Analysis: Gulf States, Rebel Allies likely to wait before doubling down

Gulf States unlikely to launch direct attack if West does not act, but would probably increase rebel support says Gulf expert.

Saudi prince Turki al-Faisal 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Denis Balibouse)
Saudi prince Turki al-Faisal 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Denis Balibouse)
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.
In 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 already demonstrated.”
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 Syria.
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.
Saudi 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.
The 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 year.
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.
Reuters contributed to this report.