By: Meir Javedanfar
President Bashar Al Assad of Syria seems to be trying to reinvent himself as a Middle East statesman. He has mended relations with France recently, a smart move which has brought him back to the European fold. This is very important for Syria, strategically and economically, as Syria wants to increase tourism from and agriculture export to the EU. This also has also taken some pressure of him when it comes to the question of his support for Hezbollah and Hamas.
Now he is trying to capitalize on his new position to act as a negotiator between the West and Iran, over Tehran’s nuclear program. The Turkish won’t like that, as they have been trying to fill this role over the last number of months. Nevertheless, Assad’s good offices in Tehran can not be ignored,
For now, he also faces serious challenges. The recent assassination of General Suleyman, who was a very senior officer in his military establishment, has shown that there are gaping holes in his security services. This comes at the heels of the assassination of Imad Mughniya, which was another high profile security embarrassment for him.
The question is, how does the old guard view Assad’s overtures? Most probably with skepticism. This is why despite the peace talks with Israel, no one should expect Assad to severe his ties with Iran any time soon. His Tehran connections give him leverage, politically and economically, which no one is willing to replace at the moment. Not willing to lose an important element in its balance of power with the West and Israel, Damascus is likely to maintain, if not strengthen its relations with Tehran, especially in the economic sphere. With Syria earning only 20% of its income from oil, as opposed to 70% in 2000, this is one area which is becoming a critical issue for its rulers.