saudigroundtroops

Days ago, the Syrian Army, with Russian aid, encircled the crucial city of Aleppo.
Aleppo has for some time been a stronghold for Syrian and non-Syrian militias, rebels and terrorists fighting to topple the Syrian state. If Aleppo is restored to government control, it represents a major turning point in the devastating war that has been raging for five years now.

The recapture of Aleppo could essentially signal the end of rebels’ campaign, and could also pave the way for the Syrian Army – aided by its Russian and Iranian allies – to move onto Raqqa, the unofficial headquarters or ‘capital’ of the so-called ‘Islamic State’ in Syria.

So it is interesting that, at that specific moment, Saudi Arabia openly proposed to send ground troops into Syria; at precisely the moment that President Assad has declared he intends to retake the entire country. As little as five months ago the situation was entirely different and the final collapse of the Syrian state had seemed imminent; but Russian intervention has utterly altered the situation, leaving the Assad regime’s foreign enemies, particularly Saudi Arabia and Turkey, fuming.

So now, just as the blight of terrorism and foreign jihadists in Syria might be on the verge of being completely driven out, Saudi officials are openly talking about ground troops; which seems not only incredibly dangerous, but almost suicidal.

Russian officials have warned that a new ‘world war’ is now in danger of being set off in Syria.

Talk of World War III has been going on for some time now, with Syria often cited as the catalyst; but now even The Independent  is using that language, citing the possible Saudi-led incursion as something that would create a ‘war without end’. Talk of ‘World War III’, once the business of conspiracy theorists or doomsayers, is now making its way openly into mainstream newspapers and a shift in language is occurring. This is evidenced by, for example, the BBC recently broadcasting a highly irresponsible propaganda piece about Russia launching a nuclear strike on London.

Syrian officials have warned “any aggressor entering the country will go home in wooden coffins”. Russia has said “any country sending ground troops into Syria without permission will be considered a declaration of war.” On the other hand, American Defense Secretary Ash Carter has described the Saudi offer of 150,000 ground troops as “a good idea”, while US State Department spokesperson Mark Toner confirmed Washington is discussing the deployment of ground troops with Riyadh.

Is Saudi Arabia just saber-rattling? One would hope so; but Saudi actions, particularly in parternship with the increasingly unhinged leadership in Turkey, present a very unsettling picture of where things may be heading.

Thousands of soldiers from countries in the region are reported to be participating in what is portrayed as a military “exercise”. Saudi outlets report some 350,000 forces from Persian Gulf Arab states and some other countries are to take part in the Saudi-led military maneuver in the area of Hafer al-Batin in northern Saudi Arabia. Some 350,000 troops, 2,540 warplanes, 20,000 tanks and 460 helicopters are reported to be ready to participate in this exercise, which is thought to be the largest in the history of the region.

350,000 troops  for a training exercise?

This ‘exercise’ tellingly coincides with Saudi officials announcing their readiness to participate in any ground incursion into Syria should the United States decide to follow that route. The proposition is of course carefully framed in the narrative of being “to fight ISIS”; though it’s curious that it is only being suggested now that Aleppo is about to revert to Syrian government control and now that Russian intervention has been obliterating rebel positions all over Syria. The Saudis have of course been conducting airstrikes against ISIS positions in Syria already, as part of the US-led coalition (now also including France and the UK) that has been bombing targets in Syria without any UN mandate or any sanction from the Syrian government. If Saudi officials are now considering sending actual Saudi troops into Syria, they’re essentially admitting their airstrikes against ISIS targets have been pointless.

The Saudi state, along with Qatar, was of course funding and supporting ISIS/Daesh and other extremist militias from the start, donating vast funds to the various jihadists flooding into Syria, just as both states had done in Libya in 2011. The Saudi state is naturally (and understandably) far more invested in its proxy war with Iran than it is in helping eliminate Wahhabi-inspired extremists; and groups like ISIS and Al-Qaeda in Syria and Iraq have been seen as the natural proxy/antidote to the Iranian/Shia militias and Hezbollah.

The fact is fairly obvious that the Saudi agenda is either equally or *wholly* aimed at removing the Iran-backed Assad regime from Syria, regardless of whether or not ISIS/Daesh is also eliminated. The timing of this manuever is most likely an indicator of desperation at seeing all the carefully laid plans in Syria fall apart and Russian intervention strengthening Assad’s position. Any ground invasion into Syria – whether it’s Saudi, Turkish, or includes American and Western boots on the ground – will be aimed ultimately at Assad’s removal (which has always been the end-game) and will therefore put the invading forces into direct conflict with Russia.

 
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Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister has said as much, in regard to Assad. “If the Syrian political process fails, President Bashar al-Assad will have to be removed by force. I believe Bashar al-Assad is weak and I believe Bashar al-Assad is finished,” Adel al-Jubeir told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in an exclusive interview in Munich. This from an official who is supposed to be selling any possible Saudi incursion as being ‘to fight ISIS’.

And it is plainly evident that any Saudi-led coalition will include Turkey as chief ally.

The Turkish leadership echoes the ‘Assad is finished’ sentiment and tellingly always refers to Assad and the Kurdish militias as their enemies in Syria, usually forgetting to mention ISIS/Daesh entirely. Saudi Arabia and Turkey have been conducting joint drills already. Saudi Arabia, it is now widely reported, is sending troops and fighter jets to Turkey’s Incirlik military base: which could well be a preparation for a ground invasion into Syria. The Turkish 2nd Army is also being cited by some observers as an invasion force preparing to move into Syria. “We have good reasons to believe that Turkey is actively preparing for a military invasion of a sovereign state – the Syrian Arab Republic,” Russian Defense Ministry spokesman, Igor Konashenkov, told reporters. “We’re detecting more and more signs of Turkish armed forces being engaged in covert preparations for direct military actions in Syria.”

Turkish forces have in fact violated Syrian territory on numerous occasions during the course of a war that Turkey itself has helped keep going. Reuters  has reported that “the Syrian government says Turkish forces were believed to be among 100 gunmen it said entered Syria on Saturday accompanied by 12 pick-up trucks mounted with heavy machine guns, in an ongoing supply operation to insurgents fighting Damascus.”

Turkish military – the same Turkish military that has been providing arms for ISIS/Daesh and buying their oil – has also, just in the last few days, been accused of directly shelling Syrian regime forces as well as Kurdish YPG targets across the Turkey-Syria border. Turkish officials have even confirmed the attack on Syrian regime targets. This latest violation of Syria’s sovereignty has prompted Damascus to petition the UN to investigate the Turkish state’s actions; and Syrian officials have claimed Turkey’s actions are a direct response to the Syrian regime’s recent victories against rebel groups.

 
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It is almost certain, given all the evidence and all the logic, that Turkey’s and Saudi Arabia’s joint exercises – like the Saudi-led exercise in the Middle East – are being conducted with eyes on Syria and primarily on Assad (though in Turkey’s case, the Syrian Kurds are also the target).

Among the Arab states engaged against ISIS/Daesh, the Kingdom of Jordan, not so surprisingly, appears to have taken a more cautious and responsible position in regard to the Saudi idea of ground troops in Syria. A Jordanian official has said that the country will not participate in any Turkish or Arab-led Syrian invasion unless it is mandated by the United Nations, led by Western forces and coordinated with Russia. “Jordan is not going to send ground forces into Syria unless these troops are led by Americans and British. Any ground troops, including Jordanian forces, should be sent after a UN approval and after full coordination with Russia.”

But if this is, as it seems, the final push to invade Syria, it’s worth remembering that plans to invade Syria have already been in place for some time.

A policy paper put together by the US foreign-policy think-tank, the Brookings Institution (which was crucially involved in drawing up the Neo-Con plans for the Iraq invasion) may be the blueprint. The paper was titled ‘Deconstructing Syria: Towards a regionalized strategy for a confederal country’. As Tony Cartalucci noted almost a year ago, summarising the Brookings Institution document, ‘the United States now plans to use the resulting chaos to justify what it has sought since the beginning of the conflict when it became clear the Syrian government was not to capitulate or collapse – the establishment of buffer zones now called “safe zones” by Brookings. These zones once created, will include US armed forces on the ground, literally occupying seized Syrian territory cleared by proxies including Kurdish groups and bands of Al-Qaeda fighters in the north, and foreign terrorist militias operating along the Jordanian-Syrian border in the south.’

This strategy will have since been disrupted by Russian intervention and the Syrian Army’s recent gains, thus possibly necessitating an alteration in plan that would replace the failed rebel and jihadist groups with actual ground troops from other states, such as Saudi Arabia and Turkey (and possibly eventually the United States or NATO).

A whistle-blower and high-ranking officer of the US Special Operations Forces stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, had already disclosed in late August 2011 that the US had deployed Special Forces along with other NATO-Member States special forces into Syria and that the training of foreign fighters and the entire “operation” was planned and executed along the guidelines of a Special Forces Training Circular for Foreign Fighters and agents called TC 18-01. ‘TC 18-01’ relates to something called The 2010 Unconventional Warfare Manual of the US Military, which again is something covered at length in ‘The Libya Conspiracy‘ as it was almost certainly the operating manual for the conspiracy to overthrow both the Libyan and Syrian states.

There was always reference to creating “safe havens” – established zones in which the foreign-backed armed rebels and insurgents would operate out of. This is perfectly echoed in the Brookings Institution paper, which says the idea is to ‘establish reliable safe zones within Syria’. But crucially it also stipulated that American, as well as Saudi and Turkish and British and Jordanian and other Arab forces would act in support, not only from the air but eventually on the ground via the presence of special forces as well.’

This wasn’t the Brookings Institution’s first policy plan for Syria either (see older PDF here); the Brookings Institution originally also described a scenario where Turkey, in coordination with Israel, could help overthrow Assad by establishing a “multi-front war” on Syria’s borders.

The curiously overt threat made by Saudi officials could be a maneuver to draw the United States into committing its own forces to Syria. This might be why the proposal was carefully phrased to suggest the framework of a US-led coalition. It is also possible this is all a pantomime being played out and that Saudi Arabia and Turkey are being used as a catalyst for allowing the United States and other Western powers to send troops into Syria, where they will come into conflict with Russian and Iranian troops. A clash with Russia could also be why NATO spent much of last year moving troops into position around Europe and carrying out large-scale drills.

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But Saudi Arabia could be getting itself into a self-destructive situation.

In terms of its proxy war with Iran, the Saudi state can claim some strategic justification in sending troops into Syria, as Iran stands accused of having already been doing the same thing; although Tehran has admitted sending troops to help train Syrian government forces, it is also accused of sending them into direct combat against Syrian opposition groups. This could certainly be later used by Saudi propagandists as a justification for Saudi-led incursions in the context of countering Iranian manipulations; the counter-argument, however, would be that Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States were the primary funders and supporters of rebel groups and jihadist militias in Syria the first place, just as they were in Libya.

Which isn’t to say necessarily that the Saudi regime isn’t now also interested in eliminating ISIS/Daesh. The Saudi state may genuinely see ISIS at this point in time as a threat to its own security. Such is troublingly indicated in, for example, this interview with an ISIL member, who says, ‘We will annihilate the Saudi Kingdom. Not a single Saudi soldier will survive, I guarantee’.

But Saudi troops setting foot in Syria is a catastrophe waiting to happen, given the highly chaotic and volatile equation. Even if the Saudi troops *were* there primarily to fight ISIS/Daesh, there remains a substantial possibility of Saudi personnel coming into direct conflict with Hezbollah fighters or Iranian soldiers. And then, there in Syria, the sectarian conflict between the two powers could escalate to dangerous proportions. Although Iran and the Saudis have been engaged in highly destructive proxy warfare already, via their respective militias in Syria (as well as in the War in Yemen), this misadventure could lead to *direct confrontation*.

National Defense University professor Paul Sullivan predicts that Syria could be “quicksand” for Saudi Arabia.

And Russia’s direct involvement in Syria massively increases the potential for the conflict to extend far beyond Syria and the region should a Turkey or Saudi-led coalition violate Syrian sovereignty or should the United States or NATO be compelled to come to the aid of its Saudi or Turkish allies.

Whatever unfolds next in Syria, Syria itself has been the victim of vast geo-political schemes and proxy warfare on all sides; an arena for the various powers to play out their ambitions and their bids for control, with the the vast sacrificial victim being the people, culture and fabric of Syria. Accusations that Russian airstrikes have been hitting civilian areas may well be true in some instances; but Western-led airstrikes have no doubt been doing the same thing. Accusations that Iran is using Syria as part of its proxy war against Saudi Arabia are also true; but Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States were doing the exact same thing when they armed and orchestrated jihadist militias and foreign mercenaries in Syria and Libya. Accusations that Russia is mercilessly bombing legitimate opposition in Syria might be valid; but the United States, Turkey and others have been facilitating and enabling merciless terrorism in Syria since 2011.

There is no moral high ground anymore and there are no heroes in international terms – all that’s left are the victims and whatever the outcome is going to be.

 

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Comments
  1. sand49 says:

    Reblogged this on sand49.

    Like

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