The Saudi Game in Syria is over. Assad Is the Winner
Saudi Arabia has finally thrown in the towel in Syria after six years of a failed civil insurgency.
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir put this card on the table in Riyadh on Wednesday, Aug. 9 before an invited Syrian National Coalition for Opposition delegation chaired by Riad Seif.
He leveled with the Syrian rebel leaders, who had fought the Assad regime for six years, informing them that the kingdom had reached the end of the road in the Syrian civil war. At that encounter, Saudi Arabia implied that the Syrian ruler, Bashar Assad had won and predicted he would remain in power for many years, although this was later officially denied as “inaccurate.”
He also informed his Syrian visitors that they had not much choice but to stop fighting and end their war on the Assad regime, now that Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar had withdrawn their support from the various rebel groups, and both Ankara and Doha had established direct ties with Assad.
DEBKA Weekly’s sources has found that the only groups ready to carry on the war are the Islamic State and the Al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front, which between them hold parts of Idlib in the north and Deir ez-Zour in the east, as well as the Syrian Democratic Front, which is dominated by Syrian Kurds who control more than one-fifth of Syrian territory.
The other rebel militias, even those that control territory, are no longer fit for combat, because: –
1. Their numbers are diminished too far for them to take on serious fighting.
2. They are dwarfed by the formidable array of Assad’s army, imported pro-Iranian Shiite militias and Hizballah.
3. Most of their foreign backers have faded.
This disastrous situation owes much to President Donald Trump’s decision in May to concentrate American military assets in Syria solely on efforts to destroy the Islamic State terrorists. He vowed not to be swayed from this course or be dragged into the Syrian war. In no time, the Syrian opposition saw the ground slipping away from under its feet.
The US president took another step in this direction on July 7 when he sat down with President Vladimir Putin at the G-20 summit in Hamburg. He told the Russian leader that Washington had no interest in Syria other than the war on ISIS, and he had no objection to a gradual winding down of the civil war by means of creating de-escalation zones enforced by Russian troops or their agents.
This deal delivered a mortal blow to the Syrian opposition movement. Israel and Jordan also found their security interests had been jettisoned.
At the same time, with an eye on Syria’s future, the Saudi foreign minister advised the rebel movement to lay down arms and reorganize as an effective political opposition to the Assad regime.
And not by chance, sources in Moscow indicated on Thursday, Aug. 11, that after the de-escalation zones were in place, Putin planned to promote the reshaping of rebel militias into political parties for the future Syrian democracy. This step pointed to Putin’s expanding cooperation with Trump – and possibly Riyadh – in the building of Syria’s post-war future.
But meanwhile, the Saudis have dropped out of the Syrian game and are switching their focus to the Yemen War and the building of ties with certain powerful Iraqi Shiite leaders in order to reinstate its influence in Baghdad.
(DEBKA Weekly 765 of July 30, revealed the visit to Riyadh of the influential Iraqi Shiite cleric, Moqtada Sadr.)
Assad shares his epic victory with the Russian president, who is beginning to harvest the political fruits of his intensified military intervention in the Syrian conflict.
Egyptian President Abdel Fatteh El-Sisi can also congratulate himself as the only Arab ruler to stand by Bashar Assad and therefore choose the winner.