Chances of normalization success with the Syrian regime by Arab countries declining
On May 19, 2022, Jordan's King Abdullah II warned that Iran and its proxies may fill a vacuum left by Russia in southern Syria. "This could lead to issues along Jordan’s borders" King Abdullah added.
This came after an unprecedented accusation by Brig.-Gen. Ahmed Hashem Khalifat, the director of Jordan’s Border Security Directorate, on May 16, of the Syrian regime forces of supporting drug smugglers and Iranian militias to carry out smuggling operations on the Jordanian borders.
Thus, for the first time, the Syrian regime was held responsible for the violations and security disturbances on the Jordanian border, since the opening of the Jaber-Nassib crossing between the two sides in September 2021.
The recent Jordanian statements reflect clear dissatisfaction with the regime's behavior in southern Syria; a result of the absence of the regime's ability or willingness to prevent the activity of the Iranian militias, whose sites in Daraa and As-Suwayda increased during the period from February to May 2022, with the facilitation and cooperation of the Fourth Division of the Syrian regime, which participates with these militias in drug smuggling operations across the Jordanian border.
Talks in Arab quarters about the normalization of relations with the regime have declined significantly since February 2022, coinciding with the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which seems to have affected the priorities of Russian foreign policy in Syria. It seems that this may have a direct impact on the course of Arab normalization with the regime, due to the following:
• Arab countries’ fears of Iran's increasing influence in Syria, because Russia is going easy with the Iranian involvement in Syria, especially after the visit of the head of the regime's National Security Bureau, Ali Mamlouk to Tehran at the end of February, which was followed by Bashar al-Assad's visit to Iran in early May. This may affect the growing conviction among influential Arab countries such as Jordan and the Gulf states that it is difficult to disengage the regime from Iran, and consequently it is necessary to freeze efforts related to the normalization of diplomatic and economic relations with Damascus, which will also push them to show more hardness in the matter of the regime regaining its seat in the Arab League.
• Tensions between the United States of America and Russia as a result of the indirect confrontation in Ukraine, and the escalation of the possibility of stopping the joint coordination mechanism between the two parties on Syria, which would push Washington to exert greater pressure on Arab countries wishing to normalize relations with the aim of depriving Russia of achieving any gains in Syria.
Despite the decline in interest in the path of Arab normalization with the regime, this does not necessarily mean that the countries that adopt this approach will completely abandon it, but rather they may freeze the actual steps pending new changes if any.