Israel has reached an agreement with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Egypt to bring the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad back into the 22-member Arab League, reports Middle East Eye.
The agreement was made during a meeting of intelligence officials from these countries in Abu Dhabi, where Israel was represented by Mossad Director Yossi Cohen.
The main goal of the plan is to get Syria to maintain a balanced approach towards Iran and the Arab states, rather than having Syria serve as an Iranian satellite state.
“The message was: ‘Return back to how your father treated the Iranians, at least as an equal at the table, rather than subservient to Iranian interests’,” an Emirati official said.
A secondary goal is to box out Turkey and Qatar. Turkey in particular has poor relations with Israel, having expelled the Israeli ambassador last year, but has gained influence in Syria through its military intervention in the north of the country, and its diplomatic ties with Syria’s allies, Iran and Russia. The Arab states are also concerned about the influence of Turkey and Qatar, which they see as close to the Muslim Brotherhood movement, which Syria also opposes.
So far, Israel has found itself mostly boxed out of the situation in Syria, where Iranian troops and proxy militias, such as Hezbollah, are deployed, despite launching frequent airstrikes. Neighboring Jordan pulled its support for the rebel groups in southern Syria that once controlled the border region in 2017. The announced U.S. withdrawal has effectively ended the prospect that the Syrian Kurds could serve as a viable Israeli proxy. Israel now hopes that by bringing Syria back into the community of Arab states, it can wield indirect influence over Syria in a way that benefits its national security interests, and re-establish backchannels that existed previously.
Though it was closely associated with the Soviet Union, the Palestinian cause and republican anti-Saudi elements during the Cold War, the Arab League is now a forum dominated by Saudi Arabia and its allies, many of which have already embraced Assad. Egypt has had a warm relationship since its 2013 coup. Bahrain and the UAE started their rapprochement in 2016, and have now restored full diplomatic relations. Last month, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir became the first Arab League leader to visit Syria since the start of the 2011 uprising.