News / Middle East

Saudis Shun Diplomacy in Syria Crisis

Saudis Shun Diplomacy in Syria Crisisi
September 13, 2013 5:14 PM
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
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.

You May Like

Video Americans, Tourists, Reflect on Meaning of Thanksgiving

VOA garnered opinions from several people soon after November 13 Paris attacks, which colored many of their thoughts

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

In northern Thailand, the annual tradition of constructing floating baskets to carry away the year’s bad spirits highlights the Loy Krathong festival

Video Tree Houses - A Branch of American Dream

Workshops aimed at teaching people how to build tree houses have become widely popular in America in recent years

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
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.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syriai
November 26, 2015 5:21 AM
Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs