Saudis increasingly frustrated with U.S. effort to unseat Syria’s Bashir al-Assad
December 12, 2013
Does Saudi Arabia face an awesome enemy in its mostly unpopulated desert kingdom? After all, it recently ordered nearly a billion dollars worth of tube-launched, optically-tracked wire-guided 2A/2B radio-frequency (RF) Missiles and associated equipment, parts, training and logistical support, according to a DoD SCA news release.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has requested a possible sale of 9,650 BGM-71 2A Tube-Launched, Optically-Tracked Wire-Guided (TOW) Radio-Frequency (RF) missiles, 4,145 BGM-71 2B Tube-Launched, Optically-Tracked Wire-Guided Aero RF missiles, 91 TOW-2A Fly-to-Buy missiles, 49 TOW-2B Fly-to-Buy missiles, containers, spare and repair parts, support equipment, tools and test equipment, publications and technical documentation, personnel training and training equipment, U.S. Government and contractor engineering, logistics, and technical support services, and other related elements of logistics and program support. The estimated cost is $900 million.
The proposed sale will contribute to the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to improve the security of a critical partner who has been, and continues to be, an important force for political stability in the Middle East.
The proposed sale will support the Ministry of the National Guard’s defense and counter-terrorism missions. The sale will also improve Saudi Arabia’s capability to meet and defeat current and future threats from enemy armored vehicles. Saudi Arabia will use the enhanced capability as a deterrent to regional threats and to strengthen its homeland defense. Saudi Arabia, which already has TOW missiles in its inventory, will have no difficulty absorbing these additional missiles.
The proposed sale of this equipment and support will not alter the basic military balance in the region.
It depends, however, how you define “region.” If Syria is part of the region, as in the Middle East, the sale will in fact upset the “basic military balance.”
Neocons react reflexively when Arabs are on the receiving end of big fat arms deals.
From Foreign Policy:
“It’s a very large number of missiles, including the most advanced version of the TOWs [tube-launched, optically tracked, wire-guided missiles],” said Jeffrey White, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and a former intelligence analyst at the Defense Intelligence Agency. “The problem is: What’s the threat?”
The Washington Institute for Near East Policy is common ground for Israeli-centric Democrats and more over the top neocons.
Instead of ragtag Yemeni rebels or the unlikely prospect of Iraq attacking as it did prior to the first U.S. invasion (recall Dhahran Billet), there is scant need for such a massive ordnance purchase… until you consider Syria.
David Kenner, for FP:
But one Saudi ally could desperately use anti-tank weapons — the Syrian rebels. In the past, Riyadh has been happy to oblige: It previously purchased anti-tank weapons from Croatia and funneled them to anti-Assad fighters, and it is now training and arming Syrian rebels in Jordan. Charles Lister, a London-based terrorism and insurgency analyst, said that rebels have also received as many as 100 Chinese HJ-8 anti-tank missiles from across the border with Jordan — and indeed, many videos show Syrian rebels using this weapon against Bashar al-Assad’s tanks.
Mr. Kenner left out something, though. The sophisticated weapons will not go to the washed-up secular Free Syria Army. Crazed Salafists, the sort of guys who are fond of chopping off the heads of infidels and kidnapping journalists, will be on the receiving end.
Over the last couple of months, the Saudis – said to be frustrated with U.S. inaction, the failure of the Syrian chemical weapons ruse, and fig leaf overtures toward Iran – are “forging a new alliance of Islamist rebels in Syria under a pro-Saudi warlord to supersede the U.S.-backed Free Syrian Army,” according to the UPI.
Middle East analyst Michael Weiss, writing in the Beirut Web portal Now Lebanon, observed Riyadh has “taken substantive measures to circumvent Washington altogether on Syria by activating a cadre of new clients in the form of a hard-line Salafist rebels who are now united under the umbrella of the army of Islam. …
“The Saudis have enlisted ’50 brigades’ and some thousands of fighters under a new structure headed by Zahren Alloush, head of Liwa al-Islam, the new group’s most powerful Salafist brigade.”
You may recall, back in September, Liwa al-Islam, rebranded Jaysh al-Islam, joined with a dozen other Islamist groups, including disaffected elements of the Free Syria Army, and issued a communiqué denouncing the U.S. strategy in the effort to depose Bashir al-Assad. Rejecting the National Coalition and the planned exile government of Ahmed Touma, the statement called for all military and civilian forces to be unified and subservient to the “Islamic framework” based on “the rule of sharia and making it the sole source of legislation,” according Aron Lund, writing for Syria Comment.
In short, the weapons will end up in the hands of al-Qaeda or, more specifically, groups that share al-Qaeda’s ideology and terror tactics.
Saudi Arabia, however, faces a catch-22. It is prohibited from transferring weaponry provided by the United States to third parties. “The Saudis can’t send U.S. anti-tank missiles directly to the rebels — Washington has strict laws against that,” Kenner notes. “Recipients of U.S. arms are not allowed to transfer weapons to a third party without the explicit approval of the U.S. government, which in the case of Saudi Arabia has not been granted. Given Washington’s heightened concern over radical Islamist forces seizing control over the conflict — which resulted in the suspension of nonlethal aid to Syrian rebels on Dec. 12 — that approval will almost certainly never be given.”
It is known that the U.S. and the Persian Gulf monarchies covertly, or not so covertly, support al-Qaeda in Syria. Former al-Qaeda member Sheikh Nabil Naiim said as much in June. Earlier, in October, 2012, none other than the New York Times admitted that most of the arms shipped to the rebels go “to hard-line Islamic jihadists, and not the more secular opposition groups that the West wants to bolster, according to American officials and Middle Eastern diplomats,” the newspaper reported.
Saudi Arabia may not ultimately send anti-tank weapons to al-Qaeda and other radical Salafist groups in Syria, but they will undoubtedly continue to support fanatical Islamists in a variety of ways – and with unacknowledged support of the United States.
Then again, considering the deteriorating relationship between Saudi Arabia and the United States, particularly since peace overtures with Iran, a transfer may ultimately occur.
The Salafist groups “are the ones who know how to fight,” Halil Karaveli, Senior Fellow with the Turkey Initiative at the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program Joint Center, told The Voice of Russia in late 2012. “They have the fighting experience from Afghanistan and other places and they have been pouring in to Syria from Afghanistan, Yemen and Caucasus. This has become a gathering for Jihadists. Of course there is a big prize for them to win if they would be able to establish a base of the new al-Qaeda within the Arabs and the Muslim Middle East – that would be a huge victory and their biggest victory so far for al-Qaeda.”
It is common knowledge, or should be, that the United States, with help from Pakistani intelligence and Saudi Arabia, funded and trained the Afghan Mujahideen, later to become al-Qaeda and the Taliban. More than likely, this pattern will continue to replicate itself until the end game is achieved – the Arab and Muslim Middle East, including and especially Persian Iran, is a smoldering and balkanized wasteland forever divided by reoccurring and reinvented sectarian and religious conflict.