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Why Did The US Welcome Saudi Arabia’s Plan?

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Abbas Parvardeh

Although a few rounds of negotiations have been so far held to forge some sort of agreement between the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad and his opposition through mediation of the United Nations and some Western governments, in reality, those people who have attended the negotiations under the general title of the “opposition” have not been true representatives of the Syrian people. Of course, it must be noted that this remark is by no means aimed at ignoring the right of all Syrian people to give voice to their demands at a negotiating table, but the attending representatives have nothing to do with such demands and are more representing policies of some regional countries led by Saudi Arabia. This is why the last round of negotiations came to an abrupt end before talks reached any clear conclusion. The development was followed by surprising remarks of Ahmed al-Asiri, the spokesman of the Saudi-led Arab coalition, who told media that “Saudi Arabia is planning to send forces to Syria.”

Saudis are well aware that presence of Saudi Arabia’s infantry on the Syrian soil is considered a red line by both Russia and Iran. Soon after Asiri’s remarks, Russia criticized Saudi Arabia’s proposal for military presence in Syria, describing the measure as tantamount to declaration of war. Subsequently, the Chairman of committee of the State Duma under the legislation, Paul Krasheninnikov, said before conducting any form of military operations in Syria, Riyadh must first get the permission of the government in Damascus. Meanwhile, commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari, showed a sharp reaction to Saudi officials’ remarks about the possibility of sending troops to Syria.

However, unlike Russia, the United States welcomed Saudi Arabia’s proposal to dispatch its military forces to Syria, which is quite meaningful from the viewpoint of the United States’ diplomacy in the Middle East. Following election of Barack Obama as the president of the United States, the US administration’s foreign policy in the Middle East has been based on avoiding direct interference in regional developments and transferring the costs of crisis and military action to its allies, including Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

In the meantime, Saudi Arabia has been already taking part in strikes launched by a US-led coalition, which started its air strikes in Syria in September 2014, but now Riyadh has suddenly announced that it is going to send ground forces into Syria. There is more evidence to prove that Saudi Arabia’s allegation is just rhetoric, including evidence that Riyadh lacks enough military power to take such a step. During recent days, Saudi officials have been prescribing any measure without taking into account how positions or measures they take could reverberate across the region. In view of current developments on the ground and interruption of negotiations between the Syrian government and opposition groups, who takes orders from Saudi Arabia, remarks made by Saudi Arabian officials about sending forces into Syria seem to be meant more for diplomatic purposes than being of military importance.

The Saudi army is a limited force trained for regular wars with a limited number of troops and has no experience in asymmetrical warfare similar to what is currently going on in Syria. Therefore, claims about sending troops to Syria must be considered as mere diplomatic bragging by Riyadh in the midst of negotiations. One side of these negotiations is the Syrian government while the other side is representatives of Riyadh and Ankara. However, the majority of opposition groups that are fighting the Syrian government lack needed solidarity to take part in negotiations due to their internal rifts and foreign interferences. Some domestic opposition groups, who support a political solution to the Syria crisis, are not being backed by the Saudi team and, as such, have not been represented in the negotiations.

On the other hand, such remarks are rooted in domestic challenges with which Saudi Arabia is currently faced. During past years, after the ascension to the Saudi throne of King Salman, the most important characteristic of decisions made by Saudi officials has been the “impulsive” nature of these decisions, both in foreign policy and in military policy. This situation is a result of internal rivalries among Saudi princes and a sense of distrust in their most important ally, the United States, which now prevails among Saudi politicians.

Apart from this, due to the ongoing conflict in Yemen and in view of the fact that a war is going on along Saudi Arabia’s borders with its southern neighbor, and taking into account the number of Saudi military personnel, it is quite clear that Saudi Arabia lacks the capacity to send even more forces beyond its territory. At the same time, we still remember failed efforts by Saudis in early days of their attack on Yemen and we remember how Saudi Arabia resorted to any means in order to get military forces from Egypt and Pakistan for war in Yemen. Those two countries, however, did not accept Riyadh’s demand for direct presence of their troops in Yemen, so that, some regional observers opined that Islamabad and Cairo did not want their soldiers to become cannon fodder for Saudis.

However, unprecedented and positive welcome given to unwise remarks of the Saudi officials by Americans is also reminder of another subtle point. The experience of a few decades of violence and war in the Middle East shows that there are no decisive winners or losers in such wars, but on the contrary, more than anywhere else, weapons have been sold in these conflicts. During these years, Middle East’s energy resources have been exported to the West and the Far East at very low price, which has been a consequence of rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia. The existing chaos has stripped regional countries of their planning and development capability while, on the contrary, giving peace of mind to Israel, which has always been a usurper and unfit neighbor.

In fact, this is long-term and strategic strategy of the United States in the Middle East, which following the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the former Soviet Union, has been patiently and in cold blood playing with the existing cards in the region in the absence of a powerful rival and spoilsport. During these years, the United States has availed itself of energy resources of the Middle East while, at the same time, selling billions of dollars worth of weapons to regional countries. On the opposite, Saudis are being nagged by a mental sense of disintegration, and especially after the conclusion of the nuclear deal between Iran and the United States, Saudi Arabia’s equations have been disturbed more than any time before. This situation has made Riyadh take hasty and unwise measures, which were started with the onslaught in Yemen and have continued up to the present time.