Monday, December 09, 2013

Saudi Arabia Goes All In on Syria Regime Collapse With a Quiet Assist from the US

A year ago there was a certain amount of back and forth as to what it meant that Saudi Arabia had pushed Qatar out of the leadership position on Syria and whether the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was going to go along with the Syria peace process.

I was of the opinion that the Kingdom would go all in on regime collapse.  A shattered Syria was preferable to a Syria that was tottering along with foreign forbearance under Assad or some government of national reconciliation that included Ba'athists and had the Muslim Brotherhood (beloved by the Qataris and detested by the Saudis, as subsequent events in Egypt demonstrated to even the most casual observer) nose in the tent.

After all,chaos in Syria would deny that country to the MB and also have spillover effects into Iraq, which has already become a charnel house.  If anything, the budding US rapprochement with Iran would strengthen this tendency.  With direct US action off the table, the best way for Saudi Arabia to stick it to Iran was by deposing its vulnerable allies in Syria and Iraq, and by taking another swing at Hezbollah.

Well, according to Patrick Cockburn's recent piece in the Independent (which, for some reason, is in the comment section), Saudi support for regime collapse in Syria--and by that, I mean explicit government support, and not just a nod and a wink encouragement to well-heeled private Saudi citizens with an enthusiasm for foreign jihad--is pretty much a done deal:

The directors of Saudi policy in Syria – the Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal, the head of the Saudi intelligence agency Prince Bandar bin Sultan and the Deputy Defence Minister Prince Salman bin Sultan – plan to spend billions raising a militant Sunni army some 40,000 to 50,000 strong.

Now we know why Saudi Arabia made the otherwise inexplicable decision to purchase over 15,000 TOW missiles from Raytheon.  TOW missiles are surface to surface wire guided missiles used by ground forces at short range over line of sight to take out tanks.  The most plausible place to use them is Syria.

Mr. Cockburn is of the opinion that the Saudis will screw it up.  Indeed, a certain contempt for Saudi Arabia's aspirations to Israel-like levels of skullduggery in manipulating events and advancing its interests in the Middle East through covert applications of violence seems to permeate the expert commentariat.

But I don't think victory is Saudi Arabia's priority.  Chaos is.  Chaos that bleeds the Syrian regime, bleeds Iran and, ironically, bleeds the violent jihadis who otherwise might find the corrupt and sclerotic Saudi kingdom a suitable focus for their militancy.

Over the next few months it will be interesting to see if a side product of US-Iran rapprochement (and conciliation with an offended and threatened Saudi Arabia) is a willingness by the US (and perhaps accepted as a matter of realpolitik) by Iran to keep the meatgrinder of insurrection churning in Syria as long and as fiercely as Riyadh wants it--with the US providing TOW missiles (if not the helicopter-killing surface to air missiles the insurgents crave) to keep things going.

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