Syria: ME region slowly turns to diplomacy in Syria crisis

31st Oct 2013

By Ibrahim al-Amin

Al-Akhbar: The Middle East has retreated from the brink of a regional war over Syria to a sudden flurry of diplomacy to resolve the crisis, forcing old rivals to reconsider their high-stakes positions.

Many countries in the region who staked so much on toppling the Damascus regime now seem to be in a rush to change their ways, after Washington’s recent climbdown and push to find a diplomatic solution for the nearly three-year crisis.

Undoubtedly, the overall environment in the region – with the exception of Saudi Arabia – has begun to change, particularly given the recent opening of diplomatic channels between Iran and the United States. But it will take time for the rosy scenarios that some are drawing to become reality.

The strategic pivot that started it all was the Russia-US deal that that allowed Iran to play a more central role. The election of Hassan Rouhani in the summer partially paved the way for this diplomatic turn, but the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt has had a more decisive impact on the changes underway.

What in fact happened over the past period is as follows:

– Hamas took the initiative to initiate contacts with Hezbollah, which in turn encouraged Turkish and Qatari officials to begin a more intensive engagement with Iran, which was open to these discussions, hoping they would bear fruit in resolving the Syrian crisis.

– The Iranians told the Qataris and Turks that Tehran’s current strategy is to find ways to address the hotspots and tensions in the region, advising them to take concrete and positive steps on the Syrian crisis, which was translated into the release of the Lebanese hostages in Syria in mid-October.

– The Turks and the Qataris are also facing a test in northern Syria, where they have sway over many armed groups loosely operating under the umbrella of the Free Syrian Army (FSA). Saudi is making a bid through the Salafi groups it controls to dominate the area in order to prevent the FSA from entering negotiations with the regime, something that Ankara and Doha were willing to consider.

– While Hezbollah was generally responsive to Qatari overtures, the Resistance nevertheless pressed the Gulf emirate to take bolder steps that would reflect their shifting position on Syria. President Bashar al-Assad, who has received letters from both Qatar and Turkey, has been less interested in opening up any channels, given the scale of enmity between the two sides since the outbreak of the crisis.

In short, the winds of change, particularly regarding the Syrian crisis, are making themselves felt throughout the region, rattling the likes of Saudi Arabia who seek to resist the shift taking place at all costs. In the end, the kingdom’s stubborn stance cannot resist the will of Washington, if the latter does commit itself to a diplomatic approach to the region’s mounting tensions.

But those who rush such critical matters risk disappointment when events do not unfold as quickly as they had imagined.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.


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