Monday, October 7, 2013

Now that US won't bomb Syria, Saudis are feeling the pain as the tide turn in rebellion

Courtesy of

We have said all along this is about the desire of the Saudis and Qataris to build a natural gas pipeline through the western desert of Syria so they can compete with Gasprom -- the Russian company with a practical monopoly on gas sales in Europe.

Wanting to get out from under that near monopoly explains why the Europeans were either pro bombing, or at worst, neutral. None were adament against it.

Well, things are not going well for the Saudis and their mercenaries - aren't you glad that Obama was stopped before he could get out brave military to become a mercenary army for the Saudis?



Until a few weeks ago, Saudi Arabia was riding high. Its regional policies, based on countering revolutionary fervour and containing Iran, appeared to be bearing fruit. Egypt’s army ousted the Islamist president, to plaudits and generous funding from Riyadh; the Syrian opposition elected a new pro-Saudi leadership; and the US seemed poised to launch military strikes on the regime in Damascus that Saudi Arabia has tried to dislodge.

But Riyadh’s satisfaction turned to dismay as a US and Russian deal to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons removed the need for military strikes; leading rebel factions turned against the leadership of the Syrian National Coalition; and relations between the US and Iran appear to be warming as the new president, Hassan Rouhani, pledged to negotiate over Tehran’s nuclear programme.

The sudden change in diplomatic fortunes is felt most acutely over Syria, where the increasingly bitter rivalry between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran is playing out. For Tehran, Damascus is a bridge for logistical support of Hizbollah, the Shia militia that is its main proxy force in the Middle East; for Riyadh, the Assad regime is a destabilising Iranian outpost that must be removed to counterbalance the pro-Tehran, Shia-dominated government in Iraq.
”For us in Saudi Arabia, the worst scenario is to let Bashar [al-Assad] survive this: he has to go,’’ said Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi analyst close to decision-making circles. “The world can ignore what is happening in Syria but this is at our doorstep and it is on fire with sectarian flames that will reach all neighbouring countries.’’

Saudi Arabia, along with Qatar, has been the chief supporter of the Syrian rebels since the armed rebellion began, giving them weapons, training, finance and diplomatic support.

Riyadh has also consistently lobbied for more US involvement in the conflict and believes that President Barack Obama’s administration missed an important opportunity to turn the tide in favour of the Syrian rebels last winter when it barred the Saudis from supplying them with anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles because of concerns that they could fall into the hands of Islamist militants.

“Supporting the rebels is a strategic decision in Saudi foreign policy, like supporting the government in Egypt,’’ said Hussein Shobokshi, a Jeddah-based columnist. “On the ground there is a stepping up of support for the Syrian Free Army. This criminal regime [in Damascus] can export Hizbollah terrorism to us, so it is a matter of national security in the Gulf.’’

The kingdom’s frustration over Washington’s Syria policy has been exacerbated by last month’s chemical weapons agreement, which the Saudis say does little to change the course of the war or hasten the removal of Mr Assad. Analysts say Riyadh believes the Syrian leader and his Lebanese ally, Hizbollah, are part of a plan by Iran to surround Saudi Arabia with loyal Shia allies, including Yemen, Bahrain and Iraq.

With its policy in seeming disarray, some in Saudi decision-making circles question whether those in charge of the Syrian files are up to the complex mission. Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the hawkish former ambassador to Washington, has been the intelligence chief for more than a year. While Prince Bandar is in the spotlight, it is his brother, Prince Salman, who is doing the day to day work on Syria.

“Instead of focusing on toppling Assad first, Saudi and Qatar were busy on side battles over influence on the next Syrian government,’’ a Saudi insider said.

Meanwhile, Syria’s rebels have become increasingly radical and jihadis now appear to be the strongest element in the revolt, causing unease among some members of the Saudi royal family.
Interior minister Prince Mohamed bin Naif, who led a security crackdown on al-Qaeda in the kingdom in the past decade, is said to be concerned about radicalisation of Saudi youth who went to join the fight in Syria.

“Even a large, wealthy state like Saudi Arabia faces limitations in access, capacity and expertise in dealing with a massive undertaking like Syria Saudi Arabia has, on top of money and ability to obtain weaponry, good contacts among former regime figures, tribal chiefs, Islamist leaders and military defectors,’’ said Emile Hokayem, a regional analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies think-tank. “But it still depends on middlemen and facilitators to run its activities in Syria, which are piloted from neighbouring countries.”

As the challenges in Syria grow, there are fears in Riyadh that the war could drag on for more than a decade, draining Saudi coffers and destabilising the region. There are also concerns in Tehran that the proxy conflict between the two countries is getting out of control.

“Regional tensions will not ease if Iran and Saudi Arabia do not reach some kind of agreement over Syria and Iraq,” said one senior adviser to the Iranian government. “If such hostilities are not contained, Saudis will continue doing their best to sabotage any nuclear deal between Iran and the US.”

Additional reporting by Najmeh Bozorgmehr in Tehran11

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