01/04/2024 strategic-culture.su  7 min 🇬🇧 #245969

A potential Uae-Hezbollah thaw?

The surprise visit by a senior Hezbollah official to the UAE is a significant diplomatic development, carrying far-reaching geopolitical implications that could mend broken ties, step up regional deal-making, and sink US-Israeli normalization plans.


The veiled details behind the  recent visit of Wafiq Safa, head of Hezbollah's Liaison and Coordination Unit, to the UAE remain undisclosed. Rumors propagated by  Saudi media have tried to insinuate that the Lebanese resistance party aims to placate its stance towards Israel, possibly even contemplating concessions.

This narrative seeks to undermine or distort any real achievements gained during the rare trip. Despite all the conjecture, one development is undeniable: there has been a nascent shift in thawing the longstanding hostilities between Hezbollah and the UAE - a prominent Arab ally of both the US and Israel.

Strained relations

The sudden revelation of Safa's visit to the Persian Gulf state on 19 March was indeed astonishing - a  first by a senior Hezbollah official in many years - particularly given Abu Dhabi's active role in clamping down on even pro-Hezbollah sentiments within the UAE.

The UAE's track record includes arbitrary arrests and expulsions of Lebanese nationals under all sorts of dubious charges, often subjecting them to inhumane treatment, exemplified tragically in the case of Lebanese businessman  Ghazi Ezzeldin, who was tortured to death while in Emirati custody last year.

News reports suggest that seven Lebanese citizens - four serving life sentences; two others facing 15 years in prison - remain incarcerated in the Emirates under charges of laundering funds for Hezbollah and Iran, and for the spurious claim of having made contact with Hezbollah. All of the detainees deny these charges.

In short, UAE authorities need little justification to accuse Lebanese individuals of ties to Hezbollah, which is designated a terrorist entity in the Emirates.

The UAE, it should be noted, is Tel Aviv's closest Arab ally in West Asia, marked by Abu Dhabi's decision in 2020 to normalize relations with the occupation state - with Bahrain, the first Arab state in the Persian Gulf to do so. Despite Israel's genocidal war against Gaza, economic ties between the UAE and Israel  continue to flourish, further entrenching their alliance against common adversaries.

Against this backdrop, Syrian President  Bashar al-Assad emerges as an unexpected mediator, leveraging his amicable relations with the UAE leadership, united in their opposition to the Muslim Brotherhood.

Behind the scenes, the UAE has been quietly leveraging its international clout to lift US  Caesar Act sanctions on Syria, with an eye on participating in the war-torn country's reconstruction efforts. As the first Arab state to break Assad's diplomatic isolation, the UAE has now seized the opportunity to engage with Hezbollah via its renewed Damascus channel.

Preliminary discussions, facilitated by Syrian General Intelligence Director Major General Hossam Louka, bridged the gap between the two parties. These exchanges, held on Syrian soil, involved representatives from both Hezbollah and UAE officials.

Louka also visited Lebanon and the UAE to meet with Emirati officials and the leadership of Hezbollah and convey a detailed message to Assad.

Contrary to the many sensationalized reports in regional media, informed sources tell The Cradle that Safa encountered no explicit demands from UAE officials during his visit. Instead, discussions centered on two pivotal objectives: first, securing the release of Lebanese detainees unjustly incarcerated in the UAE under charges of affiliation with Hezbollah, and second, improving the precarious conditions Lebanese expatriates face in the UAE, where their presence is securitized by the state.

The sources affirm the constructive nature of the meetings and indicate there may be imminent releases of the Lebanese detainees before the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

What do both parties want?

But the timing of Safa's visit, as Israel escalates airstrikes on Lebanon, Syria, and Gaza, raises speculation about the implications of this renewed relationship. Safa himself is on a  US sanctions list, while Hezbollah retains its designation as a terrorist organization by both Washington and the Persian Gulf states.

The UAE, having previously subjected Lebanese nationals to unjust treatment, now initiates efforts to mend ties with Hezbollah. Conversely, Hezbollah, having waged a war to free prisoners from Israeli detention, displays a willingness to engage in dialogue, even if the optics of its representative shaking hands with UAE officials may not be well-received back home.

Following the visit, Hezbollah issued a very brief  statement:

"The head of the Liaison and Coordination Unit, Hajj Wafiq Safa, visited the United Arab Emirates as part of the ongoing follow-up to address the case of a number of Lebanese detainees there, where he met with a number of officials concerned with this case, and [a solution to this issue will be reached hopefully]."

Nevertheless, the underlying question remains: What does the UAE seek to achieve? Did it initiate this thaw in relations merely to  reopen its embassy in Lebanon after years of closure and diplomatic strife? Does the UAE have hidden intentions concealing these superficial objectives - and what role could Hezbollah play in this equation?

Outreach to Iran via its allies

Early this year, as the regional war expanded, CIA Director William Burns wrote in Foreign Affairs magazine: "The key to Israel's - and the region's - security is dealing with Iran."

Abu Dhabi too, knows that the relationship with Tehran is pivotal to resolving crises in the region. Hence, the UAE has taken a significant stride towards Hezbollah, recognizing its critical regional role. While this unusual meeting could have taken place in Damascus, in secret, the UAE opted instead for a public airing and even arranged for Safa's transportation via plane to the Emirates.

Moreover, Abu Dhabi's interest in improving relations with Hezbollah and its leadership could have direct security benefits. The Lebanese party has influence with Yemen's Ansarallah resistance movement, whose naval operations in the Red Sea and other waterways are impacting international navigation and, thus, Emirati interests from the Persian Gulf to the Horn of Africa.

While a Syrian source tells The Cradle that the meeting yielded positive outcomes and is likely to be followed by further engagements, the visit carries implications that extend well beyond the immediate parties involved.

Beyond improving Hezbollah-UAE or Iran-UAE understandings, it will be essential to monitor the subsequent actions of Saudi Arabia's leadership after this event.

In essence, these developments could lead to improved future relations between Hezbollah and Arab states of the Persian Gulf, in turn reversing Washington and Tel Aviv's strategic target of clinching further normalization deals for Israel in West Asia.

Original article:  thecradle.co