It was necessary for Riyadh to announce its readiness to send ground troops to Syria, and to call for the “North Thunder” maneuver that will bring together the armies of several Muslim countries on Saudi territory, in the largest military gathering since the war to liberate Kuwait. This initiative was strengthened last month when Riyadh said it would host the first leadership meeting of the Islamic Military Alliance.
Saudi Arabia is hindering a clear plot to liquidate the Syrian revolution, proven by the withdrawal of the West in the face of Russia. As some Western politicians previously accepted President Vladimir Putin’s policies in Chechnya, unfortunately some Arabs also think that it is safer to accept a Russian solution in Syria.
People will be made to choose between death, asylum or life under dictatorship. Many will choose the latter after the world has abandoned them. They will be tempted by additional fake reforms and elections, even without Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. After all, many are ready to be like Moscow-backed Chechen warlord Ramzan Kadyrov, ruling under a Russian mandate.
I recall Russian orientalist Elena Soponina telling me at a conference on Russia’s intervention in Syria that the Chechen capital Grozny “is no longer destroyed; it has become the Dubai of the Caucasus.” This sentence is suitable for a PR campaign, with the image of a few skyscrapers in Aleppo rising from the ruins.
It would be a good “model” to display during another donors’ conference in Damascus, under the auspices of a newly-elected president, amid large global and Arab attendance. It would be enough for some to state: “We have won and defeated terrorism.” However, what kind of Syria would that be? A country where fear and oppression prevail.
Many have forgotten that the conflict there was not caused by regional or racial differences, but by the revolution of a people against a dictator. Such a solution gives Syrians no choice but to accept dictatorship in exchange for security, otherwise they will stay refugees. Should they choose to hold on to their freedom, they will be labeled terrorists.
As usual, the bounty will be distributed between the winners. Russia will have its permanent bases and presence in the Middle East. The Syrian regime’s ally and protector Iran will take the whole country, which will become a platform for its sectarian project, leading to sedition in the region. Iran did not spend billions and shed the blood of its elite fighters for the sole sake of keeping Assad in power; Tehran wants its grand prize: Syria.
I do not know what Riyadh intends to do with all this diplomatic and military activity, or when, from where, with how many troops and with whom it plans to enter Syria. However, what I am sure of is Riyadh would never accept an Iranian victory in Syria that would change the face and identity of the region. It is clear that Saudi Arabia will be dealing with the world and the region according to this principle, and everyone must keep that in mind when dealing with the kingdom.
No Saudi official has ever promised a quick victory, and that is a good thing. The initiative would start with fixing the distorted balance of power in Syria that led to the failure of the Geneva negotiations. At that time, the regime delegation presented its conditions with unprecedented arrogance, wanting the opposition to surrender, backed by Russian firepower that is killing the Syrian people.
What happened in Geneva pushed Saudi Arabia to speed up what Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir called Plan B: its readiness for a ground intervention in order to test the alleged Western friends of Syria. It is if Riyadh is telling the Americans who used to blame Saudis for not doing their best to fight the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS): “We’re ready now, how about you?” The ball is in their court now.
How will this intervention end? What are its size and limits? Maybe even Saudi strategists do not know. They are only focusing on the target to be achieved, whatever it takes. The will to fight ISIS will expand to include the revolutionaries who hate it more than anything else. ISIS will be defeated because Syrians did not rebel in order to replace a secular Alawite dictator with an extremist who monopolizes and interprets Islam at will.
Syrian revolutionaries will never have a role to play if they are not protected, because they are under attack from both the Russian-backed regime and the U.S.-backed Kurds. The eradication of the regime will make peace possible, and we will finally move toward a free Syria.
Riyadh is actively working to convince its allies of its point of view; we must also do so internally. Some of us are concerned and do not trust our abilities. They will soon start wondering how we can fight on two fronts. Maybe the time has come to resort to tactical media.
This article first appeared in Al Hayat on Feb 13, 2016.
Jamal Khashoggi is a Saudi journalist, columnist, author, and general manager of the upcoming Al Arab News Channel. He previously served as a media aide to Prince Turki al Faisal while he was Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States. Khashoggi has written for various daily and weekly Arab newspapers, including Asharq al-Awsat, al-Majalla and al-Hayat, and was editor-in-chief of the Saudi-based al-Watan. He was a foreign correspondent in Afghanistan, Algeria, Kuwait, Sudan, and other Middle Eastern countries. He is also a political commentator for Saudi-based and international news channels. Twitter: @JKhashoggi