I’ve two articles for you today that, taken together, give me an “Uh-oh” feeling.
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Following a circuitous route from here up through Turkey or Jordan and then crossing a lawless border, hundreds of young Saudis are secretly making their way into Syriato join extremist groups fighting against the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, GlobalPost has learned.
With the tacit approval from the House of Saud, and financial support from wealthy Saudi elites, the young men take up arms in what Saudi clerics have called a “jihad,” or “holy war” against the Assad regime.
Based on a month of reporting in the region and in Washington, over a dozen sources have confirmed that wealthy Saudis, as well as the government, are arming some Syrian rebel groups. Saudi and Syrian sources confirm that hundreds of Saudis are joining the rebels, but the government denies any sponsoring role.
The Saudis are part of an inflow of Sunni fighters from Libya, Tunisia, and Jordan, according to Aaron Zelin, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute.
“Most of the foreigners are fighting with al-Nusra or Ahrar al-Sham,” both extremist groups, Zelin said.
Iran and Hezbollah have built a 50,000-strong parallel force in Syria to help prolong the life of the Assad regime and to maintain their influence after his fall, Israel’s military intelligence chief has claimed.
Major General Aviv Kochavi said Iran intended to double the size of this Syrian “people’s army”, which he claimed was being trained by Hezbollah fighters and funded by Tehran, to bolster a depleted and demoralised Syrian army.
…”The damages of the imminent fall of Syria are very high for both Iran and Hezbollah. Iran is losing a sole ally in the region surrounding Israel. It will lose the ability to transfer weaponry through Syria to Hezbollah. Iran and Hezbollah are both doing all in their power to assist Assad’s regime.
“They support Assad operationally on the ground, with strategic consultation, intelligence, weapons,” Kochavi told the Herzliya Conference, a meeting of security officials and analysts in Israel.
“Most recently, they are establishing a ‘people’s army’ trained by Hezbollah and financed by Iran, currently consisting of 50,000 men, with plans to increase to 100,000. Iran and Hezbollah are also preparing for the day after Assad’s fall, when they will use this army to protect their assets and interests in Syria.”
Coupled with reports that the Saudis, alongside Jordan and Qatar, are now funding Iraqi Sunni militant groups again, we’re looking at a by-proxy clash of the two regional powers – Shiite Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia.
The US supports the Saudis in Syria – to the point of skirting close around an arms embargo – but supports Maliki’s Shiite government in Iraq. It cannot continue to do so under these circumstances without something giving in a way that is catastrophic for American diplomacy and American interests in the region. President Obama’s often-mentioned wish to keep all his options open as long as possible on any given issue has bitten him on the ass before, and on this it looks set to do so again.