Saudi Arabia has offered to deploy thousands of special forces in Syria to combat ISIS, according to The Guardian. The kingdom has faced international criticism, including from leading U.S. politicians, for supporting terror financially and ideologically. A decision to land ground troops in Syria would be intended to counter the narrative that Saudi Arabia has not done enough to combat militant extremism in the region.
“The kingdom is ready to participate in any ground operations that the coalition (against ISIS) may agree to carry out in Syria,” Brigadier General Ahmed al-Asiri of Saudi Arabia told al-Arabiya TV.
However, news of Saudi Arabia sending ground forces into Syria has met resistance from two of the other major parties involved in the conflict – Iran and the Syrian government itself. Major General Ali Jafari of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard mocked Saudi Arabia’s declaration, saying their army would stand little chance against the urban guerrilla rebels.
“They claim they will send troops but I don’t think they will dare do so,” Jafari said, according to the International Business Times. “They have a classic army and history tells us such armies stand no chance in fighting irregular resistance forces.”
Along with Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Turkey have also pledged more ground troops to the Syrian Civil War, stoking sectarian divisions in the region. Saudi Arabia is a Sunni nation whose extreme interpretation of Islam, Wahhabism, has inspired groups like ISIS and Al-Qaeda. Bahrain and Turkey are also Sunni. The governments of Iran and Syria are Shia, but the overwhelming majority of the Syrian population is Sunni.
Syria’s foreign minister, Walid al-Moualem, outright threatened Sunni Arab nations who planned to get involved in the conflict, according to the Israel’s Haaretz. Moualem said that as long as anti-Assad rebels were allowed to pass into Syria through the borders with Sunni-led Turkey and Jordan, there would be no ceasefire in Syria.
“Any ground intervention onto Syrian land without the agreement of the Syrian government is an act of aggression… We regret that those (who do so) will return to their countries in coffins.”
“I don’t think they will do what they say about using ground forces,” Moualem added. “But at the same time, when I look at their crazy decisions made not just in Yemen but in other areas nothing can be ruled out.”
The Guardian quotes a Saudi analyst, Mohammed Alyahya, who says there is frustration in Saudi Arabia at the government’s lack of a strong effort to combat ISIS. Much of Saudi Arabia’s military has been deployed in Yemen, but as the kingdom achieves some of its goals there more of its military has been freed up for the Syrian conflict.
“Increasingly, it seems that none of the forces on the ground in Syria (besides rebel groups) is willing to fight ISIS,” Alyahya said. “The Assad regime, Iran, Russia, and Hezbollah are preoccupied with fighting Bashar al-Assad’s opposition with one ostensible goal: to keep Bashar al-Assad in power, irrespective of the cost in innocent Syrian lives.”
Much of Saudi Arabia and Turkey’s decision to lend ground forces in Syria will depend on what the United States decides to do. Politicians across the political spectrum, from Bernie Sanders to Marco Rubio, have been critical of Saudi Arabia’s lack of commitment to fighting ISIS.
“The United States has very much indicated our desire to accelerate the campaign to defeat ISIL,” Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said on Thursday. “We’ll do that better, and it’ll be easier to sustain the defeat… if other countries that are part of the coalition accelerate their efforts at the same time.”
Rebels in Syria have, however, received aid from any number of outside countries, including Turkey, Jordan, and the US. Many of these rebels have themselves been tied to ISIS, al-Nusra Front and/or Al-Qaeda.
Despite the military and financial alliance between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, the kingdom remains one of the most prolific human rights violators in the world, particularly when it comes to women, atheists and LGBT people. Just this week The Daily Mail reported that a democracy activist in Saudi Arabia, arrested at 17 and sentenced to death for “crimes against religion,” will be beheaded and have his corpse publicly crucified.
[Photo by Mosa’ab Elshamy/AP]