For Saudis, Any Countermove Against Putin in Syria Carries Risks – Bloomberg
Russia’s entry into the Syrian civil war has tilted the balance in favor of the government side, and there’s no risk-free way for Saudi Arabia — a key backer of the rebels — to tilt it back.
Powerful Saudi clerics are calling for a response to the Russian move, even though the kingdom is already bogged down in another war in Yemen. Analysts say the Saudi government will probably speed up the flow of cash and weapons to its allies in the opposition fighting to topple President Bashar al-Assad, who’s also supported by Saudi Arabia’s main rival, Iran.
While the Saudis may seek to direct their aid to “moderate forces” in Syria, “the definition of this word is subject to much debate,” said Theodore Karasik, a Dubai-based political analyst. Sending arms “is dangerous in the medium term because of how easily weapons can fall into the wrong hands,” he said.
Waves of jihadists, most famously Osama Bin Laden, went to Afghanistan to fight Soviet forces after 1979, as the Saudis and U.S. provided them with weapons and cash. The effort succeeded: the Soviet Union was forced to pull out. Yet it ultimately backfired on the Saudis as militants returned home and turned their sights on the ruling family. Oil infrastructure, government officials and foreign workers were targeted. Saudi citizens also made up a majority of the Sept. 11 attackers.
Rebels in Damascus?
There are similar risks in Syria, where extremist groups already hold sway over large parts of the country. The Saudis joined U.S.-led operations against Islamic State last year, and since then jihadist attacks in the kingdom have increased, many of them targeting minority Shiite Muslims in the oil-rich eastern province. Meanwhile, Assad accuses the Saudis and other Gulf states of arming rebel groups with ties to al-Qaeda.
Some Saudi thinkers advocate direct military engagement in Syria, just as the kingdom has done in Yemen. Nawaf Obaid, a visiting fellow at Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, is one of them.
“The Saudis are going to be forced to lead a coalition of nations in an air campaign against the remnants of Syrian forces, Hezbollah and Iranian fighters to facilitate the collapse of the Assad regime and assist the entry of rebel forces into Damascus,” Obaid …Read More
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