Wednesday, 29 February 2012
Schanzer: Saudi Arabia Arming Syrian Opposition-“the world may pay a price, too ”

Free Syria Army fighters
Source:  Foreign Policy

Jonathan Schanzer, Vice President of Research at the Washington, DC based Foundation for Defense of Democracies raises the curtain on the dangers of the Kingdom stoking further instability in the Middle East in this Foreign Policy article, “Saudi Arabia is Arming the Syrian Opposition.”  In our Iconoclast  post, “The Third Way for Syria: a vibrant secular democracy for its people,” we noted what Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al Feisal said when he walked out of the failed Friends if Syria meeting in Tunis last Friday:

Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Prince Saud al Faisal walked out of the Tunis meeting saying: “Is it justice to offer aid and leave the Syrians to the killing machine?” The Saudis support arming the opposition which is problematic.

In a New English Review international round table discussion on the Arab Spring and Nuclear Iran to be published later today, we raised the question of Muslim Brotherhood leadership in the Syrian National Council in the person of Syrian American Dr. Louay Safi and the concern over arming the Syrian opposition.  Schanzer’s response was:

Well it says some dangerous things about what we don't know about the opposition in Syria, which I think again underscores the question of whether we should be providing weaponry to the opposition.  We have learned these lessons in the past. Specifically, what happens when you start to fund an insurgency where you don't know who the actors and what their ideologies are? That is what we learned in Afghanistan.

That theme is dealt with cogently in Schanzer’s FP article.

Note these excerpts:

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 sendsweapons 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 withdrewin 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.

Schanzer notes the debacle of Saudi -backed Jihad in Afghanistan that the US acquiesced to during the secret war in the 1980’s that spawned Al-Qaeda.

They fueled a generation of zealous Islamist fighters who later caused bigger problems elsewhere. These Islamists were instrumental to the Saudis after the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in December 1979. Inspired by the strict Wahhabi interpretation of Islam and armed with Saudi funds and weapons, Arab mujahideen poured into Afghanistan. (An estimated 175,000 to 250,000 Arabs and Afghans fought there at any given time during the war, according to terrorism analyst Peter Bergen.) After a decade of guerrilla war during which the Soviets sustained heavy losses, the Red Army withdrew, and their puppet government in Kabul fell soon thereafter.

There are untoward consequences to Syria, the region and the world from Saudi arming the opposition in the face of Obama Administration’s lack of an effective countering strategy. Schanzer concludes:

U.S. President Barack Obama's administration continues to express deep misgivings about sending weapons, claiming that the Syrian opposition is too much of a black box. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently expressed concerns that the weapons could flow to terrorist groups such as al Qaeda or Hamas. But the Saudis have run out of patience. They now unabashedly advocate for arming the Free Syrian Army.

This is not an empty threat. The Saudis know how to procure and move weapons, and they have no shortage of cash. If Riyadh wants to arm the opposition, armed it shall be. And those who receive the weapons will likely be at least amenable to the Wahhabi interpretation of Islam that has spawned dangerous Islamist movements worldwide.

Of course, a Saudi-led insurgency would not be in the cards if the Obama administration were not so opposed to empowering the opposition. But the longer Obama waits and the deeper the humanitarian crisis worsens, the more likely it becomes that other actors will tip the balance in Syria. Using history as a guide, none would be more dangerous than Saudi Arabia.

The Iranians and Russians may yet pay a price for propping up Assad in Syria. But if the Saudis have their way, the world may pay a price too.

Posted on 02/29/2012 5:30 AM by Jerry Gordon
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