The Gulf States, led by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, were unpleasantly surprised by
US President Barack Obama’s speech Saturday, which essentially delayed an
expected, and wanted, imminent attack against Syria.
The Gulf States are
likely to give the West some time, hoping that an attack on Syria will
materialize in the next few weeks.
Salman Shaikh, the director of the
Brookings Doha Center in Qatar told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday that if the
US congress rejects intervening in Syria and Obama follows that advice – similar
to British Prime Minister David Cameron’s acquiescence to his parliament’s
rejection – then “we may see even more heightened efforts by Arab states working
with others to make a coalition of the willing.”
The current coalition he
says is both “unwilling and confused,” and because the Gulf States are
determined that Syrian President Bashar Assad must go, then, in such a
hypothetical situation, they would work to build other coalitions, increase
support for the rebels, and ally clandestinely with various powers.
this scenario, there would not be direct military intervention by Arab states,
but a stronger push of support for the rebels. This option, is not without its
risks, said Shaikh.
However, he believes that in the end, Obama will
attack Syria and that the Gulf States will wait for this and push for harder
strikes if they come.
The hesitation may actually turn out to be a good
thing, asserts Sheikh, pointing out that it may contribute to better political
and diplomatic strategy.
Ultimately, if Assad continues in power, he
“will continue to pose headaches,” using greater and greater force, “as he has
Brandon Friedman, a lecturer at Tel Aviv
University and a researcher at its Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and
African Studies, told the Post that in the wake of the chemical weapons attack
there was a report that a significant shipment of weapons arrived to
Gulf based supporters sent a 400-ton shipment – mostly ammunition
for shoulder-fired weapons and anti-aircraft machine guns – came into northern
Syria via the Turkish province of Hatay around a week ago, according to
opposition sources. Efforts were also being made to smuggle in more advanced
anti-tank missiles, according to a rebel officer quoted by Reuters.
assessments are based on how best to capitalize on US military strikes, if they
come, said Friedman, adding that the big question is if the rebels will be able
to take advantage of the situation and change the current stalemate.
fact that “Bandar bin Sultan, [director-general of the Saudi Intelligence
Agency,] was in Russia making threats and inducements to the Russians to ease
support for Assad shows you how serious the Saudis take this, even though it did
not work,” Friedman said.
Asked if there was a chance that Saudi Arabia
and other Arab states could attack without the support of a Western power,
Friedman responded that this is not likely.
He notes that Turki
al-Faisal, a former intelligence chief and brother of the Saudi foreign
minister, insisted that the Arab world did not have the military capabilities to
intervene in the Syrian civil war.
“It doesn’t have the air force, the
navy, the army, the intelligence- gathering machinery to go and surgically stop
this fighting,” Faisal said at the World Economic Forum at Davos this
The whole military complex is meant more as an insurance policy,
used for cementing alliances with the West, he said. “Their forces are
not able to intervene in a meaningful way.”
Saudis tend to fight wars by
proxy, not fighting themselves, stated Friedman. Saudi Arabia and Qatar
participated briefly during the Battle of Khafji during the first Gulf War in
1991 and US reports indicate that they did not perform well.
contributed to this report.
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