The defeat of Saudi Arabia in Syria
By Ghaleb Kandil
Syrian opposition is living under the shock of the progress of the Syrian Arab Army in Aleppo, in the countryside of Damascus and Homs province, while the process of reconciliation, which restore the power of the state in the areas bruised by Takfirists groups, is spreading around the capital. Meanwhile, opponents circles in the Arabian Peninsula have explained the reasons behind the royal decree on Saudi terrorists in Syria.
Saudi opponents have revealed that the Saudi regime has received a U.S. warning that the Syrian government has submitted to the Security Council of the United Nations a huge amount of documents and reports on the Saudi involvement in direct support of terrorism in Syria. U.S. officials have warned Riyadh that Russia could rely on this reports to support the Syrian demand to adopt sanctions against all governments involved in supporting terrorism. They added that Washington would not be able to oppose this approach because the fight against terrorism is a priority of its official policy, and any attempt to block the process initiated by Russia et Syria could have serious consequences: 1-The deterioration of relations with Russia; 2-the weakening of international cooperation with U.S. intelligence services in the fight against terrorism, which could bring the specter of terrorist attacks on American soil.
For these reasons, the United States asked Riyadh to take measures giving the impression that the kingdom is fighting terrorism. This will facilitate U.S. efforts aimed at bailing out the regional role of Saudi Arabia and will contain the impact of the US-Saudi failure to destroy the Syrian state.
The Royal Decree was supplemented by the announcement of the Saudi embassy in Ankara that it was prepared to accept armed extremist Saudi fighters in Syria to help them return home.
The order of King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz and the statement of his embassy in Turkey constitute an admission of the presence of Saudi military officers and instructors, members of the security services and the National Guard of the kingdom, on the field in Syria. The Syrian ambassador to the UN, Bashar al-Jaafari, announced the presence of a very large number of Saudi detainees at the hands of Syrian security services. According to credible information, they would be 800 persons.
Some analysts have estimated that the royal decree is an order of repatriation to Saudi soldiers sent by the Saud dynasty to fight with terrorist groups, and a call for Takfirists to continue fighting instead of returning to the country, where they may risk 30 years in prison.
It is in this context that Barack Obama is visiting, in late March, Saudi Arabia. Press information and reports on the visit indicate that the main objective of the U.S. President is to redistribute positions within the Saudi regime after its defeat in Syria. U.S. sources said that the missions of the head of intelligence, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, and Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal, are about to be officially terminated. Consultations were held between Riyadh and Washington for new appointments to key positions, which require royal decrees. U.S. media reported that King Abdullah would favor the appointment of ambassador to the United States, Adel al-Joubair, head of intelligence, while his son, Abdel Aziz bin Abdullah al- Saud would succeed al-Faisal. Conflicts within the ruling family is intensifying amid succession struggle after the death of King Abdullah , whose disappearance, according to many experts, could bring back to the surface internal contradictions and trigger a war between the princes of the second generation.
Observers say that the opinion of Barack Obama will be decisive in the redistribution of roles within the royal family, as recommended by the U.S. intelligence services.
Experts argue that the U.S. proposal, sent to Russia to organize a regional meeting on the sidelines of the Geneva II Conference II, aims to help Saudi Arabia to escape the consequences of his actions Syria. The United States has proposed a meeting at expert level between Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the United States and Russia. Iran’s refusal has disappointed U.S. hopes to absorb Saudi failure, trying to anticipate changes on the Syrian field. Especially that the coming weeks will bring new achievements for the Syrian Arab Army, with a new change in the balance in its favor. The confession of the Secretary of State John Kerry about changes favorable to Bachar al-Assad is no longer sufficient. These changes on the ground will pave the way for the reelection of President Assad for a new term, the first after the drafting of the new Constitution.
There is great differences between the winning side, who knows what he wants and expresses the popular will, and facades manipulated by Americans, Saudis and Turks, trying, in vain, to present them ass credible interlocutor.
The defeat of Saud in Syria is the decisive blow to the kingdom of sand, already shaken by deep internal crises.
MICHEL SLEIMAN, Lebanese President
«My ambition is to make a farewell speech in Baabda Palace. I have given instructions to prepare it, and to hand over power to a normally elected president. The presidency did not begin with me, and it will not end with the end of a constitutional mandate. I call for the fortification of national unity, which is our most valuable asset. Whoever is thinking of preventing a quorum in Parliament is mistaken because it means disabling elections, and it is undemocratic. We are seeking to form a consensus government, but if that does not happen for one reason or another, the country cannot remain without a government. Can the president who is calling for boosting his powers abandon the powers existing in the Constitution, and not sign a decree calling for the government. Is sticking to a minister name, a portfolio or a condition more important than adhering to Lebanon? Citizens are complaining of hunger and from a bad security situation. We need to form a cabinet that is up to people’s hopes. Applying the national defense strategy will make the army the sole armed power.»
MICHEL AOUN, Free Patriotic Movement Leader
«We fully support the memorandum that was issued by Bkirki, and we hope that we cooperate with those who support achieving it, because it embodies the principles on which Lebanon is based (...) The danger in the Cabinet formation process lies in the fact that its consultations eliminated the presence of the largest Christian parliamentary bloc. It became clear to us when we opposed this deliberate error that the deal to form a Cabinet was made between certain officials and the prime minister-designate and we had no choice ... as if they’re bidding farewell to national partnership. The current practices have nothing to do with constitutional principles or norms that were established during previous Cabinet formation efforts ... the present behavior should be rejected outright to prevent setting a precedent. The concept of an all-embracing Cabinet contradicts political targeting which amounts to exclusion. Things became more complicated after the prime minister-designate held on to it the condition when his party the Future Movement called for it. If the aim of forming a government is to do away with the presidential election, which means preparations to introduce paralysis in that post, then this is more dangerous and its consequences are grave. Beware of messing with national principles during a critical and dangerous stage in the life of our one nation.»
ASHRAF RIFI, Former Internal Security Forces in Lebanon
«The government and state institutions have been negligent and ineffective in defending border villages, from Akkar to Arsal, which have been exposed to repeated shelling by the Syrian army without any prohibitive action. I call on the government to lodge a complaint with the UN security council. I call on the government to deploy the army immediately along the entirety of the border with Syria, and retaliate to the sources of fire that have caused displacement.»
ALI FAYAD, Hezbollah MP
«A fait-accompli government is incapable of addressing requirements pertaining to the upcoming stage. Besides, such a government won’t confront the Takfeeri threat. Therefore, the difficult phase at hand, necessitates that all political constituents work together on board a balanced cabinet in a bid to reach a certain level of understanding over a successful showdown with the Takfeeris.»
• The Lebanese Army Saturday arrested a man during a raid on his home in the qada of Zahle, east Lebanon, security sources said. The sources identified Nawwaf al-Hussein as the man apprehended during the raid in the village of Jlala, Chtaura. Media reports said Hussein’s arrest was linked to the case of detained Omar Atrash, a Sunni Sheikh who was charged last week with involvement in two recent suicide bombings in Beirut’s southern suburbs.
• Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai said Wednesday electing a new president on time was a necessary condition for a strong state and warned that power-hungry politicians implicating Lebanon in regional conflicts were leading the country into the abyss. Reading a National Charter drafted by the Maronite Church as a roadmap for what he described as a critical stage in the history of Lebanon and the region, the Maronite leader also stressed the need for adherence to the three principles upon which the country was established: coexistence, the National Pact and Muslim-Christian partnership. “Electing a new president as a new head of state within the constitutional deadlines is not debatable and it is a primary condition because its absence means an absence of the state and its future,” Rai said during a televised news conference. Rai also outlined what he said were the growing concerns of Lebanese, saying the Maronite Church could not remain quiet as the country neared an “existential crisis.” “The Lebanese should recognize that a national plan cannot be applied unless it produces a just, productive and capable state or else it will threaten the Lebanese entity,” Rai said. “Those adopting self-security measures justify them by [highlighting] the inability of the state as well the people’s right to self-defense. This leads to a scenario wherein the strongest party imposes its choices on others and the other parties seek empowerment through foreign sides,” he said. “A speedy resolution to the crisis [in Syria] and the return of refugees to their land are vital Lebanese interests,” he said.
• A total of 420 people were evacuated Sunday from army-besieged districts of the Syrian city of Homs, the province’s governor said, as television footage showed exhausted men, women and children. "Four hundred and twenty besieged people came out today from the Old City districts of Homs, and the operation is still under way," Barazi said. Television footage showed women, children and elderly men getting off the buses that brought them out of the besieged areas, after suffering a more than 600-day siege. They appeared visibly exhausted and frail-looking, in video broadcast by Beirut-based channel Al-Mayadeen. Children, carried by their parents, looked pale. The civilians were assisted by UN staff wearing helmets and blue vests, and Syrian Red Crescent volunteers. There was also a strong Syrian army presence at the evacuation site. "We had nothing. All the children were sick, we even had nothing to drink," said one exhausted woman, her three children standing around her. "It’s been two years and four months!" a man told a journalist who asked him how long it had been since he had left the rebel-held districts.
• Australian officials Sunday blame a "fairly major breakdown" in border security for the reported escape of a convicted terrorist through Sydney Airport to join the conflict in Syria. New South Wales Premier Barry O’Farrell expressed concern after media reports that Khaled Sharrouf, who served almost four years in prison after pleading guilty over a 2005 conspiracy to attack Sydney, had fled the country. According to News Corp Australia, Sharrouf boarded a flight to Malaysia at Sydney Airport last month using his brother’s passport and was now believed to be in Syria. "I have to say I think that immigration and the federal police and customs have been doing a magnificent job," O’Farrell told reporters when asked about the case. "But I look to see what caused what appears to have been a fairly major breakdown." Police and customs have refused to comment on the case. Sharrouf, 31, had his passport confiscated and has been on international watchlists since his release from prison in 2009. He pleaded guilty to committing acts in preparation for a terrorist act by possessing clocks and batteries to be used in a bomb blast as part of the so-called "Terror Nine" conspiracy, which resulted in Australia’s largest-ever terrorism trial and the conviction of nine men. Australia’s government expressed concern last month at the growing numbers of its citizens travelling to Syria to fight alongside rebel groups, with several reported deaths.
• The Lebanonfiles website reports that armed masked men, brandishing flags of Al Qaeda, appear from time to time in Kaska, Beirut.
AS SAFIR (LEBANESE DAILY, ARAB NATIONALIST)
GHASSAN RIFI (FEBRUARY 5, 2014)
Publishing the names of 21 Lebanese killed in the Syrian town of Zarat and the Knights fortress (Homs district), after joining the ranks of Islamist rebel groups, has thrown its weight in many parts of North Lebanon and the Bekaa.
Fears have grown after reports that most of these young people had entered Syria at different times, by using illegal crossings between the two countries. They are from Lebanese areas under close surveillance by the security services and the spotlight of the media due to the supposed location of Al Qaeda.
It is no secret that since the Lebanese Abou Sleiman (former Roumieh inmate for belonging to Fatah al-Islam) took command of the Knights fortress, two years ago, many Lebanese youth were encouraged to join him. The first attempt to join the ranks of Abou Sleiman units is signed by that so-called "Tall Kalakh," whose members, except one, were ambushed by Syrian army in October 2012. Since that incident, infiltrations in Syria are in small groups of two or three individuals per night. Today, the number of Lebanese fighters deployed between Zarat and Crack Knights totaled several hundred.
Strong tension that prevailed at the Lebanese-Syrian border in recent days is related to this matter. The Brigade of Abu Sleiman informed groups in Lebanon about the delicacy of his situation due to the blockade imposed by the Syrian army and the continued bombardment their positions. Lebanese militiamen then attempted diversions to ease the pressure on Abu Sleiman men. They fired mortars to Syria and attacked a Syrian army check-point near the village of Gheida, killing several soldiers. They hoped to open a corridor that would allow Abou Sleiman’s men to withdraw to Lebanon. But the Syrian response was violent and shells fell on Lebanese villages. The locals say between five and seven militiamen bodies are visible on the bank of the Grand River, and nobody dares approach to recover.
Informed sources expect an intensification of the firepower of the Syrian army in the region, which endangers the lives of dozens of Lebanese militiamen stationed in the Knights fortress.
Salafi sources indicate that a significant number of young people starting to escape the control of clerics because of the growing involvement of Hezbollah in Syria and the continued sectarian speeches from some political factions.
AN NAHAR (LEBANESE DAILY, CLOSE TO MARCH-14 COALITION)
ROSANNA BOU MOUNCEF (FEBRUARY 7, 2014)
According to some officials, the forces of March-8 rely on the fact that the influential countries will try to persuade President Michel Sleiman, Tammam Salam and March-14 to save the next government in meeting the claims of General Michel Aoun, instead of resorting to the more difficult options, including the possibility of holding up the Caretaker government, which would be invested with presidential prerogatives in the event that a new president wouldn’t be elected. March-8 is now convinced that the influential countries prefer the formation of a unifying government. However, the intransigence of March-8 could lead March-14 coalition to focus on certain portfolios and some names. Wednesday night, the Future Movement has hardened its position by insisting on the appointment of General Ashraf Rifi at the Interior ministry. March-14 believes that if Michel Aoun may assume responsibility hinder the birth of government, causing a potential vacuum in the presidency, Hezbollah, does not have that luxury, given the security incidents in its strongholds. March-14 forces also believe that the March-8 maneuvers aimed at returning the ball in their court, pointing Saad Hariri to form the new government after the resignation of Tammam Salam, putting the head of the Future in obligation to return to Lebanon.
AL AKHBAR (LEBANESE DAILY CLOSE TO THE LEBANESE RESISTANCE)
FOUAD AL-IBRAHIM (FEBRUARY 7, 2014)
The recent announcement by Saudi Arabia concerning its fighters in Syria is no mere detail to gloss over. It is a decidedly serious indicator of the extent of pressure exerted by the United States, including the threat to cancel the expected visit by President Barack Obama to the kingdom. Yet the story has another dimension: the return of Saudi fighters to their home country.
The Saudis are afraid of an uncontrolled return of those fighters to their country. Two conditions have been set. The first would be a return, under security precautions via the Saudi embassy in Turkey, as mentioned by the ambassador in Ankara on February 6. The second means their dispersal along the frontlines, a repeat of what Saudi fighters in Afghanistan experienced. The following is just some of what is known about the kingdom’s abandonment of its fighters in Syria.
Royal orders in Saudi Arabia are not issued except in the case of relieving an emir of his duties, appointing him to a position, or in relation to a sovereign issue requiring orders from the highest authority in the state. However, the royal orders issued on February 3 are a clear indicator that the subject of the royal decree surpasses the authority of the cabinet. It called for what can be described as a "written pledge" from the king himself.
Three issues could be construed from the royal orders:
First, the royal order was issued in the context of the media debate on the supposed visit by US President Barack Obama to Riyadh at the end of March. At the beginning of this month, US newspapers, such as the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, published the news about the prospective visit. The US embassy in Riyadh quickly replied, saying the White House did not say anything of the sort. "The embassy did not have any information about the visit and cannot comment on it," said the assistant media attaché at the US embassy Stewart White.
However, with the issuing of the royal decree on February 3, the White House immediately announced the visit by Obama to Riyadh at the end of next March. The royal order was the lengthiest in the history of such decrees, except for those related to the budget. In summary, it was a wholesale condemnation of terrorist acts in all their forms, where Saudi citizens were involved, whether civilians, military personnel, and preachers who agitate, belong, donate, or glorify religious or ideological extremists, calling for the most severe sentences against them.
According to available information, US officials presented the Saudis with a huge dossier at the end of last year. It contained irrefutable evidence proving the involvement of Saudi Arabia in terrorist activities in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, and even Russia. The dossier was now in the hands of the international community, which could lead to a censure at the UN Security Council and the classification of Saudi Arabia as state sponsor of global terrorism.
The message was heard clearly by the Saudis. It meant that it is impossible to include terrorism in the protection and strategic defense treaty signed in the 1940s between Saudi King Abdul-Aziz and US President Franklin Roosevelt. The question of terrorism is an international issue and does not belong in bilateral agreements.
Saudi Arabia felt the threat, which required a quick position from the highest authority in the country. Some in the royal family understood it as a precondition for Obama’s visit to Riyadh in order to allay the concerns of US allies and the international community, who no longer doubt Saudi’s involvement in the majority of terrorist activities in the region and around the world.
Second, the royal orders were a clear message to Saudi fighters, civilians and military alike, principally in Syria, but also in Iraq, Lebanon, and other places. It meant that a harsh fate awaits them if they decided to come back home. To avoid the grim destiny and severe punishment, they had to remain outside the borders and continue their mission until they perish or get dispersed in other fighting arenas, much like the first contingent of Arab Afghan fighters and those who emerged in Iraq after 2003, in Lebanon after the Nahr al-Bared war at the end of 2007, and those currently in Syria following the agreement between Saudi intelligence chief Bandar bin Sultan and former CIA chief David Petraeus in the summer of 2012.
There is no doubt that a royal decree of such severity is a stab in the back by the official sponsor, represented by Prince Bandar, whose mission was put to rest by the decision. Reactions by al-Qaeda supporters on social media sites indicate extensive anger against Saudi Arabia for deceiving the fighters, time after time, from Afghanistan to Iraq to Lebanon and now in Syria. Thus, many Saudi fighters and their supporters are beginning to see the royal decree as a provocative act. This might push the fighters to commit foolish security acts to foil its aims, tarnishing the image of the kingdom and reinforcing the impression that it supports terrorism.
Naturally, the Saudi regime could hide behind the pretext that it never supported the fighting abroad and did not allow the collection of donations or incitement to emigrate to join the jihad. On the surface, the excuse is valid. Many agitating preachers and mosque imams were subjected to investigations to stop the collection of donations for fighting in Syria, in addition to the issuing of fatwas, which considered fighting in Syria to be "sedition."
On the other hand, observers have gathered overwhelming evidence about the complicity of Saudi political, media, and religious institutions in the emigration of thousands of Saudis to the "land of steadfastness" in Syria. Nothing else could explain the participation of hundreds of Saudi soldiers fighting there, despite being prohibited from traveling abroad, except by special orders of the military leadership.
The mention of military personnel and the severe punishment awaiting them was not by accident. It would not have happened without documented evidence about the participation of large numbers of military personnel in the fighting in Syria, who poured through Jordan under the patronage of Saudi Assistant Defense Minister Prince Salman bin Sultan, the half-brother of the godfather of the war in Syria Prince Bandar.
Saudi Arabia had mastered a double game. In public, it expressed a contrived strictness about the participation of Saudis in fighting abroad or collecting donations for al-Qaeda and its old and new subsidiaries. But in secret, money, men, and weapons were flooding the battlefields without any control.
The third issue concerns secondary indicators in the royal decree, which imply that the war in Syria was coming to an end and that armed groups are now on their own, after losing the required finances, arms, and training. This could only mean the end of the role of Prince Bandar, who left to the United States for a prolonged vacation, under the pretext of medical treatment.
This brings us to the Iranian-Turkish proposal, which provides the Saudis a decent exit from the Syrian quagmire, on the condition of gradually abandoning its support for the insurgents. It is clear that the two countries have begun a joint high-level coordination to confront the question of terrorism. After Ankara’s previous hesitation to give it serious consideration, according to the Iranian view, it is now beginning to give it the widest attention, after the recent visit by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Iran.
The outcome means that Saudi is fearful of the return of its fighters, so it came up with a list of harsh punishments to avoid the violent repercussions at the time of reckoning. Moreover, what is even more dangerous, from its perspective, would be international sanctions which await the kingdom if it does not withdraw from the war in Syria and funding terrorism on the international level. This has led European intelligence agencies to step up their presence in the region to follow-up on the return of Saudi citizens back to the kingdom.
It is necessary to draw attention to concessions made by Saudi Arabia to cast away the specter of accusations of supporting terrorism. During his most recent visit to Riyadh, US Secretary of State John Kerry described the position of the Saudi leadership concerning the Israeli-Palestinian settlement with intriguing words. He said he felt "strong enthusiasm" on its part in this regard, at a time when nothing existed for such an enthusiasm.
Here is where the information intersects: the terrorism file presented by the United States to their Saudi counterparts and the Palestinian-Israeli settlement dossier. Sources close to the Palestinian National Authority in Ramallah said that Kerry had asked the head of the PNA, Mahmoud Abbas, to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, in return for a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. This would be with the gradual abandonment of the principle of the right of return and reviving the implantation project on a large scale, where Arab countries, in addition to Australia and Canada, would absorb Palestinians.
Palestinian sources add that President Abbas was reluctant about announcing his approval without a cover by influential Arab countries, chiefly Saudi Arabia. Kerry reassured Abbas that he would be personally undertaking this task.
Is there a relationship between Kerry’s reassurances and the enthusiasm of King Abdullah? In general, the royal decree is a sign of a new stage.
AL AKHBAR (FEBRUARY 6, 2014)
As the media continues to focus its spotlight on the recent Saudi-American political disputes, analysts believe that on a more fundamental level, the military and economic ties are likely to endure as the money continues to flow.
In 1933, as the Arab American Company (ARAMCO) started exploring and developing vast oil reserves, the relationship between the infantile Wahhabi kingdom and the developing Western superpower blossomed and an agreement was made.
It was simple: oil for protection. Saudi ensured the flow of oil at stable prices, while the US protected and provided security for the al-Saud monarchy. It became one of the most essential components that shaped power structures which govern the region to this day.
But as tensions surfaced in recent months, many began to speculate over the future relationship between the two countries.
In the final week of last November, a historical deal was struck between Iran and six world powers, including the US, that sought to lessen sanctions on the Islamic Republic in return for more international oversight on its nuclear energy program. That deal emerged after the US and Iran conducted secret meetings that sought to subdue the drums of war.
The Saudis were surprised and furious. They, like everyone else, were kept in the dark regarding the secret negotiations, and were concerned the deal would signal an end of Western attempts to contain Iranian regional power.
The Saudis were already fuming with their American ally over its last-minute decision to not strike Syria in mid-September, and over what the Saudis perceived to be inadequate support for former Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak during the Egyptian uprising in January 2011.
The Americans, meanwhile, have become exceedingly uncomfortable with the key role members of the Saudi monarchy are playing in fermenting and nourishing fundamentalist armed groups in Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, and Iraq.
But analysts say the current tension is not necessarily a radical development, as political disagreements have appeared in the past, and that such disagreements will not have a profound effect on the future of their bilateral relationship.
“This is not new,” Frederic Wehrey, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and lieutenant colonel in the US Air Force Reserve, said during a talk he gave at the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut.
“The Saudis were not particularly pleased during the Iraq-Iran-US talks in 2007. It goes all the way back to when the Saudis were in conflict with [Egyptian leader] Gamal Abdul Nasser,” he said.
The constant theme, Wehrey argued, is that the Saudis felt that they were not being consulted. With Iran, which the Saudis consider a major hegemonic threat in the region, the dispute arises from Saudi fears that they will be downgraded and confined to the status of ‘junior partner’ in America’s plans for the region.
“Saudi and much of the Gulf always wanted to internationalize security, and Iran does not. The Gulf will always fear two things: abandonment, and entrapment by American wars or policies,” he argued.
“There is no amount of assurances to fully assuage the Saudis. The US bent over backwards many times, and we can point to Obama’s upcoming trip to Saudi Arabia in March,” as an example of easing concerns, Wehrey said.
Fouad Ibrahim, a Saudi journalist and opponent to the monarchy based in Beirut, claims the main issue between the two nations is how Saudi conducts itself in the region.
“There were many issues historically, but I think today the US is concerned with the Saudi-Israeli plans against the Syrian state. The Saudis tried to get US involved in wars for Saudi interests, like Iran, but this is not possible,” he told Al-Akhbar.
Ibrahim further opined the Saudi monarchy was currently in a state of confusion, saying, “they were betting on a complete change in the power dynamics in the region, and because that did not happen, the monarchy has lost its nerves,” implying they are driven by emotional rather than political calculations.
For Ibrahim, the dispute was directly linked to Saudi’s role in fermenting fundamentalist armed groups in places like Syria.
“That is why the Americans waited first for the Saudi King to issue his decree that says Saudis fighting abroad will be jailed, before announcing Obama’s visit,” he said. “It was only a few hours after the decree was made that the Americans announced the visit.
“It shows you how sensitive the matter was and the amount of US pressure on the Saudi monarchy.”
Similarly, Wehrey noted that there is a growing belief in Washington that the war in Syria has “eclipsed the Iraq war as a magnet for foreign volunteers” which Saudi is seen as playing a major role in.
“The memory of Afghanistan and Iraq is palatable in Washington now,” Wehrey said, referring to the American army’s battles with fighters who were backed by Saudi Arabia.
“And the worry [with Syria] is where the fighters are going next,” he added.
And stemming off the present dispute, media and political commentators have argued that Saudi, and the rest of the Gulf, would attempt to seek a more independent and less reliant relationship from the US, at least politically.
But for both Wehrey and Ibrahim, this trend is not entirely likely.
“Seeking a polygamous, if I can use this term, relationship with other powers is challenging. No body is equipped to fill in as a the security guarantor today – China, EU, or Russia are not candidates,” Wehrey said, adding “there is also a great deal of disunity in the Gulf over foreign policy objectives, and much of the efforts are aiming to deal with internal discontent and other ideological threats by passing draconian laws, ejecting expatriates, and so forth.”
And, Wehrey noted, according to Pentagon and Department of Defense officials he has spoken to, the military-to-military relationship continues to be solid.
“We are not going anywhere,” he said, “The Gulf is still a door-way for US power projection into the rest of the region. This still guides a lot of the thinking.”
“The Middle East has become too costly for the US,” Ibrahim said on his part, “and Asia is becoming an attractive region for the US because it’s stable and has large economic potential. While I think Saudi and America will not have the same political relations as before, the military relationship is still going strong because its purely about money.”
“This is the only advantage the Saudis provide [for the Americans]. It’s nothing else but a reservoir of money for the American military industry,” he concluded.
Indeed, in 2010 the US and Saudi Arabia inked an arms deal worth $60 billion – the largest US arms deal ever – which is expected to provide the Saudi military with state-of-the-art aircraft, bunker busters, and other advanced military equipment, as well as training.
No matter the extent of the political quarrel, the exuberant, lucrative profits made from this relationship – for the Americans at least – suggests that it will be business as usual for the near future.
AL AKHBAR (FEBRUARY 5 , 2014)
The fierce battles between the Syrian army and armed extremist groups in the town of Zara, surrounding the Krak des Chevaliers, are echoing throughout Wadi al-Nasara, which is Arabic for the Valley of the Christians. Each day, the villages in the valley bury new victims. Those who have not fled have now resolved never to abandon Syria.
The driver’s voice mixed with the sound of the snowy wind pounding our speeding car as it traversed the Hawash-Zara road, in Wadi al-Nasara, west of the city of Homs. “This road is dirty at night,” the man remarked.
There were two men in the back, sticking their rifles out the window. You feel fear, but you try to pull yourself together.
It was pitch black outside, and the Syrian opposition militants holed up in the Krak des Chevaliers crusader castle are known to target this road. But according to the driver, the situation is now safer, after the Syrian army established new positions and stepped up its security measures. The minutes passed heavily, with the images of gratuitous death and beheadings in Wadi al-Nasara playing over and over again in your head.
Those fighting alongside the Syrian army have made their peace with death. They talk about their comrades who have been killed in a sad, matter-of-fact tone. The residents sheltered in their homes in the valley might not be facing certain death like them, but the odds of being killed from random shelling and the almost daily sniping by the militants remain high. And while army reinforcements in preparation for the liberation of Krak Des Chevaliers improved conditions along the road in the past two weeks, travel by night is still risky.
The cold weather is not the biggest concern behind the sand barriers. Nizar, a pro-regime fighter, adjusts his wooly hat and blows warm air into his palms, as he divides his gaze between his night vision scopes and us. “You can’t afford to be cold or to close your eyes. The militants are trying to sneak in every hour. I hope they do, so I can show them to you on the scopes.”
The fighters stationed here include Syrian army soldiers, National Defense Forces members, and fighters from the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP). But the majority of them are in truth residents of nearby villages.
Most of the Christians who remain in the region are not banking on salvation to come from Western Christendom. Those who have not fled say they now prefer to die here as opposed to receiving the “White Man’s charity,” anyway.
Tony, who works at a shawarma restaurant in the village of Hawash, does not want to leave. Like him, the mother of Hossam, from the village of Hanbara, who was killed in the conflict, wants to stay close to his grave so she can visit him every day. Countless others like them want to stay, too. Syria is the only home they have.
During a January 29 attack on a National Defense checkpoint in the town of Ammar al-Hosn, the militants took great joy in mutilating the bodies of the troops who had been manning the checkpoint. They gouged the eyes of one corpse and beheaded another, taking the head with them.
Over the past several weeks, the militants beheaded many others, including fighters from the National Defense Forces, an SSNP fighter named Hanna Karam, and also civilians, most recently a young man named Fadi Matta, from Marmarita.
Our guide, during a tour of Syrian army checkpoints during the day, reckoned that the goal of the beheadings was having the opposite of its intended effect among the residents of the valley, who are now more adamant about taking up arms against the militants. Indeed, with the increasing attacks against the residents, a new batch of fighters has been arriving almost every day from surrounding villages like Bahzina, Hanambra, Shallouh, and Hawash to the sand barriers, to enlist against the militants.
Some come from universities, others from their jobs in restaurants, farming, and various other professions. One of the fighters said, “Life on the battlefield robs you of everything. You only think about killing militants or imagining yourself dead.”
Those fighting alongside the Syrian army do not deny that some of the militants are highly experienced, especially sharpshooters. In Zara, it is all about “who shoots first?” When army snipers, who are also professionals, find it hard to take out a sniper from the armed extremists’ ranks, for example, Syrian army soldiers use guided missiles for the job, because one sniper can slow down the advance of dozens of soldiers for several days.
Those in foxholes and along the front lines are not mindless rifles. Many of them can handle themselves well in political conversations. Abu Joseph, from Marmarita, said, “The war is not between Sunnis and Shia, or Alawis and Sunnis. It is between backwardness and all Syrians, including us, the Christians.”
Hanna Karam’s funeral was held on January 31 in Bahzina. The procession was permeated by as much anger as sorrow. The young man was killed in an attack on Zara farms. When his comrades were finally able to retrieve his body, the takfiris had already severed his head.
It was a closed-casket service. The coffin was carried while the town’s scouts performed the Syrian national anthem. Hanna’s bereaved mother walked behind the coffin, calling his name like he was still there, drinking coffee with his brothers near the church and the cemetery.
For the residents of Wadi al-Nasara, Krak des Chevaliers is now a monster made out of stone, perched in the high mountain, spoiling their lives day and night, with the corpse-obsessed ghouls it shelters. Facts, rumors, and outrageous myths intermingle among the residents about the medieval castle and the militants hiding inside.
While some locals claim that 5,000 to 7,000 militants are inside the crusader castle, military sources assert that the real number does not exceed a thousand, though they admit that the militants are in possession of huge quantities of arms and ammunition. Recently, the militants were able to seize a tank, a 37-mm gun, and a mortar from the army.
Suddenly, the residents turned into military experts, and panicked ones at that. But even days later, there has been no shelling from the tank on the village. “They didn’t try the tank yet!” quipped one patron at a small shop in the village. He continued, “They tried the 37-mm. Two days ago, they fired at Marmarita, but thank God, no one was hurt. Let’s see when they will use the tank. Yesterday, they tried the mortar.”
The military sources said that the militants are saving the tank for the “major battle,” and are hiding it from the Syrian air force.
Marmarita is the largest Christian town in Wadi al-Nasara, alongside the town of Hawash. The majority of its residents are Greek Orthodox Christians. Before the conflict, they numbered 7,000. Today, more than 30,000 people live in the town, including many Christians displaced from the Bustan al-Diwan district of Homs, as well as from Hamidiyeh and the city of Qusayr.
The road to Marmarita from Hawash takes longer than usual. Before the war, the road passed through Krak des Chevaliers and did not take more than 10 minutes. Now, the road has been diverted to the town of Daghleh, and it takes around half an hour. Half an hour is okay, if it means avoiding sniper fire – or an extremist waiting to slit your throat.
At night, it is possible to encounter some patrons at the town’s restaurants, but even so, they are only a handful. Before the conflict, Marmarita was one of the most important summer resorts in Syria.
In the daytime, one can see Krak des Chevaliers to the southwest. On a clear day, one can also see the Lebanese Cedar Mountains and a good part of the Western Lebanon Mountain Range.
Residents of Marmarita took up arms to defend their areas a while ago under the leadership of Bashar al-Yazigi. They joined the Popular Committees first, and then the National Defense Forces, in addition to the SSNP. Eight fighters from Marmarita have been killed in action, in addition to two civilians and a number of Syrian army soldiers and officers.
In the afternoon, when the shops start to close, one will be able to see an interesting sight: all the shutters have been recently painted with the colors of the Syrian flag.
AL JOUMHOURIA (LEBANESE DAILY CLOSE TO MARCH-14 COALITION, FEBRUARY 7, 2014)
Military sources said that the Lebanese Army has strengthened recently its security measures to deal with a possible terrorist attack that would undermine the stability of the country. These measures came after information on the preparation of terrorist operations and suicide attacks by a new procedure, as it appeared with the last attack of Choueifat.
Terrorists operating in Lebanon are now using women to transport explosives used in the suicide bombings. Faced with this new strategy, the Lebanese Army has decided to search women as well at checkpoints erected in sensitive areas such as the Palestinian camps.
Military sources also pointed out that the army has set up an operating command center in charge of monitoring the security situation.
THE DAILY STAR (LEBANESE DAILY CLOSE TO MARCH-14 COALITION, FEBRUARY 8, 2014)
HUSSEIN DAKROUB, ANTOINE GHATTAS SAAB
Tammam Salam lans to form an all-embracing political Cabinet early next week, sources close to the premier-designate said Friday, despite Hezbollah’s warning that exclusion of MP Michel Aoun might lead to the government’s collapse.
“Salam is expected to announce an all-embracing political government early next week despite [March 8] threats to boycott it,” a source close to Salam told The Daily Star.
“Efforts are ongoing to resolve the row over the interior portfolio within the March 14 coalition as well as the problem over Aoun’s objection to the rotation of ministerial portfolios,” the source said.
Sources familiar with the Cabinet formation talks told The Daily Star that MP Walid Jumblatt, through caretaker Social Affairs Minister Wael Abu Faour, would launch an eleventh-hour initiative aimed at overcoming obstacles impeding the birth of the new government.
The initiative will not be based merely on the distribution of the four sovereign portfolios, the Defense, Interior, Foreign and Finance Ministries, but also the division of all portfolios between the March 8 and March 14 coalitions, the sources said.
Abu Faour will shuttle in the next 48 hours between Baabda Palace, Speaker Nabih Berri’s residence in Ain al-Tineh and Salam’s residence in Moseitbeh carrying with him Jumblatt’s proposal to end the current standoff over rotating key ministerial portfolios among sects, the sources said. Details of the proposal were not immediately known.
Aoun has refused to budge on his opposition to the concept of rotating ministerial portfolios in an all-embracing Cabinet based on an 8-8-8 lineup. The 8-8-8 proposal was part a compromise reached last month by the Hezbollah-led March 8 coalition, the Future Movement and Jumblatt’s Progressive Socialist Party in a bid to break the 10-month-old Cabinet impasse.
Hezbollah’s mediation efforts have failed to make Aoun drop his demand for retaining the Energy Ministry, currently held by his son-in-law, Gebran Bassil, for his bloc.
Salam has rejected Aoun’s demand, preferring the concept of rotating all ministerial portfolios among sects and parties, which the prime minister-designate has stuck to since he was appointed on April 6.
Given Aoun’s unyielding stance, Salam is expected to go ahead with forming an all-embracing political government even without the FPM leader’s approval.
Aoun and March 8 parties have signaled that they would withdraw their ministers from what they dubbed a fait accompli government.
Hezbollah warned Friday of the consequences of excluding the FPM from the new Cabinet.
“The attempt to be too clever during the [Cabinet] formation process in order to exclude a major component might topple the all-embracing government,” MP Mohammad Raad, head of Hezbollah’s bloc in Parliament, told the audience at a ceremony to honor a number of university professors at a restaurant on the Beirut airport road.
He renewed Hezbollah’s call for forming an all-embracing government in which all the political parties participate “so that it [the government] can confront all political, security and socioeconomic problems.”
The parliamentary Future bloc reiterated its demand for a new government to cope with political, security and economic problems.
It also urged Iran to halt Hezbollah’s military intervention in Syria.
“The Future bloc calls on Iran to keep its hands off Lebanon and stop Hezbollah’s further involvement in the Syrian quagmire ... particularly since developments indicate a protracted crisis [in Syria] that will produce no winners.”
New Orient News