pending peace process with Palestinians. 

The Trump Administration’s positions on the Middle East must also be addressed in the Arab Summit. This includes the future of the peace process and the potential of strong positions from the US in the region if we cannot find a path for ourselves.  Developing a new and effective Arab strategy for de-radicalization and fighting terrorism is one of the key issues that might help in restoring the Arab cooperation process.

There is not much to be optimistic about in the crises facing the Arab world, but we must find an Arab pathway from the grassroots through a new phase of Arab relations, which starts with credible and smart initiatives.

Dr. Amer Al Sabaileh