Saudi Arabia arming Syrian opposition. What could possibly go wrong?

Jonathan Schanzer writes: Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah scolded Russian President Dmitry Medvedev last week for failing to coordinate with Arab states before vetoing a United Nations resolution demanding that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad step down. Emboldened by the lack of international action, Assad’s forces are now slaughtering civilians in the streets at an even greater rate. Referring to the bloodshed, the king ominously warned Medvedev that Saudi Arabia “will never abandon its religious and moral obligations towards what’s happening.”

The last time the Saudis decided they had a moral obligation to scuttle Russian policies, they gave birth to a generation of jihadi fighters in Afghanistan who are still wreaking havoc three decades later.

According to news reports confirmed by a member of the Syrian opposition, Riyadh currently sends weapons on an ad hoc basis to the Syrian opposition by way of Sunni tribal allies in Iraq and Lebanon. But in light of recent developments, more weapons are almost certainly on their way. After his delegation withdrew in frustration from last week’s Friends of Syria meeting in Tunisia, Prince Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister, said that humanitarian aid to Syria was “not enough” and that arming the Syrian rebels was an “excellent idea.” Soon afterward, an unnamed official commented in the state-controlled Saudi press that Riyadh sought to provide the Syrian opposition with the “means to achieve stability and peace and to allow it the right to choose its own representatives.” Meanwhile, Saudi clerics are now openly calling for jihad in Syria and scorning those who wait for Western intervention. One prominent unsanctioned cleric, Aidh al-Qarni, openly calls for Assad’s death.

Other Sunni Gulf states, principally Qatar, may be contributing weapons. On Monday, Feb. 27, Qatari Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani said, “We should do whatever necessary to help [the Syrian opposition], including giving them weapons to defend themselves.” The positions of other regional actors are less clear. But whether or not they supply weapons to the Free Syrian Army — the armed opposition composed of defectors and local militia — all these Sunni states now want the Assad regime to crumble because it is an ally and proxy of their sworn Shiite enemy, Iran, which destabilizes the region with terrorism and nuclear threats. [Continue reading...]

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Comments

  1. Since the end of World War II, Saudi Arabia has been buying Syrians in order to change governments. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, the fear was Hashemite power. This was replaced by fear of republicanism and socialism. With the rise of Hafez al-Asad, the Saudis fluctuated in its financial support. But with Damascus’s alliance with Tehran, Riyadh became the enemy of Syria. For any of the GCC to talk about democracy or humanitarian rights is to insult those very concepts. Our interference will only compound the problem, and lay the groundwork for future blowback.

  2. Today all Syrians- despite their political differences- find themselves in the same predicament, caught between an enemy’s retaliation and the deadly embrace of friends. Like so many which preceded it, this war is welcomed by those who will not have to personally endure the bombardment or struggle to survive in its aftermath. The spectacle of Kings and Presidents, Prime Ministers and Secretaries of State pledging their solidarity with the wretched of the earth and fulfilling that pledge in the utter ruin of their chosen “friends” seems never to lose its power to disgust. That there is no credible international effort underway to settle the conflict through diplomatic means merely underscores the cynical and tragic scenario being repeated now in Syria.