Saudi Arabia has vowed that if the political process in Syria fails, beleaguered Syrian President Bashar Al Assad will be removed “by force.” In comments made to CNN, Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister, Adel al-Jubeir, said that Assad was “weak” and “finished,” and that if peace talks were unsuccessful, Saudi forces would commit to removing Assad by military means.
The current round of peace talks concerning the Syrian conflict have been in planning for months. While many analysts and commentators hailed the commencement of these talks, they have repeatedly stalled. Initially, the main rebel faction refused to attend, and various other groups absenting themselves have brought about frequent delays in the process. Many commentators believe that talks are simply not going to work, owing to the sheer number of players involved in the civil war. There is also the fact that no proposed ceasefire will include the so-called Islamic State, which would mean that a ceasefire would not see any easing of conflict for those living in areas controlled by the militant group.
The long-running conflict in Syria has seen little input from Saudi Arabia so far. The Saudi government has been pre-occupied with a savage sectarian proxy conflict in the Yemen, and on top of this, has repeatedly signaled that their unwillingness to involve themselves in Syria except as part of an American-led coalition. Now that this has been arranged, Saudi Arabia will be committing air assets and troops to the conflict, ostensibly to fight the so-called Islamic State. The Independent reports that Saudi troops and warplanes have been moved to a Turkish airbase preparatory to a potential invasion of Syria.
Saudi Arabia’s entry into the war, even as a nominal arm of the US military coalition, will certainly complicate an already bewildering situation. Iranian proxies, in the form of well trained and highly effective Shi’ite militia, have been engaged in furious conflict with both rebel forces and Islamist militants, including IS. This development cannot help but disturb Saudi Arabia, whose view of the growing influence and reach of their traditional regional rival is anything but positive.
Additionally, the fact that the Shi’ite militia tend to leave the consolidation of their conquered territories to Kurdish forces is a major frustration to the Turkish government, who have just recently launched a series of strikes against these areas on Syrian soil, as reported by the ABC. Turkey and Syria, whose relations have recently soured for obvious reasons, look set to blunder into open war. And overarching all of this is the massive, pro-Assad air campaign being undertaken by Russia, sitting uncomfortably alongside the U.S. coalitions airstrikes on Islamist militants, and their support of factions hostile to the Assad government.
Saudi Arabia’s open hostility to Shi’ite Iran and the Shia Alawite regime of Bashar Al Assad brings them in direct opposition to Russia. While Russia’s publicly avowed goal is to defeat Islamist extremists, it has been pointed out that the pattern of their strikes is an obvious indication of their real goal of propping up the Assad regime. The introduction of yet another set of opposite and competing interests is worrying to say the least.
Saudi forces under U.S. command is not as strange a proposition as it might first sound. Saudi Arabia’s military might is supplied in large part by the U.S., who provide weapons, materiel and training under the terms of the close alliance between the two countries. It remains to be seen, however, how tightly the U.S. coalition will be able to bind any incoming Saudi forces to its central goals. There is a real risk that any intervention on the part of Saudi Arabia will devolve into yet another facet of the proxy war for local hegemony between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
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