News / Middle East

Saudis Shun Diplomacy in Syria Crisis

Saudis Shun Diplomacy in Syria Crisisi
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September 13, 2013
Saudi Arabia has backed Syria's rebels in a civil war that has dragged in much of the region, but with little transparency in the kingdom, its precise role remains unclear. The Saudi kingdom is backing the mainly Sunni rebels fighting the government of President Bashar al-Assad, whose Alawite sect is an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam. VOA's Elizabeth Arrott has more from our Middle East bureau in Cairo.

Saudis Shun Diplomacy in Syria Crisis

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Elizabeth Arrott
— Saudi Arabia has backed Syria's rebels in a civil war that has directly affected much of the region, but with little transparency in the kingdom, its precise role remains unclear.
 
While many across the Middle East welcome the diplomatic push for Syria to hand over its chemical weapons, Riyadh, one of the strongest supporters of U.S. military intervention against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, is not happy about the switch from strikes to talks.
 
"[The Saudis] estimate that the deal over chemical weapons is, one, not feasible, but, two, makes it even harder to intervene and brings Bashar al-Assad back into the bargaining game, which is their biggest problem," says Emile Hokayem, a senior fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. "They've spent the past two and half years trying to delegitimize Assad, and that deal turns Assad into a partner."
 
According to Hokayem, Saudi leaders had wanted an even bigger military campaign against Assad than the limited strikes outlined by the U.S.
 
It's a dynamic that has played out throughout the conflict: Saudis giving money and weapons to the full spectrum of Syria's rebels, with the U.S. apparently taking a more cautious approach.
 
Riyadh's logic is partially sectarian, with the kingdom's Sunni leaders arming the mainly Sunni rebels: An offensive against Assad, of the Shi'ite-offshoot Alawite sect, could tip the balance of power in a stalemate that has neighboring countries lined up largely along religious lines.
 
But political scientist Christian Donath, of the American University in Cairo, thinks current U.S. plans would fail to do that.
 
"I don't know whether the U.S. strikes are going to have any kind of effect, specifically on the sectarian tension, or whether it essentially will just serve to weaken to some extent the Assad regime's military capacity," he says.
 
Saudi animosity is not aimed exclusively at Syria's government, but also at Assad's biggest regional backer, Iran, a Shi'ite-led Saudi rival. Syria also receives additional help from Shi'ite Hezbollah fighters from Lebanon.
 
But political analyst Hokayem says it's not all about religion.
 
"The regime of Bashar al-Assad and Hezbollah have allowed Iran to become a primary power in the Eastern Mediterranean," he says. "And there's a sense that if you win in Syria, you win the entire Levant because Syria is the big power there."
 
But other analysts say there may be no winning a regional struggle for dominance.
 
"Saudi Arabia is rich in oil, but their military capability, their soft power and their model is weak," says Mustafa Labbad, director of the Al Sharq Center for Regional and Strategic Studies. "So everyone is ambitious but no single country can play a regional role as it is described in international relations and strategy."
 
But that hasn't kept Saudi Arabia, or its rivals, from trying.

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by: shankhan from: Milwaukee
September 23, 2013 12:26 PM
Yes we should build bridge with Iran and end years of dispute
May God Bless Obama May God Bless America

War is not good for nobody let the Entire World live in peace


by: Anonymous
September 15, 2013 10:30 PM
Saudi Arabia also is hoping for a military attack on Iran. They also support the Salafis and those similar to Taliban. Is it to hard to understand what the Saudis are really after and you wonder why US has such a close ties with them


by: Ramnarayan from: Florida, USA
September 14, 2013 5:18 AM
So Saudis dont like diplomacy and peace. Who cares? The world should tell them to go take a hike. It is time they learn that oil and money does not make them a big power. We, the Americans, at least many average Joes still remember Sep 11. If only tne world powers have the guts to tell the Saudi King that to be recognized as a member of international community, they MUST start acting like one. Look at the freedom ( non existent) the average Saudis have. The kings and sheiks are still living in the middle ages.

In Response

by: Ramnarayan from: Florida, USA
September 14, 2013 6:31 PM
As a matter of fact, I AM an American. Don't be so hasty in drawing conclusions!

In Response

by: Sam It from: Earth
September 14, 2013 2:26 PM
ooops, Ramanarayan started thinking that he is american, he said "WE Americans".


by: Davis K. Thanjan from: New York
September 13, 2013 11:22 PM
All parties intervening in the Syrian civil war has their vested interests. Russia want to make money by selling arms to Assad and retain their naval base in Syria. China wants oil and other contracts from Assad and wag its tail for all dictators. US want to be the policeman in the Middle East with democratic ideals. Saudi Arabia and Qatar want to suppress the Alawite regime of Assad. Turkey want to remove Assad who sent millions of refugees into Turkey. Iran want to support Assad for Shite and Alawite domination in Syria. Israel want Assad be removed before he strike against Israel with chemical weapons. The Hezbollah of Lebanon want to support their master Assad. Al Qaida and other Sunni terrorists want the removal of Alawite Assad. The Free Syrian Army want to remove the dictator Assad. Christians in Syria supports Assad who was tolerant of Christians. The Al Qaida and other Sunni terrorists want to exterminate the Christians in Syria. Iraqi Shite government want to help Alawaite Assad and forms a transit country for the supply of weapons from Iran to Assad and the Iranian soldiers in Syria. Removing Assad will not solve all the problems in Syria, similar to what happened in Afghanistan and Iraq. But removal of the dictatorship of Assad is the first step to try democracy in Syria.


by: Godwin from: Nigeria
September 13, 2013 2:30 PM
Times there are when half truths, otherwise called diplomacy, can be thrown to the wind. Saudi Arabia recognizes this as an opportunity to break the Iranian stranglehold on the region, especially holding on an Arab soil, even if its target is the Resistance. But who cares?, Saudi seems to wonder. Over time the Saudis have put their trust in the US to come to their aid at a time like this. So the diplomatic failure may likely have more than just the Saudi undiplomatic sarcasm to a larger dissatisfaction, disaffection and distrust in its alliance with the US.

At the moment it seems very unlikely, but If and when it happens, the pressure will be multiplied for other US allies in the region, particularly Israel. However that may be, the very fact that the US is playing down Syria's counter red-line in demanding that USA first drop its threat of a strike before it will go forward with the chemical weapons disarmament is worrisome. It is a sign that the US is prepared to abandon the whole region to the joint Russia-Iran-Hezbollah-and-Syria power bloc. With the abundance of oil discoveries in the US soil, does this seem the US is about to downgrade its relations with the Arabian kingdom?


by: tajman from: west
September 13, 2013 1:55 PM
I dont like saudis or their government. they are living in middle ages and are fanatics

In Response

by: Ramnarayan from: Florida, USA
September 14, 2013 11:11 AM
It ks about time the west and the US make the Saudi realize that they must join the rest of the civilized world. If thant means, US comes out of the oil relience on Saudi Arabia, we the Americans would be better off. If and when the oil is out of the equation ( assuming it will ever happen), perhaps the entire middle east would begin to look like most of the rest of the world.

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