OPINION | Motivation, Goals, and Consequences of Saudi Military Deployment in Syria
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OPINION | Motivation, Goals, and Consequences of Saudi Military Deployment in Syria

By Hossein Kebriaeezadeh
(via IranReview.org)

OPINION | Motivation, Goals, and Consequences of Saudi Military Deployment in Syria

At a time that an Arab coalition led by Saudi Arabia has not been able to achieve its goals in the war on Yemen during the past 10 months, officials in Riyadh recently announced their country’s readiness to deploy ground forces to Syria. Although the proposal to send 150,000 troops to Syria by Saudi Arabia’s Arab allies was enticing to the US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, for a few reasons which will be enumerated below, there are serious doubts about accepting this proposal.

Reactions shown by various political circles to this piece of news have been different. A group of political observers and centers of power, including in Tehran, have noted that this proposal by Saudi officials is just a show of power and military bragging aimed at achieving political goals at the current juncture that Syria peace talks have been aborted and, therefore, it is no more than a simple political bluff. Another group of analysts, however, take into account the political and decision-making structure in Saudi Arabia, which is individual-oriented and non-institutional, concluding that similar to the war waged against Yemen, it is quite possible. They maintain that impulsiveness is now a regular feature of political decision-making process in Saudi Arabia and, therefore, the decision-making process in this country is accompanied with high risks and miscalculations. To bring an example in support of this claim, they point out Saudi Arabia’s support for extremist groups, which finally led to rise of Daesh and the impossibility of containing the new mutated form of terrorism.

In the meantime, war conditions in Syria have reached a stage in which there is no way for making mistakes even at tactical level for any one of the belligerent sides and, therefore, it is totally different from Yemen where only a Saudi-led coalition is engaged in the war.

According to Riyadh's regional policy, which is mostly defined and implemented on the basis of countering Iran’s regional policies, dispatching ground forces to Syria war fronts is considered as a last-ditch effort to push Iran back in Syria. Being aware of the importance that Syria has for Iran, in particular, and for the resistance axis, in general, Saudi Arabia is trying to regain the upper hand that it has lost in Syria by implementing this policy.

Of course, it must not be ignored that in doing this, Saudi Arabia is also pursuing other goals. At the domestic level, we know that this country is not in good shape. The power struggle within the royal family is going on while economic and civil discontent in addition to discrimination has greatly increased in this rich country compared to any time before. Therefore, by resorting to adventurism beyond its borders, King Salman is trying to somehow maintain social solidarity in his country and postpone as long as he can the breakout of possible domestic political conflicts.

At international level, Riyadh may be able to somehow wash its hands of accusations that it has been supporting extremist efforts, which have largely marred its global image. Saudi Arabia has made dispatching its ground forces to Syria conditional on the acceptance of the United States as part of the US-led coalition against Daesh. Therefore, by doing this, Riyadh is planning not only to be directly present in Syria and gain more legitimacy, but also to galvanize the Western front into taking more decisive action against Tehran-Moscow axis.

On the one hand, at regional level, Saudi Arabia would be starting a new game against the resistance axis and its traditional rival, Iran, by sending 150,000 Sunni Arab soldiers to Syria. Playing the sectarian and religious cards in the region may perpetuate conflicts in the Middle East, but for Saudi Arabia and political currents supported by this country in Syria, it will buy time, which is among important factors in this war.

On the other hand, following engagement of Russia, the war in Syria has entered a sensitive and determining phase. Advances on the ground by Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces in such strategic regions as Dara’a and Aleppo have changed conditions in favor of Iran – Russia axis. Knowing this, Saudi Arabia, which is afraid of post-war conditions, is ready to take any risk even if it would lead to direct confrontation between pro- and anti-Assad fronts. Although direct confrontation between these two fronts needs special conditions whose possibility is quite low right now, remarks made by Russian prime minister about the possibility of a third world war in case of Saudi Arabia’s ground troops deployment to Syria are noteworthy.

Of course, the contemporary world is no more ready and is not unwise enough to undertake the costs of a new war on global scale, but regionalization of conflicts around ethnic and religious fault lines can be a possible cost of this strategic mistake. The high potential that exists in the Middle East for flare-up of this form of hostilities, which are usually extremely bloody, incontrollable and long-term, makes it necessary for the United States to look at Riyadh's proposal more cautiously.

On the other hand, extremist forces, who have already felt the heat of global community’s hatred against them following terror attacks in Paris, will become more hopeful in receiving support from their financial backer and will find conditions suitable to regroup, recruit new forces and change their tactic.

On the whole, dispatching ground forces to Syria by Saudi Arabia will not necessarily lead to a third world war. However, if any one of the aforesaid possible scenarios and consequences of Saudi Arabia’s troops deployment to Syria – that is, direct war between two fronts in Syria, regionalization of tensions, or remarkable invigoration of extremist groups – is realized, the Middle East, and subsequently the entire world would see a new face of ethnic and religious hostilities as well as human crises for, at least, the next two decades to come.

Key Words: Saudi Arabia, Military Deployment, Syria, Arab Coalition, Daesh, Regional Policy, Iran, Domestic Level, International Level, Regional Level, Russia, Dara’a, Aleppo, Middle East, Third World War, Ethnic Hostilities, Kebriaeezadeh


More By Hossein Kebriaeezadeh:

*(Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council, Riyadh’s Inefficient Tool for Isolating Iran:http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/-Persian-Gulf-Cooperation-Council-Riyadh-s-Inefficient-Tool-for-Isolating-Iran.htm

Please note that this article represents the view of the author(s) alone and not IndraStra Global.