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Saudi Arabia in the Syrian war: the bluff and reality

Саудовская Аравия в сирийской войне: блеф и реальность

On 16 February, speaking in the European Parliament during his visit to Brussels, Minister of foreign Affairs of Iran Mohammad Javad Zarif warned Saudi Arabia (KSA) from placing ground troops in Syria, saying that the intervention of Riyadh in the Syrian conflict will be regarded as a violation of international law. In these words there was a hidden warning to the Saudi authorities about the inadmissibility of interference in military action in Syria. Open, however, the question remains, how might full participation of Saudi armed forces in a military operation.

Until last year, the Saudi army participated only in one large-scale armed conflict. It was operation “desert Storm”, taken in 1990 against Iraq by the American coalition. However, although the commander of half the army in 1990 was listed as a Saudi Prince Khaled bin Bandar, in fact, a military operation was led by American General Norman Schwarzkopf. A Saudi Prince was marked mainly by transactions of the American arms shipments to the huge amount, the personal commissions of the Prince amounted to about $ 4 billion, prompting even lenient to the antics of relatives of king Khaled bin Abdelaziz to remove the Prince from the post of Minister of defence and to Institute an investigation against him.

The second major operation in Saudi army was the invasion of Yemen, which began in March of 2015. As a result, only direct losses of the civilian population of Yemen amounted to 2.5 thousand people, and the economy and infrastructure of this poorest of the Arab countries were completely destroyed. As for the military success of Saudi Arabia in Yemen, they are more than meat. The last military success of the Saudis was the capture of the southern capital Aden in July last year. Even in Taiz, where the population is hostile to the housetop, Saudi coalition failed to establish control over the city.

If the Saudis had a better idea of the history and thought of the fiasco, which suffered in these places in the SIXTEENTH century the Portuguese, in the XVII and XIX centuries – the Turks, in the twentieth century – the British and the Egyptian army of Nasser, they are unlikely to be so easily invaded in Yemen. In protracted Yemeni war, the opening of Riyadh second front in Syria is a losing venture.

However, the lack of combat experience and military strategy is not so bad. For a major war requires money, and the Kingdom due to the fall in oil prices has serious financial problems. After the beginning of the “Arab spring” in 2011, the late king Abdullah announced the Grand social programs totaling about 72 billion dollars. The program included the creation of a state retirement system, affordable housing, the creation of 90,000 new jobs (mainly in public service and law enforcement agencies), development of depressed regions. The main purpose was to buy the loyalty of the people because of the threat of anti-government protests.

The degree of dependence of the economy of Saudi Arabia oil is the fact that the Kingdom’s budget for 2016 showed a deficit of 60 (!) of billions of dollars. In addition to social programs are compromised by the Saudi aid to the satellites in the Arab world, allowing Riyadh to buy allies for war with Iran. According to unofficial data, the infusion of Saudi money to “friends” $ 30 billion dollars a year. This includes preferential loans to the military government of Egypt, loans to Pakistan, subsidies to the monarchs of Bahrain and Jordan, allowing to keep afloat their fragile regimes, money to bribe tribal sheikhs in Yemen. A separate line runs support the terrorists in Syria and Iraq. However, the Kingdom has a stabilization Fund of 652 billion dollars, but the expenditure of this Fund will be completely exhausted within 8-10 years. And then what?

Instead of relying on their own strength, in December last year, Riyadh announced the creation of the anti-terrorist coalition consisting of 34 States. The name of “anti-terrorism” should not mislead: its tip is a loose Association is not directed against “al Qaeda” or “Islamic state” and against the main geopolitical enemy of Saudi Arabia – Iran. Besides, Riyadh is not going well with the most capable partners. In the beginning of campaign in Yemen refused to participate Pakistan and Egypt. Pakistan have too many internal problems, including in the troubled North-Western province. In addition, Islamabad does not want to spoil relations with neighboring Iran. Egypt is busy fighting terrorists in Sinai and by trying to spread their influence to Libya. Monarchical Jordan and Morocco, not canceling out of Riyadh, Saudi want to get financial aid, but not in a hurry to send their citizens as cannon fodder in Syria. Remain exotic allies of Sudan, Somalia, Comoro Islands, but their military capability will be silent.

Claimed Saudi intervention in Syria is most like a bluff. Yeah, Riyadh has managed to acquire almost overwhelming influence on the Syrian armed opposition; the Kingdom has allies in almost all segments of the anti-government camp ranging from relatively moderate Syrian revolutionary front to “Dzhabhat EN-Nusra” (despite the fact that the latter announced in Saudi Arabia as a terrorist organization, and the subjects of the Kingdom are forbidden to fight on her side, without Saudi help, the militants “An-Nusra” wouldn’t take Idlib in may last year). At the same time, recent successes of the Syrian army has badly shaken the armed opponents of Bashar al-Assad. Militants surrender one position after another, now for them it is not about advancing into new territory, and hold them to their homes. Military defeats and reduce the chances of the “opposition” in the negotiations. In such circumstances, does not remain anything other how to Bang his fist on the table and threaten direct military intervention. Whether this technique is a success, time will tell.

Alexander KUZNETSOV, Deputy Director of the Institute for forecasts and political settlement (Moscow)

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