'Muslim Brotherhood' States plan military response as Putin raises the stakes in Syria.(Guardian)
Russian fighter jets launched from a new airbase in Syria have persuaded western critics to mute their demands for the removal of President Bashar al-Assad, but another group of his opponents sees Moscow’s intervention as more provocative than decisive.
Regional powers have quietly, but effectively, channeled funds, weapons and other support to rebel groups making the biggest inroads against the forces from Damascus. In doing so, they are investing heavily in a conflict which they see as part of a wider regional struggle for influence with bitter rival Iran.
In a week when Russia made dozens of bombing raids, those countries have made it clear that they remain at least as committed to removing Assad as Moscow is to preserving him.
“There is no future for Assad in Syria,” Saudi foreign minister Adel Al-Jubeir warned, a few hours before the first Russian bombing sorties began.
If that was not blunt enough, he spelled out that if the president did not step down as part of a political transition, his country would embrace a military option, “which also would end with the removal of Bashar al-Assad from power”.With at least 39 civilians reported dead in the first bombing raids, the prospect of an escalation between backers of Assad and his opponents is likely to spell more misery for ordinary Syrians.
“The Russian intervention is a massive setback for those states backing the opposition, particularly within the region – Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey – and is likely to elicit a strong response in terms of a counter-escalation,” said Julien Barnes-Dacey, senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations.
“What is clear to Riyadh and its regional allies is that the recent Russian and Iranian escalation will only create a more unstable region and spill more blood,” he said.
Riyadh has focused support on
Countries such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar want President Assad removed from office. That group, in alliance with the al-Qaida affiliate Jabhat al Nusra, recently reached a local ceasefire deal with Assad in the north. Its success in taking on government forces is thought to have been one trigger for the Russian bombing campaign and put them among the jets’ first targets.
“There is a high-level, very close co-operation and co-ordination between Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey. They are almost on the same page in Syria.”
Turkish support has been hampered by domestic turmoil, as it prepares, in effect, to rerun a controversial election after a ceasefire with Kurdish groups collapsed. Qatar and Saudi Arabia, however, clearly have the funds, connections and political will to respond to Moscow’s escalation.
Kinninmont, a senior research fellow at international thinktank Chatham House. “Saudis feel that the US and the rest of the international community are doing nothing about this, and they are trying to be at the forefront of efforts to contain Iran.”
In this context, there may be a small amount of relief in Riyadh over the Russian role, as stepped-up importance for Moscow could edge out some of the Iranian influence.
But, overall, the risks from escalation go beyond Syria, he said. “The degree to which Tehran and Riyadh are now in a confrontation mode across a number of regional hotspots is worrisome,” said Levy. “Who can act now as the de-escalating mediator?
“Americans are not in a position to do that, nor Russians, and Iran and Saudi Arabia are not sufficiently talking to each other … you’re now left with almost no one at senior levels on the respective sides who can engage with each other. This is going to be a dangerous place.” Hmmm....Better prepare for the worst. Read the full story here.