Why the Sauds Are Hedging Their Bets In Syria–Or, When Will the Arabs Gang-Up On Qatar?

Is Saudi Arabia Shifting Its Stance 
On Syria?

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Qatar’s prime minister and foreign minister, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani (L), Morocco’s foreign minister, Saad-Eddine El Othmani (C), and his Saudi Arabian counterpart, Saud al-Faisal bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, attend a conference of the Friends of Syria group in Marrakech, Dec. 12, 2012. (photo by REUTERS/Abderrahmane Mokhtari )
By: Daoud Rammal Translated from As-Safir (Lebanon).
اقرا المقال الأصلي باللغة العربية

Authorities and prominent figures in Lebanon were not kept in the dark regarding Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s speech. Some of them were even briefed on some of its most important elements and had military information stating that the Syrian leadership would make no statement before it settles the battle on the ground in Daraya. All of this transpired within hours of the Syrian president’s speech.

Summary :

Saudi Arabia braces to deal with the repercussions of its support for Syria’s armed opposition as it re-establishes communication with Damascus, writes Daoud Rammal.

Publisher: As-Safir (Lebanon)
Original Title:
Why Did Riyadh Decide to Re-Open Security Channel with Damascus?
Author: Daoud Rammal
First Published: January 8, 2013
Posted on: January 9 2013
Translated by: Sami-Joe Abboud

Categories :  Saudi Arabia    Syria   Security

According to a diplomatic report, it was noteworthy that Assad did not mention Saudi Arabia despite the fact that he talked about countries financing, arming and supporting insurgents. The report explains that this is due to Saudi and Egyptian positions, as expressed by their ministers of finance, calling for a political solution to the Syrian crisis. This represents a “shift in the two countries’ approach to events in Syria,” the report adds.

Why did Assad avoid mentioning any of the countries, and not just Saudi Arabia? A veteran diplomat in close communication with Arab and foreign ambassadors in Lebanon told As-Safir that Saudi contact with the Syrian capital has been constant and that diplomatic information and reports have indicated this on more than one occasion. He also added that an Egyptian intelligence delegation recently visited Damascus.

The diplomatic source said that “Saudi leadership reopened channels of communication with the Syrian leadership at the security level due to the Saudis’ misguided prediction of the fall of the Syrian regime. Therefore, they feared that the fundamentalist and extremist groups that they financed and armed in order to overthrow Assad and his regime would retaliate within Saudi Arabia, especially following the blast that took place near the Interior Ministry in the Saudi capital. Moreover, a group of countries led by the United Arab Emirates within the GCC explicitly announced what appeared to be a war on the Muslim Brotherhood in a bid to pursue their cells. This is all in addition to a markedly positive attitude on the part of the Sultanate of Oman and growing rejection in Kuwait of Syrian extremist groups at the forefront of the Syrian opposition.”

The same source stated that “all of this prompted Riyadh to re-connect with Damascus under the supervision of the Saudi monarch’s son, Prince Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah, and to entrust this task to Saudi security officials,” adding that the meetings are taking place in Jordan in the presence of Jordanian intelligence officers.

The source further points out that Syria told Saudi Arabia during the meetings that the Syrian leadership would not accept any discussions about settlements, either with Saudi Arabia or any other country until these countries stop funding and arming extremists. They want them to withdraw these groups from all of the occupied Syrian territories “as the Syrian state is determined to eliminate all terrorist and Salafist cells. The source says that this position is supported by several Arab countries that had not cut their undeclared ties with the Syrian leadership.”

The same source dealt with the security and political role played by Jordan. Jordanian leadership recently showed flagrant bias toward the Syrian leadership in light of the rising fears that the fall of the Syrian regime would pave the way for the rise of the Brotherhood in Jordan with the support of Gulf circles — more specifically in Qatar — and the resulting danger that this could pose to the Hashemite throne.

The source indicates that the “Saudi decision to reopen security channels to communicate with the Syrian leadership results from several factors:

• The steadfastness of Assad and his army over the past 22 months.
• The growing role of Salafist forces in Syria and the fear of the spread of this role to Saudi Arabia and other countries.
• The position taken by a number of Gulf states, especially the United Arab Emirates, to confront the spread of the Muslim Brotherhood.
• The US position after the renewal of President Barack Obama’s term. John Kerry, known for his friendship with Assad, was nominated to take over the State Department as successor to Secretary Hillary Clinton. This coincided with a prominent UK position as the British government expressed fears of a rising generation of Salafists — al-Qaeda in Syria — and fears of them infiltrating European countries to carry out acts of terrorism.
• Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s announcement that the West is praying that Russia and China keep practicing their veto against any move for Western intervention in Syria. Saudi Arabia realized that Lavrov would not have said this had he not been sure of the West’s inability to intervene militarily in Syria and its insistence on a political rather than a military solution.
• Assad would not have called for early parliamentary elections had he not been confident that his army controls the largest part of the Syrian territory, and the cities in particular. Moreover, Assad knows full well that a segment of the Syrian people who once sympathized with the Syrian opposition are no longer supportive of it given the practices of the Salafists and Jabhat al-Nusra in particular, an offshoot of al-Qaeda, which is seeking to establish an Islamist emirate in rural areas surrounding Aleppo.”

The source says, “It is sufficient to simply reflect on the content of Assad’s speech to conclude that the regime is largely controlling the ground,” adding that the regime is now adopting a new field approach consisting of reducing the area of military deployment, focusing on controlling cities, limiting the size of expansion in the countryside and building something like a security belt around Damascus to prevent opponents from approaching it.

 

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