23:00 GMT +319 October 2019
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    Saudi Intervention in Syria Would Have Disastrous Consequences

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    Commenting on Saudi Arabia's announcement that it is prepared to send ground forces to Syria, ostensibly to "fight Daesh," Russian experts suggested that such a move would destabilize the region, end any prospects for Syrian peace, and threaten Riyadh with an ethno-confessional war which would burn out of control.

    On Thursday, the Saudi Embassy in Washington announced that it was prepared to send troops to Syria to take part in ground operations against Daesh, saying that Riyadh would intervene if it were asked by the US-led anti-Daesh coalition to do so.

    ​Commenting on the announcement for Saudi-owned television channel Al-Arabiya, Brig Gen. Ahmed Asseri explained that "the Kingdom is ready to participate in any ground operations that the coalition (against Daesh) may agree to carry out in Syria."

    In this file photo released on Aug. 5, 2015, by the Rased News Network a Facebook page affiliated with Islamic State militants, an Islamic State militant holds the group's flag as he stands on a tank they captured from Syrian government forces, in the town of Qaryatain southwest of Palmyra, central Syria
    © AP Photo / Rased News Network via AP, File
    "If there was a consensus from the leadership of the coalition, the Kingdom is willing to participate in these efforts because we believe that aerial operations are not the ideal solution and there must be twin mix of aerial and ground operations," the Saudi official added.

    Earlier, The Guardian reported, citing unnamed sources, that Riyadh could deploy "thousands of special forces" to Syria, "probably in coordination with Turkey."

    If one or both countries were to actually send troops, the Syrian crisis would become impossible to resolve, Vladimir Sazhin, a senior expert at the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of Middle Eastern Studies, told Russian news agency RIA Novosti.

    Saudi intervention, the analyst suggests, would not only bury the Geneva peace process, but could lead to Syria's partitioning. "It would so confuse the situation that a peaceful resolution to the conflict would become impossible. The current situation seems to suggest, that Syria will be divided into three parts, despite the fact that [none of the major players] – neither America, nor Russia, nor Iran, want this."

    The three pieces, Sazhin explains, would consist of the multi-ethnic, multi-confessional Syrian government-controlled territories inhabited by Alawites, Christians, Druze and other minorities, a Syrian-Kurdish autonomy, and a third, sparsely inhabited territory in the east, controlled by Daesh and Sunni opposition forces.

    Worse yet, the analyst notes, Riyadh's intervention might push Tehran to intervene in the conflict directly. "It is entirely possible that in response to a Saudi move, Iran might take similar steps. And here the threat arises from a direct collision between the two regional powers."

    At the same time, the analyst suggests, the Saudi intervention would not have a significant impact on the course of the anti-Daesh operation itself. 

    "I don't think that the Saudi contingent would have a significant impact on the course of hostilities, because as is well known, the Saudi army is not particularly effective. On the other hand, if Turkish troops intervene as well, this is another matter, because the Turks have always been distinguished by their high military capability."

    For his part, Sergei Demidenko, a senior expert at the Russian Institute of Strategic Assessment & Analysis, told RIA Novosti that the Saudi announcement is likely a bluff, with Riyadh and Ankara both realizing that any intervention would quickly turn into a quagmire destabilizing Saudi Arabia and Turkey themselves.

    "It would be a very dubious move, and an extremely destructive one – for Turkey, whose economy is already reeling, and for Saudi Arabia" and its oil-dependent economy. 

    "If Saudi Arabia and Turkey were to introduce their troops to Syria, they would, in the first place, immediately doom themselves to becoming the epicenter of a large-scale guerrilla and ethno-confessional war." 

    Comparing Riyadh's supposed plans with Israel's war in Lebanon, where, after introducing troops, Israel was forced to withdraw, "since it did not know how to fight against guerrilla groups," the analyst recalls that "in the ethno-confessional sense, Syria is very reminiscent of Lebanon."

    The country features "a large number of various ethnic groups, and fighting them is virtually impossible: [the Saudis] would face huge casualties, would completely destabilize the situation, would waste their budget on a futile war, which as an end result would fizzle out, leading only to regional destabilization and the destabilization of their own economy."

    Furthermore, like Sazhin, Demidenko pointed to the limited effectiveness of Saudi Arabia's military, noting that the country does not have any real experience in carrying out successful military operations, with the war in Yemen only serving to illustrate this point. The Saudis, he says, "do not know how to fight, they do not want to fight, and if they do fight, it is only by proxy."

    Ultimately, the analyst believes that Riyadh is wary the Pandora's Box they would open by intervening, suggesting that this 'pseudo-announcement' may be an element of information warfare – perhaps as a way to influence the Syria peace talks, rather than an indication of the Saudis' real intentions.

    If the Saudis really did intervene, it would result, "first and foremost, in a full-scale regional war," Demidenko concludes.


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