Tariq Al-Homayed
Saudi journalist and writer, and former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper

The Damascus Meeting

Some media outlets heavily reported the news of the “first Israeli raid” in Syria after the devastating earthquake, emphasizing civilian casualties. A few days ago, Reuters published an exclusive report about the raid last Sunday that presented the story differently.

Several security and intelligence officials, including some working for the Assadi regime itself, told Reuters that the strike targeted a meeting between Iranian and Syrian military experts and Hezbollah forces that was held in the neighborhood of Kafr Sousse.

According to Reuters, the strike targeted Iranians taking part in a meeting between technical experts in an Iranian military complex located in the basement of a residential building. Those in attendance had been planning to discuss a secret IRGC-run program to produce precision-guided missiles.

Reuters quoted a source close to the regime as saying that the attack targeted a gathering that brought together Syrian and Iranian technical experts who work on manufacturing drones. It left an engineer from the army dead and seriously wounded another from the IRGC, while two others from the IRGC survived.

The Kafr Sousse neighborhood in Damascus is a heavily surveilled area where several Iranian security agencies, as well as an Iranian cultural center, are based. The Israelis assassinated the Hezbollah terrorist Imad Mughniyeh there in 2008.

Thus, it is clear that this Damascus meeting did not bring Iranian, Syrian, and Hezbollah officials to discuss how to provide relief to the victims of the devastating earthquake or how to protect and provide welfare to the Syrian victims. Rather, developing guided missiles and drones was the agenda.

These drones, as the world has seen, are not used to defend Lebanon or Iran’s borders. Indeed, the Houthis use them to target Saudi territory, and they are used to strike civilians in Ukraine, in the heart of Europe.

This meeting in Damascus was not organized to discuss ways to crystalize the “attempts” by some in the Arab world to open up to the Assad regime, nor was the intention to discuss reconstruction projects in Syria. Instead, this meeting announced that Damascus is a hub for merchants of battles and militias.

It is untenable to claim that the Assad regime had not been aware of the meeting to discuss the secret program to produce guided missiles and drones. In fact, if this were true, it would raise a bigger question: who runs things in Damascus? Who actually governs it?

Amid increasing talk about the need to fill the void in Syria and the importance of not leaving it to Iran, another question arises. Who is ready to hold an investment or humanitarian workshop next to an Iranian meeting to discuss the manufacture of precision-guided missiles and drones attended by Hezbollah?

Are these “few” willing to fight battles with militias in areas brimming with merchants of war and drug smugglers, who have been taking these drugs across the borders with Jordan or Lebanon?

Of course, no one wants Syria to continue to collapse. However, there are no simple solutions to this crisis, and “well-meaning” initiatives will not solve it either. Fixing things will require very hard work, and we must remember that the Syria we had known is a thing of the past until further notice. Saving it requires a miracle, and this is not an era of miracles.