The Gulf Monarchies: Stuck Between Iraq and a Hard Place

 According to numerous sources, the US military has executed the overwhelming majority of all air sorties over Iraq and Syria. The estimates are in the eighty to ninety-five percent range. This fact belies the notion that a military coalition even exists. The Western coalition partners are, in essence, absent from the war effort.

But an even more confounding observation is the fact that the Saudis and the Emiratis have excused themselves entirely. When the bombing campaign began, it was widely reported that those Arab states of Persian Gulf were actively participating. In hindsight, we now know that their contribution was minimal. Today it is non-existent.

These Gulf States know that with their massive oil reserves, they will be in the crosshairs of ISIS once the jihadists feel that they have consolidated their caliphate in Iraq and Syria. Saudi Arabia, of course, is the most coveted prize as the custodians of Islam’s two holiest places, Mecca and Medina. So, why is it that they refuse to play an active part in the air attacks? Further, why haven’t they sent their militaries, armed with the best American weaponry money can buy, on ground assaults to liberate the ISIS seats of power in Raqqa, Syria and Mosul, Iraq?

The modern state of Saudi Arabia has its origins in the mid eighteenth century when a tribal leader, Muhammed bin Saud, joined forces with the religious theologian, Muhammed ibn Abd al-Wahhab, who espoused an extremely strict, puritanical form of Islam.  In this Faustian bargain, it is impossible to discern exactly who plays the part of the devil. Nevertheless, the two camps agreed that the Saud dynasty would exercise temporal rule of the kingdom, while the Wahhabis would control all of the religious aspects. Hence, morality police roam the streets and the Saudi legal system relies heavily on Sharia law.

Additionally, we shouldn’t be deceived by the upscale shopping malls and modern airports of Dubai (the largest of the seven mini-states comprising the United Arab Emirates). As in Saudi Arabia, Emirates law is steeped in Sharia. Amputations, floggings, beheadings and stoning are common penalties for lawbreakers.

With this in mind, it should be apparent why the Arab states of the Persian Gulf have not launched a military campaign in their own defense: they are petrified of the reaction of their own profoundly religious, radicalized populations. The Monarchs know that vast numbers of the citizenry view the wars in Syria and Iraq as a fight to the death with Shia Islam, a sect they believe to be heretical. More specifically, they are keenly aware that a significant percentage of their populations supports the war being waged by ISIS against the Alawite government of Assad, the Shia dominated government of Iraq, and by extension, their Iranian and Hezbollah supporters. The royal families are themselves split in terms of which side to support and which side to attack. The more extreme Wahhabis (I know it’s an oxymoron) back the ISIS led jihad, while the more practical royals, more interested in maintaining their opulent lifestyles rather than religious orthodoxy, would like to see the nascent caliphate vanquished.

As the Gulf States walk this tightrope, paying lip service to the coalition air campaign and flying the occasional bombing run, wealthy members of those societies are among the prime funding sources of ISIS. We are witness to a Marxist (that’s Groucho, not Karl) vignette. The divided monarchies are dirty dancing at two weddings. They are trying to balance their support for an ISIS led jihad against the reviled Shia infidels, while aware of the fact that those whom they are funding are their potential executioners.

The royals have finally been checkmated. If they go all in and launch a land war to extirpate the caliphate, they risk an uprising of their own populations who, they fear, would not tolerate attacking their Sunni brethren who are currently fighting the hated Shi’ites. If they openly support ISIS, and the jihadists are victorious, it only brings closer their own demise.