Hassan Hassan writes: Saudi Arabia’s role in the Syrian conflict has been the subject of much speculation. Are the recent rebel gains in northern, central and southern Syria part of an escalation against Iranian-backed forces? Do these gains mark the beginning of the end for Bashar Al Assad?
Saudi Arabia has previously supported large-scale operations against the Syrian regime but those operations lacked a strategy. High expectations during such operations often led to disappointment and played into the regime’s hands.
It is clear that this time is different. Conversations within policy circles in the Gulf indicate that the regime’s downfall is not necessarily the goal right now. Nor is it to compel the Assad regime to negotiate. Instead, the goal is simply to project power through the rebels against Iran’s allies.
There is also an intention to strengthen Sunni militias to build stability. Various political and military forces within the country will be working towards one goal despite their different allegiances. Beyond influence, opposition forces will be backed to potentially lead future Syria. To achieve these goals, Saudi Arabia is working closely with Turkey and Qatar.
However, the gains made by the rebels in the north have little to do with Saudi Arabia. Turkey and Qatar have provided financial support to their allies. For more than a year, aid to groups widely known to be supported by Turkey and Qatar was blocked because of resistance from the US and Saudi Arabia. That changed recently and the rebels have since gained momentum.
There have been other key factors. Rebels in the north are working with more harmony than ever before. Ideologically aligned forces also worked in separate groups but closely coordinated with others through separate operations rooms. [Continue reading…]