Saudi Arabia to deploy infantry to Syria?

Alwaght– In an interview withthe German daily Suddeutsche Zeitung, the Saudi Foreign Minster Adel al-Jubeir said on Tuesday that Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf Arab states were ready to send infantry to Syria, demanding that the liberated regions in Syria be handed to the opposition forces.

“The essential point in the anti-ISIS campaign is that the recaptured areas should be given to the opposition groups to avoid them falling in the hands of Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah”, al-Jubeir said.

The Saudi Arabian expression of readiness to deploy military forces to Syria is nothing new as earlier in February 2014 the kingdom had announced that Riyadh intended to send forces to Syria. The announcement at that time came after Riyadh disagreed with the contemporaneous US administration and protested Washington’s “passiveness” in dealing with the Syrian forces’ advances against the militant groups fighting.

But the military deployment plan never took effect due to consideration of the consequences and indefinite costs for the Saudis. Putting forward the issue once again at the present time raises some questions: What developments have happened in the competition between the influential actors in Syria that Saudi Arabia has now found the time appropriate to raise the scheme once again?  What are the goals and consequences of such a move?

US the principal decision-maker

The US Secretary of Defense General James Mattis during his confirmation hearing told the Senate lawmakers that he intended to shake up the American military conditions in Syria and Iraq and accelerate the war against the terrorists. Earlier the new US President Donald Trump has said that he had plans to establish a no-fly zone over Syria in near future.

Also, Sean Spicer, the White House spokesman, talked about the new US administration’s bid to establish safe zones in Syria, telling the press that if they follow the updates on Trump’s negotiations with other leaders, they can apparently see all of them include talks about Syria safe zones.

Certainly, the most crucial negotiations for safe zone preparations have been started with Turkey. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan talked to his American counterpart on the phone about the case. It seems that Erdogan has received more positive signals from negotiation with Trump than from his talks with the former US President Barack Obama on the issue. Following the phone call, Trump sent Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, to Turkey. Talking to his American counterpart, General Hulusi Akbar, the Turkish chief of the general staff, reiterated the Erdogan’s proposal for boost of US-Turkey military cooperation in Syria. The proposal included a series of joint works including taking the northern Syrian town of Manbij from the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), liberating Raqqa from ISIS, and introducing no-fly zones over northern Syria.

But the no-fly zone establishment requires international authorization and legitimacy, tens of billions in costs, and political work to evaluate how other actors in Syria will possibly react once this step is taken. Trump turned his head toward the Persian Gulf Arab sheikhdoms to bankroll any move to set up the no-fly zone. The White House spokesman has revealed that leaders of some countries have promised to shoulder the funding of the plan, though he did not specify Saudi Arabia. Four days ago, Wall Street Journal reported that the Saudi authorities want to offer the IPO of Aramco, the kingdom’s state-owned oil giant, on New York Stock Exchange.

Saudi goals behind the plan

Al-Jubeir’s interview with the German daily Suddeutsche Zeitung contains some points that indicate a positive reply to Trump’s expectation that Arab states should pay for Syria no-fly zone plan.

Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Al-Jubeir madean interview with the German daily Suddeutsche Zeitung and signaled a positive reply to Trump’s expectation Arab stated to finance the Syria no-fly zone plan.

The Saudi FM said that his country was ready to send special forces to fight against ISIS terrorists in Syria along with American forces. It appears that Trump’s uncertainty has tempted the Saudi leaders to raise the idea of deploying force to Syria in a bid to get the US leader’s support to found what is called the “Arab NATO.” Still from another perspective, the Saudi expectation of getting the American green light for sending forces to Syria is coming following the Turkish forces as well as Saudi-backed force’s failures in their fight for Al-Bab, a Syrian town held by ISIS. Additionally, the common language and religion of the Saudis with the Raqqa residents can spur the Americans to authorize a Saudi military deployment to Syria. Of course, a predominantly Sunni army can better administer Raqqa once the terrorists of ISIS are pushed out of the northern city.

Adel al-Jubeir, also, said that each region of Syria that is recaptured from ISIS should go under control of Syrian opposition forces to prevent them from returning to control of the Syrian government and its allies.

Saudi Arabian FM finally noted that there is no way to end the war unless through a political transition. He added that President Basher al-Assad of Syria should not be given any role in any transitional process. The Saudis since the beginning of the crisis in Syria exerted their best financial and military potentials to back the militant groups to help topple President Assad and the political system of Syria. The Saudi leaders appear to have lost hope for pushing the Syrian president and his backers out of any upcoming negotiations after Aleppo was liberated by Damascus and its allies. So they intend to help give Raqqa to raise the bargaining power of the opposition forces that are engaged in peace talks with the government in a bid to block the way of Assad’s involvement in future political transition. Al-Jubeir maintained that the aim of the new Geneva peace talks is to arrange for a political transition to a new Syria without Basher al-Assad, and if this transition is not agreed upon, it cannot be expected how the war will end.

The potential consequences

Undoubtedly, if Saudi Arabia deploy infantry without Syrian government’s mandate, the measure will be recognized a military aggression. Moscow and Tehran asserted frequently that any foreign presence in Syria without Damascus government’s approval will be illegal. Having in mind that Russia and Syria signed a military pact and President Assad asked President Vladimir Putin to help confront any foreign assaults, once the kingdom deploys forces, it will possibly have to involve in a battle with joint Syrian and Russian forces. The outcomes will be catastrophic for the kingdom. Saudi Arabia waged a war against Yemen– a country without an armed and organized army and without air defense capability– but after two years it has failed to conclude the conflict. When it comes to Syria, the Saudi forces certainly will be dealt a big blow because they have to counter the modern Russian fighter jets, skilled Syrian army that carries an over five-year experience of guerrilla fighting with the terrorists, and Iranian and Lebanon’s Hezbollah forces that  back the Syrian government. In fact, the Saudi military is far from being able to wage a big war in Syria.

The financial costs are another restriction for the Saudis. The Saudi single-income, oil-based economy is presently bearing the brunt of the costs of the war against the neighboring Yemen amid sagging oil prices. This economic suffering precludes the Saudi leaders from entry to a new war.

At the end, it can be concluded very clearly that in the US-directed scenario for military intervention in Syria, the Saudis will only have a simple role and just contrary to the promotions and allegations, Saudi Arabia is not a game changer on the battlefield. At best, Riyadh will pursue its political objectives through Trump’s intention to establish a no-fly zone over Syria.