I do not claim to know the secret of the recently exchanged Syrian-Saudi visits, but with a little observation we can note seven significant points.
King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz visited Syria for talks regarding the situation in Lebanon, and ways to cooperate in calming the situation.
President Bashar al-Assad visited Saudi Arabia, again to discuss the situation in Lebanon, in addition to the current state of affairs with Israel, the failed Palestinian-Israeli negotiations, and the atmosphere surrounding Iranian President Ahmadinejad’s visit to Lebanon.
King Abdullah and President al-Assad visited Lebanon together, in a visit aimed to alleviate the escalating tension. This angered the American foreign office, who subsequently reacted. [Jeffrey D.] Feltman visited the region, and Hilary Clinton issued threatening and intimidating statements.
The Speaker of the Lebanese parliament, Nabih Berri – a heavyweight figure in the Lebanese political scene – visited Syria and met with President Bashar al-Assad. She then urged everyone in Lebanon to build upon the ground made by the Saudi-Syrian contact.
In all these meetings, there were three prominent themes: Lebanon and its volatile situation, Israel and its threatening policies towards both Lebanon and the Palestinians, and the US being furious that communications were being conducted without its consultation or conditions.
We must also note the profound significance of Ahmadinejad’s visit to Lebanon, and his personal initiative to contact King Abdullah prior to his visit, in a step akin to seeking royal permission to visit Lebanon.
Finally, I should not forget to record the seventh point of note; namely Syria and Saudi Arabia’s cordial relations with Turkey, Syria’s and Turkey’s positive relations with Iran, and Saudi Arabia’s non-hostile relations with Iran.
In view of above seven signals, all of which are clear to see, we could assume that Arab region in general is currently witnessing a multilateral diplomatic movement. Such a movement encompasses the region’s most sensitive causes, and involves parties that have received praise on some occasions, and condemnation on others. Everyone seems to communicate with everyone, each being aware that they cannot ignore others.
This movement is an expression of the collective acknowledgement of the need for widespread communication in the region. It is also an expression of the inevitable measures that must be taken. Indeed, we can say that this movement has so far had a calming effect in the region, particularly in Lebanon. Thus, it can be inferred that the most effective Arab political decisions stem from Arab interests, rather than from the interference of foreign entities, which many regard to be behind the tension and danger currently surrounding the region.
Arab and regional parties have moved forward following a period of prolonged standstill, and have successfully created a positive, relaxed climate, where actions are being conducted by kings and heads of states, rather than at the level of foreign ministries. Such a movement was a necessity for the Middle East, and the region’s leaders have proven to be proficient in directly handling their problems. Thus, a positive result seems to be on the horizon, and is indeed almost visible. This begs the question: Why don’t these meetings develop into something more than just meetings? Why don’t these meetings seek to produce converging policies, let alone an axis or an alliance?
We would say that such multilateral activity effectively represents three parties in the region: Iran, Turkey and the Arabs. If these three forces met together, in an approach based on respect and understanding from the outset, they could eventually become a regional power that could ensure the stability of the entire region. If this were to happen, the political weight of the region would increase, and this regional force would become a significant player in its surroundings, a political force whose voice would also be heard on the international scene.
We are not talking here of an “Arab group” that, for example, goes to Turkey in search of an alliance, or an “Arab group” that heads to Iran seeking an alliance. Rather we are talking about mutual communication and activities that express the interests of the three parties, and deter the threats hindering them. Such contact would eventually result in a regional political entity, built on shared communication and tasks, and common positions. When all aspects interact, a genuine tripartite regional power could emerge by means of genuine work and initiatives, rather than simply appeals [for its establishment].
Iran has its own policies, yet it is now conscious of the need to establish contacts with Arab countries, particularly with those who currently express animosity towards its policies.
Turkey has its own policies as well, yet it is profoundly aware of the need to establishing distinguished relations with the Arab region, even if such contacts anger its old allies in Europe and Israel.
Arabs also have a variety of policies towards both Iran and Turkey, such as Syria’s old ties with Iran and modern relations with Turkey, Egypt’s new signals regarding Iran (namely the Fatwas issued by al-Azhar, and the decision to recommence airline travel with Iran), as well as other issues that could be discussed or reviewed. These policies could be revived in order to create a climate that would, firstly, serve to foster a unified Arab atmosphere, and secondly, allow such an atmosphere to be extended to Iran and Turkey, through practice, rather than official meetings or media stances.
The ultimate goal is to ensure that the Arab nations hold a shared stance, which would make them an integral part of regional power dynamics. The Arabs could gain the political weight they need from this regional power, and also draw the support they require from it. As for the Arab contacts conducted so far, notably between Saudi Arabia and Syria, they act as the gateway leading to endless possibilities.
In the past, during the era of bipolar superpowers [the United States and the USSR], minor states used to derive benefits from the conflict between these two forces. However, in the era of the United States’ dominance, the emergence of regional powers serves as an alternative, in order for minor countries to continue to stand on their feet in the face of such unilateral pressure, which is hard to resist.
Regional roles are an option necessitated by the current stage in which we live, an option which Iran has approached in its own manner, before Turkey also did so. Now it is the time for the Arabs to approach it, in their own manner as one group, rather than as individuals as is the case currently.
Syria has already taken the initiative in deriving benefits from this role, and is currently establishing practical, beneficial ties with Saudi Arabia. Yet expanding the wider Arab circle, in the same context, represents the greater and the real ambition.