Original published by Zvezda; translation by J.Hawk
During this week NATO summit in Brussels, Saudi Arabia is expected to put the question of sending ground troops to Syria on the agenda. Saudi military’s representative, Brigade General Ahmed Assiri, already said that “Saudi Arabia intends to destroy the Islamic State,”
Such announcements were shortly after Turkey’s declaration it is considering launching a ground operation in Syria.
At first glance, the Saudi proposal follows the policy laid out by Washington. Barack Obama in his capacity as the head of anti-ISIS coalition, has refused to place ground troops in Syria for the longest time, stating that local armies ought to destroy ISIS and stabilize the conflict zone. SecDef Ash Carter recently complained that US coalition partners are insufficiently support of US efforts, and during the Davos forum in late January he said that “there will be no free riders.”
However, experts believe that placing Saudi forces in Syria would likely be a terrible move, leading to catastrophic consequences. They believe Riyadh does not want to stabilize the situation but exact vengeance on its main adversary, Iran.
Since starting operations in Syria in September of 2014, Saudi forces dropped relatively few bombs. Moreover, Saudi ground forces are utterly untested militarily, as they are mainly used to protect borders and fulfill police roles, not to wage large-scale operations.
Saudi Arabia is, moreover, pursuing objectives very different from those of the US or of most other participants in that conflict. The proposal to send troops is most likely an attempt to communicate to Iran that Saudi leadership will not allow it to conduct operations in support of Assad. Just as Saudi Arabia condemned Tehran’s involvement in the Yemeni civil war.
“Saudi strategic objectives are very different from ours. Any new foreign military contingent in Syria will only complicate the struggle against the main threat, namely ISIS. The Saudis know perfectly well what they want. They want to overthrow Assad,” Steven Kinzer, a senior researcher at the Watson Institute of International Studies at Brown University, believes.
Boston Globe published Kinzer’s article in which he describes what he calls “aggressive activities” of the Saudi government. As a result, the Saudis are considered to be less and less dependable, with Riyadh no longer able to count on full US support.
It’s not clear, according to Kinzer, how Saudi troops would cooperate with other ground forces in Syria, including the Kurds. In recent operations, the Saudis proved to be cruel and even criminal. UN has stated that the Saudi air campaign against the Houthis is in violation of international norms and should be investigated.
In 2011, during the Arab Spring, Saudi Arabia sent its forces to Bahrain in order to support its friendly Sunni rulers. This act was generally condemned as unlawful.
“I will consider any Saudi attempt to send troops to Syria an attempt to destabilize. It would result in Saudi forces drawing closer and closer to Iran.”
“Such a land operation would be guaranteed to undermine the already weak efforts to reach a peaceful settlement of the Syria conflict,” Kinzer sums up.