Since the outbreak of the civil war in Syria, it has become a magnet for countries and organizations that, concerned for their own interests, cannot refrain from interfering. As a result, Syria has regressed about six decades, to the period when its weakness left it prey to both regional and international powers.1 Of all the countries that have taken vigorous action against the regime of Bashar Assad, Saudi Arabia stands out. King Abdullah bin Abd al-Aziz was the first senior Arab leader to break the silence and condemn the Syrian president's repression of the 2011 protests. Abdullah was also the first Arab leader to call openly for arming the Syrian opposition.2
BASHAR'S RULE, DECADE 1
When Assad Junior acceded to the presidency of Syria in June 2000, relations between Riyadh and Damascus took a turn for the better. The two capitals saw the link between them as vital and took steps to strengthen it. The Saudis wanted to help consolidate the status of the young president,3 while Assad wanted to coordinate positions and cooperate with Saudi Arabia to counter the dominance of Saddam Hussein's Iraq and then, after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, to ward off the anticipated American pressure on Syria.4
Relations between the two countries began to deteriorate in early 2002. At the Arab League summit in Beirut that March, Saudi Arabia unveiled its plan for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. The Arab states expressed general support for this initiative, but the Syrians espoused an uncompromising stand on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In his speech at the conference, Assad said that he accepted the initiative, but with reservations, calling on all Arab countries to break off relations with Israel and support the Palestinian uprising. There was further deterioration in Saudi-Syrian relations about a year later, toward the end of March 2003, following the American invasion of Iraq. Syria refused to cooperate with the U.S.-led coalition, opened its borders to fighters en route to Iraq, and accused the Gulf States of collaboration with the Americans. With Riyadh's backing, Washington quickly took steps to isolate Damascus in both the Middle East and the international arena.5
The breaking point in the two countries' relations was the assassination of Rafiq al-Hariri, the prime minister of Lebanon who was close to the Saudis, on February 14, 2005. The Saudi government pointed an accusing finger at Assad and charged that he had given the order to eliminate Hariri. This led to a rupture between Riyadh and Damascus, manifested in verbal confrontations in the local media. The situation soon got worse, affecting diplomatic relations between the two countries. Saudi Arabia, which in the past had defended Syria against the wrath of the Americans and the EU, now turned a cold shoulder to Assad. Seeking to punish Syria, it moved to coordinate positions with the United States. Saudi Arabia demanded that Syria withdraw its forces from Lebanon and that the International Court in The Hague try and punish those responsible for Hariri's assassination.6
One can see, however, that both Damascus and Riyadh made efforts to avoid a total breakdown in relations.7 Despite the tension that followed the Hariri assassination, the Saudis took steps so that the UN Commission of Inquiry would not undermine the stability of the regime in Damascus. In late October 2005, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem met with King Abdullah to give him a letter from President Assad concerning the Saudis' support for the UN inquiry. The king confirmed that Saudi Arabia stood with Syria and opposed the international pressure; Muallem responded that Syria would cooperate with the UN investigation. The cooperation with the Commission of Inquiry became possible thanks to coordination, effected by Prince Bandar bin Sultan, head of the Saudi National Security Council, with Assad and other senior figures in the Syrian regime. The coordination grew stronger when Assad visited Jeddah in January 2006 and met with King Abdullah and other leading Saudis.8
There were two main reasons for Saudi Arabia's dual policy, which later developed into a two-front holding action on Syria. First, Riyadh wanted to maintain stability in Syria, and implicitly throughout the region. After the Hariri assassination, the Lebanese turned out in the streets for giant demonstrations in what came to be known as the "Cedar Revolution." Lebanon quickly split between those who supported Iran, Syria and Hezbollah — the March 8 Camp — and the opposing March 14 alliance of Sunni parties led by Saad Hariri. The Saudis were apprehensive that the sectarian clashes in Lebanon and Iraq would enflame Syria and then the entire Middle East. Abd al-Rahman Rashed, former General Manager of Al- Arabiya and former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, opined that "dividing the Middle East into a homogenous Shia crescent and a Sunni rectangle and opposing sectarian or even ideological groupings is counterproductive." He added, "It does not need to set sectarian affiliation as the basis for authority. … We need to fight the increasingly popular proposition to install a sectarian majority government in Syria. … A stable Syria is needed to guarantee the stability of the region."9
The second reason for the Saudi policy, which to some extent complements the first, has to do with Riyadh's goal of weakening the ties between Damascus and Tehran. This idea, alongside the message of regional stability, appeared more clearly in the remarks by Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal and by the head of the General Intelligence Directorate, Muqrin bin Abd al-Aziz, when they met with U.S. ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad on December 27, 2005. Noting the overall political interest in maintaining the ties between Beirut and Damascus, Faisal warned that "the more Syria feels isolated, the more it will strengthen its ties with Iran."10 Indeed, relations between Riyadh and Damascus seemed to be returning to normal in the first half of 2006, and cooperation between them grew stronger. During his visit to Jeddah, Assad asked the Saudis (along with the Egyptians) to help "defuse the situation." Against the background of the domestic violence in Lebanon following Hariri's assassination, the Saudis expressed a willingness to work to calm the waters, despite their demand for an investigation of the murder, and refrained from casting blame for the attack on Assad or members of his entourage.11
But the pendulum of Saudi-Syrian relations swung in the other direction in July 2006, when war broke out between Hezbollah and Israel. Syrian support for Hezbollah prompted several Arab countries to attack Damascus for backing the Shiite organization and fanning the flames of the regional crisis. At the end of the war, which was triggered by Hezbollah's abduction of three Israeli soldiers, Assad allowed himself to respond to the Arab charges in a speech in which he referred to the leaders who attacked him as "half men," arousing the wrath of the Arab media, the Saudi media in particular. Enraged by the insult, King Abdullah initiated a public meeting with Abdul Halim Khaddam, who had been Hafez al-Assad's senior vice president but had defected in 2005.12
The 2006 Lebanon war was the final blow, shattering relations between Riyadh and Damascus. This was supplemented by an issue closer to home: since 2003, Syria had opened its borders to allow jihadists to enter Iraq and fight against the Americans. Despite several hints from Saudi Arabia, Damascus permitted Saudi subjects who responded to the call to join the jihad in Iraq to follow this road. Riyadh was also troubled by the closer ties between Syria and Iran, despite its efforts to pull Damascus into its own orbit.13
In view of the continuing quarrel between Syria and Saudi Arabia, the latter drew up a policy aimed at undermining the Assad regime at home. Riyadh employed its influence among opposition elements in Syria, Lebanon and elsewhere. As a result, for the first time in many decades the Lebanese government granted entry to opponents of the Assad regime, including those who had called for and led the armed uprising against his father. What is more, in late 2006, Prince Bandar bin Sultan was sent to Washington to coordinate a Saudi-American maneuver. The idea was that Riyadh, backed by Washington, would support democratic groups in Syria in the hope of effecting regime change there. The royal house provided economic support to the Syrian National Salvation Front (NSF), established in 2006. Chaired by former vice president Khaddam, it included the Muslim Brotherhood as well as 15 other opposition groups. With the approval of the Bush administration, the Saudi royal house provided funds and logistical support to the NSF, trying to get Syria to relax its stand on the two most important issues for the kingdom: Lebanon and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.14
The troubled relations surfaced publicly on several occasions, as when Foreign Minister Muallem and his Saudi counterpart Faisal squabbled at Arab and international forums. In December 2006, Syrian Vice President Farouk al-Shara fanned the flames when he accused Saudi Arabia of turning the debate between the countries into a personal matter.15 The confrontation intensified in late 2007 as a result of the political crisis in Lebanon. In November, when Emile Lahoud's term as president of Lebanon expired, no successor was elected. Pursuing a compromise, Riyadh tried to promote the election of a new president, but Damascus rejected the idea and supported Hezbollah. The lack of agreement about the Lebanese issue led King Abdullah to boycott the Arab summit held in Damascus in March 2008.16
Despite the rift, the pendulum soon swung back in the other direction, and the two countries moved toward rapprochement in mid-February 2009. The Arab media reported a visit by Prince Abd al-Aziz bin Abdullah, the king's son, to Damascus in pursuit of reconciliation. This paved the way for reciprocal visits by senior officials of the two countries, from both the political and military echelons, and the exchange of positive messages between the capitals.17 There were four factors behind the Saudis' unexpected reversal. First, the Iranian threat, that is, Iran's push for regional hegemony in general, and its nuclear program in particular. Against the background of worsening relations between Shiite Iran and the Sunni Gulf states (alongside the support of other Arab countries), Riyadh sought to forge "a joint Arab strategy" in order to deal together with the "Iranian challenge." If Damascus joined the Arab effort, that is, cut its ties with Iran, Saudi Arabia would be better able to repel the Iranian threat. And indeed, at the Arab foreign ministers' summit in Cairo, Foreign Minister Faisal said, "In order to cement Arab reconciliation, we need a common vision for issues that concern Arab security and deal with the Iranian challenge," including its nuclear program.18
Second, it was essential to set the Lebanese house in order. On May 21, 2008, the political crisis that had lasted for 18 months was resolved by the Doha Agreement. The crisis had reached its climax on May 6, when a mini civil war erupted between the supporters of Syria and Hezbollah and their opponents. About 80 persons were killed in a week of fighting. The agreement restored the peace and included the election of Michel Suleiman as president. Thus after six months with no executive and a year and a half when Parliament was paralyzed, Lebanese political life returned to some semblance of normalcy.19
Thus, it was a Saudi interest to guarantee stability in Lebanon and coordinate positions and views with Syria. Although the latter had withdrawn its forces from Lebanon in 2005, its influence over events there had not waned. On the contrary, in the wake of the Doha Agreement, the March 14 Camp recognized that Damascus could be a restraining influence on Hezbollah, and its relations with Syria thawed.20 The need for cooperation with Syria increased after the Lebanese parliamentary elections in June 2009 and the establishment of a unity government. Although the pro-Saudi camp had come out on top and Saad Hariri, supported by Riyadh, formed the new government, the opposing camp, which included Hezbollah, held on to its strength. The Saudis understood that ties with Assad would guarantee stability and rein in Hezbollah. This was clear in Foreign Minister Faisal's statement that Riyadh was interested in developing new and "healthy" ties with Damascus and that "divergences on Arab issues are behind us, buried."21
Third, as we have seen, the Palestinian issue played a role in relations between Saudi Arabia and Syria. After more than a year of an internal Palestinian feud, the representative of Fatah, Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas, and representatives of Hamas, Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and chairman of the Hamas political bureau Khaled Mashaal, were invited to Mecca on February 6, 2007. On February 8, after three days of discussions mediated by King Abdullah, the two sides signed a reconciliation agreement that called for the establishment of a unity government. Although the agreement did not endure for long, it demonstrated the Saudi hegemony over the Palestinian issue. As Riyadh saw things, Damascus was continuing to sabotage its efforts to reconcile the two Palestinian factions and promote the Arab peace initiative. For its part, Syria accused Saudi Arabia of actions that served American interests in the Middle East and of rapprochement with Israel.22
The tensions between Riyadh and Damascus grew worse as a result of the war in Gaza (Operation Cast Lead), December 27, 2008-January 18, 2009. Syria and Iran supported Hamas during the fighting, whereas Saudi Arabia and Egypt blamed Hamas for instigating the strife. As was the case in the Lebanese crisis, the factionalism highlighted the Muslim cold war between Shiites and Sunnis or between the moderate Arab camp — Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan — and the radical Islamic axis led by Iran, whose other members were Hezbollah, Syria, Hamas and Qatar. But at the end of the fighting between Israel and Hamas, in February 2009, the Saudi interest in reconciling the factions, to make it possible to rebuild the Gaza Strip as quickly as possible, returned to the fore. Because the Hamas political office was located in Damascus, cooperation between Saudi Arabia and Syria was of cardinal importance for the attempt to bridge the gaps and moderate intra-Palestinian rivalries.23
Fourth, after the years of isolation the Bush administration had imposed on Damascus, including serious enmity between the two countries, Assad tried a new tack. Having survived the confrontation with the Americans, he sought closer ties with neighboring Turkey and an improvement in his country's regional standing. A new page was opened in relations between the two countries when Barack Obama entered the White House, promoted reconciliation with the Muslim world and appointed Robert Ford as U.S. ambassador in Damascus. Because everything had turned upside down, and the Obama administration opted for a soft policy vis-à-vis Syria — unlike the positions of the Bush administration and the Saudis — Riyadh was forced to adopt the same political line and coordinate positions with Washington.24
When Riyadh and Damascus restored relations, Saudi Arabia returned to its efforts to amplify its influence in the region. On September 23, 2009, President Assad came to Jeddah for the inaugural ceremony of the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology. At his meeting with Assad, King Abdullah asked the Syrian president to exert pressure on his allies in Lebanon with regard to power sharing in the government and on the Hamas political bureau to agree to steps towards Palestinian reconciliation. Both requests targeted the same goal: bolstering the pro-Saudi forces in the region. Riyadh took immediate steps to remove the restrictions on trade with Damascus and establish joint economic ventures. The Saudis hoped these measures would enhance their presence throughout the Middle East, especially in Syria. To consolidate relations with Damascus, Riyadh was willing to sacrifice the March 14 Camp in Lebanon and called on it to be more flexible. The result was a new Lebanese government, one of whose main goals was to restore Syria's status in Lebanon, this time with Saudi approval.25 From this point on, early 2009 through the spring of 2011, relations between the two countries were normal. But the events of March 2011 in Syria scrambled the deck and posed new challenges for Syria, for the relations between Riyadh and Damascus, and for Saudi interests in Syria.26
THE CIVIL WAR
During the initial months of the protests and uprising against the Baath regime in Syria, the government in Riyadh, as well as the authorities in Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait, supported Assad. There were several meetings between senior Syrian and Saudi officials in April and May 2011, and the Saudis even provided 275 million rials in assistance to Syria. What is more, the Saudi media refrained from attacking Assad and his regime, even after the United States proclaimed the Syrian president illegitimate.27 There were two reasons for this Saudi support: first, the Saudis are afraid of changes that might lead to regional instability. As Riyadh sees things, the collapse of the Baath regime, despite its many defects, might open the door to something far worse and more dangerous. The Saudis' hope was that Assad would enact reforms, calm things down, and stem the spread of the protests against him. Second, given what was happening in Bahrain, where the Shiite protests were growing and Saudi Arabia had to send in troops to help manage the unrest in Manama, Riyadh needed Damascus as a broker with the Iranians in order to put a quick end to the crisis and keep it from developing into a full-fledged conflict.28
However, as the repression continued and the Syrian protests spread and became a revolt, the Saudi authorities increasingly showed their displeasure with Syria. In late May, the General Secretariat of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), whose headquarters are in Jeddah, called on the Syrian regime to show more restraint toward its citizens.29 Finally, after the violence and repression had continued for four months, the establishment media in Saudi Arabia broke their silence and called on the Syrian regime to implement real reforms — revoking the emergency laws, annulling the primacy of the Baath party, launching a national dialogue, and curtailing the close ties with Iran. There was no call for Assad's resignation, however.
Thus the Saudis continued to maneuver between contradictory interests: on the one hand, sharper criticism of Damascus; on the other, avoidance of further deterioration in relations.30 Because of the Saudis' desire to be involved in events in Syria and serve as a broker to end the bloody disturbances, King Abdullah proposed to Assad the establishment of an intra-Syrian conciliation committee under Saudi auspices, with representatives of the regime and the opposition. But Damascus's rejection of the idea, the tightening of its ties with Tehran, and continued violent repression of the protests, along with the failure of the Saudi efforts to defuse the situation, led Riyadh to take a different line on Assad.
At this stage, the unfavorable tone of the street at home and the dramatic change in international opinion influenced Saudi Arabia's decision to ramp up the volume of its critical utterances about the situation in Syria.31 Five months after the unrest began, Damascus became the target of fierce criticism and denunciations from the countries of Western Europe, the United States and even its ally Turkey. The Gulf Cooperation Council32 joined the condemnation; on August 6, it issued an extraordinary call for an "immediate end to violence ... and bloodshed … and introducing serious and necessary reforms that would protect the rights and dignity of the [Syrian] people, and meet their aspirations.33 Two days later, on August 8, King Abdullah repeated the GCC message when he announced the recall of his ambassador from Damascus in protest against the regime's violence against its citizens:
What is happening in Syria is unacceptable to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The event is greater than can be justified by reasons, but rather the Syrian leadership can activate quick and comprehensive reforms. The future of Syria is between only two options: either it chooses wisdom willingly, or drifts into the depths of chaos and loss, may Allah forbid.34
To highlight Saudi Arabia's leading role in the steps being taken against Syria, Abdullah added: "Today, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia stands before its historical responsibility towards her brothers, demanding introduction and activation of reforms that are not entwined with promises, but actually achieved, so that our brothers the citizens in Syria can feel them in their lives as dignity, glory and pride."35
Once Riyadh had taken the decision to publicly denounce Assad, it also decided to accelerate the moves in this direction. In November and December 2011, the Arab League, with Saudi support, promoted peace plans to restore order in Syria. At first, Damascus accepted the ideas for an end to the violence: the removal of its military and security forces from population centers, the immediate release of all political prisoners, dialogue between the regime and the opposition, and the dispatch of an Arab League observer force to Syria. When Saudi Arabia realized that Assad had violated the agreement twice and was making no effort to improve matters, it recalled its representatives from the observer force on January 22, 2012. The rest of the observers left Syria six days later.36
Three weeks after that, on February 12, 2012, addressing a special gathering of the Arab foreign ministers in Cairo, the Saudi foreign minister called on the Arab League "to take decisive measures to resolve the Syrian impasse … and … for more serious actions against Damascus." The forceful steps proposed by the Saudis included the imposition of economic and political sanctions on Syria, the creation of channels of communication with the Syrian opposition, and assistance "with all forms of support."37 The Saudi statement was followed by the passage of a resolution to "provide all kinds of political and material support," with the implicit idea that this meant conveying military equipment to the rebels.38 At the first meeting of the Friends of Syria organization, held in Tunis on February 24, Foreign Minister Faisal made this plain: "Arming the Syrian opposition is an excellent idea."39
The Saudis did not stop at words alone but also took action. In May 2012, Riyadh decided to pay salaries to the members of the Free Syrian Army in order to encourage defections from Assad's forces. The month before, in April, representatives of the Syrian opposition had met with Saudi intelligence officers in Europe and Turkey to discuss the rebels' needs. Riyadh turned a blind eye to Syrian businessmen affiliated with the opposition who were raising funds in the Gulf to purchase arms and ammunition that were then smuggled into Syria by the pro-Saudi groups in Lebanon.40
The royal house soon found itself more deeply involved in arming the rebels. Prince Abdullah bin Abd al-Aziz, the king's son and deputy foreign minister, visited Ankara and asked to establish a center in the city of Adana, about 100 kilometers from the Turkish-Syrian border, to facilitate the transfer of weapons and communications equipment to the rebels (similar centers were established in Istanbul and in Jordan). In addition, a number of observers believe that the Saudis signed agreements with governments in Eastern Europe for arms deals worth €806 million, with the intention of sending the weapons to the rebels in Syria. Military equipment purchased with the Saudi funds was loaded onto dozens of transport planes, flown from the Croatian capital of Zagreb to Jordan and then smuggled into Syria.41
A closer look reveals how Saudi support to the rebels falls into stages that parallel the deterioration of relations between Riyadh and Damascus. In the first stage, 2012 and early 2013, Riyadh saw Assad's downfall as its main objective. With this in mind, it gave the bulk of its support to the Free Syrian Army, hoping the FSA could serve as the core of a stable government after the fall of the Baath. In this period, the Saudis supported only groups affiliated with the FSA and other secular organizations. But the implementation of this policy was problematic; armed factions soon emerged that pretended to have an anti-jihadist ideology in order to win Saudi favor and money. In addition, in the jumble of coalitions in the war zone, groups that Riyadh did not want to bolster indirectly benefited from the arms assistance because they cooperated with those the Saudis did support. A good example was Saudi assistance to the Syrian Martyrs Brigades (Kataib Waalawia Shuhada Syria), commanded by Jamal Maarouf. The Saudis supported it because it accepted the authority of the Free Syrian Army and was ideologically opposed to the Muslim Brotherhood. In fact, the Brigades cooperated with both the Brotherhood and organizations that supported the establishment of an Islamic state, such as Jabhat al-Nusra.42
The Saudis' unwillingness to support the Muslim Brotherhood and organizations with a similar ideology became the nub of the dispute between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the other Gulf state providing assistance to the Syrian rebels. Whereas the Saudis saw the Brotherhood as a radical and dangerous rising Islamic force, Qatar sought an alliance with the organization as a way for Doha to become a significant player in the Middle East — at Riyadh's expense. Qatari support for the Brotherhood was intended as a way to gain a significant toehold with the Syrian opposition in exile, where the Brotherhood had a solid power base, and later in Syria the day after Assad's departure from the scene. The dispute over support for the Brotherhood put Saudi Arabia and Qatar on the road to confrontation, but also undermined the operations of the Syrian opposition by widening rifts within the anti-Assad camp. We see that, in late 2012, Riyadh was willing to undermine the effectiveness of the fight against Assad if that required supporting Islamist elements or endangering its position and influence in the region.43
The second stage of Saudi assistance to the rebels and relations between Riyadh and Damascus began in mid-2013 and continued through the spring of 2014. It followed the heightened activity of the radical Islamic groups in Syria — Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The Saudis opted for a two-front holding action to counter both the Assad regime, which was increasingly supported by Iranian forces, and the threats posed by the Salafi jihad organizations. Riyadh asked Ankara to restrict the passage of Islamists from Turkey to Syria. In addition, whereas the Saudi authorities had been turning a blind eye and saying nothing about the funds, from both private individuals and groups (some of them quasi-governmental), that were being funneled to radical Islamic organizations, it now began closely monitoring the transfer of money and contributions to Syria.
The most conspicuous element of Riyadh's two-front holding action was the establishment of the Army of Islam (Jaish al-Islam), which enjoyed the support of Saudi Arabia and other countries to the tune of some $100 million. The Army of Islam was established as an umbrella organization for about 50 rebel groups, some of them Salafi (but not those associated with al-Qaeda and Jabhat al-Nusra). In effect, it was the Saudis' substitute for the Salafi jihadist organizations and an appropriate channel for the internal Saudi need to donate funds to rebels with an Islamist ideology. At the head of the new group it placed Zahran Alloush, the son of a Saudi cleric, who was the head of a Salafi rebel group known as the Brigade of Islam (Liwa al-Islam).44
To channel assistance to the Army of Islam and other rebel groups, Saudi Arabia relied on Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, countries that were centers of the opposition to Assad and through which the rebels were supplied with military equipment. In addition to these three countries, starting in early 2012 Riyadh pressed Iraqi tribes to help the rebels in eastern Syria, and even the authorities in Islamabad. The reliance on Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon was also part of the competition with Qatar for influence in Syria. For example, the Saudis pressed King Abdullah of Jordan to help rebel groups reach Damascus from his territory. Through this assistance, Riyadh hoped to get in ahead of the groups supported by Doha.45
The Saudis' anti-Assad campaign also involved contacts between Prince Bandar and foreign countries aimed at getting them to put pressure on the Syrian regime to accelerate its demise. This peaked in mid-2013, when Bandar asked the White House to supply heavy weapons to the rebels, including antiaircraft and antitank missiles. Bandar was in touch with the Russians as well. In his meetings with President Vladimir Putin in July and December 2013, he asked the Kremlin to drop its support for Assad. The Saudi representative promised that, in return, the two countries would then coordinate efforts to preserve the Russian monopoly on natural-gas exports to Europe and that the Saudis would make investments in Russia.46
The pressure on the great powers grew more intense after the Syrian armed forces used chemical weapons against the town of Ghouta on August 21, 2013. President Obama had warned that the use of chemical weapons constituted a red line whose violation would lead to American military involvement in the conflict. In fact, he did nothing and instead opened talks with Russia in the hope of getting the Syrian regime to give up the chemical weapons it possessed. The Saudi response to what it saw as American weakness was its surprising refusal to accept a seat on the UN Security Council, only one day after it had been promised that long-sought prize. This was a humiliation for the Americans, who had supported the Saudis for the Council and congratulated them on their success. The Saudi excuse was that "allowing the ruling regime in Syria to kill and burn its people by the chemical weapons, while the world stands idly, without applying deterrent sanctions against the Damascus regime, is also irrefutable evidence and proof of the inability of the Security Council to carry out its duties and responsibilities."47
It was also reported that King Abdullah was deeply disappointed by Obama's decision not to attack Syria. Of course, the royal house's disappointment with the American policy was not the only reason for the surprising Saudi move. It would seem that Riyadh turned down the Security Council seat because it understood that holding it "would mean they could no longer pursue their traditional back seat and low-key policies and therefore decided to give it up. Regardless of the short-term costs, a seat on the U.N.S.C. may have also meant that Saudi Arabia would be more constrained in backing the Syrian opposition."48
The hard line towards Washington continued for several months but gradually gave way to attempts to lower the tension level. Despite the slow thaw in relations, Riyadh continued to express its willingness to work alone to deal with the situation in Syria. A New York Times article by Mohammed bin Nawaf, the Saudi ambassador in London, "Saudi Arabia Will Go It Alone," served as a sort of declaration of intent addressed to both the Arab street and world opinion.49 Prince Bandar's departure from his post as head of Saudi intelligence in April 2014 was also seen as a step toward unfreezing relations with Washington. He was replaced by Interior Minister Mohammed bin Nayef, who enjoyed the support of the commander of the Saudi Arabian National Guard, Prince Mutaib bin Abdullah. Unlike his predecessor, Prince Nayef preferred to prop up the more secular forces among the rebels, especially the Free Syrian Army. This support frequently came at the expense of the civilian organization, the National Coalition for Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces. Nayef invested in the Free Syrian Army, which had ties to the population on the ground and was fed by it, rather than the weak National Coalition. The change of the senior Saudi officials who influenced the handling of the Syrian portfolio was meant as a signal to Washington that Riyadh now wanted to coordinate positions and cooperate on the Syrian front. The main impetus for the move was the Saudi desire for the Americans to supply the rebels with heavy weapons.50 In the spring of 2014, after Bandar's departure from the scene, Saudi policy returned to where it had been two years earlier: support for the moderate rebel forces and close cooperation with the Americans.
However, the Saudis did not put their full faith in the United States alone. King Abdullah's death in January 2015, after almost a decade on the throne, and the accession of Salman bin Abd al-Aziz triggered a conspicuous change and the start of the third stage in Saudi policy towards the Syrian regime. Under Salman and his son Mohammed, the new defense minister, Riyadh was willing to cooperate with forces it had opposed in the past, if this was necessary to bring down Assad. The Saudis cultivated closer ties with Turkey and Qatar in order to coordinate positions and devise joint operations in the various war zones in Syria. This change affected the issue of Saudi support for the Muslim Brotherhood. Under Abdullah, the Saudis had been inflexible about the organization, to the point of coming into conflict with Ankara and Doha; under King Salman they evinced more moderation on that front.
The policy change was evident in the declaration by Foreign Minister Faisal that his government did "not have an issue with the Muslim Brotherhood group per se, but only certain members within the organization."51 In addition, the Saudis helped create the Jaish al-Fatah (the Army of Conquest), a joint command of the Sunni Islamist rebel factions in Syria. Whereas Riyadh had previously been selective about the Salafi organizations, in part bowing to American demands, now, despite Washington's displeasure, it was willing to go further — anything to bring down the Baath regime. Consequently, Saudi Arabia also supported Ahrar al-Sham (the Free Men of Levant), the amalgamation of several Islamist and Salafi units, and even took steps to add Jabhat al-Nusra to the roster of organizations it supported, on condition that the latter cut its ties with al-Qaeda.52 The reason for the change in Saudi policy lay in Tehran. When King Salman took the throne, the Saudis intensified their efforts to check the Iranians. Cooperation and closer ties with other Sunni countries was vital to achieve this. Operation Decisive Storm (Amaliyyat Asifat al-Ḥazm) against the Iran-backed Houthi Shiite rebels in Yemen, which Saudi Arabia launched on March 26, 2015, is a good example of this.
The policy of a two-front holding action continued in early 2016, when the new Saudi foreign minister, Adel al-Jubeir, declared that Assad's removal was essential for the defeat of ISIS. The Saudis also proposed dispatching ground forces to Syria as part of an international coalition against ISIS. It is obvious, however, that Riyadh also had its sights trained on Assad's forces and wanted to curtail Iranian influence in Syria.53 The dramatic change in Saudi policy, which led to cooperation with both Doha and Ankara, was also a product of Russia's expanding military involvement in the fighting against the rebel organizations, especially those identified with the secular opposition to the Assad regime. Although Moscow's new dominance in Damascus could reduce Tehran's influence, it also promoted a diplomatic offensive against Riyadh, with the goal of leaving Assad in power.54 So even the presence in Syria of Russia, a foreign power close to Iran, was somewhat troubling to Riyadh. Finally, alongside the Iranian threat and discomfort with Russia, Saudi decision makers were looking apprehensively at the growing strength of ISIS, which enjoyed the mystic aura of Islam at the height of its success.55
INTERVENING IN SYRIA
The events of March 2011 changed Syria almost overnight from a stable regional power and geopolitical player to a disintegrating state and the cockpit of inter-ethnic and international power struggles. Its new weakness returned Syria to long-forgotten decades — the 1940s, '50s and '60s — when it was the arena where regional forces and the great powers competed for influence and hegemony. What started as a peasant protest in rural southern Syria was quickly transformed into a war between radical and moderate forces (ISIS and the Free Syrian army), a conflict between Sunnis and Shiites (Iran and Hezbollah pitted against Saudi Arabia and Turkey), and between East and West (Russia versus the United States).
The root of the Saudi involvement in the Syrian civil war lies in what was referred to above as the intra-Islamic "cold war"; the Shiite camp led by Iran, with its allies Syria and Hezbollah, is facing off against the Sunni camp led by Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf monarchies, as well as Jordan, Egypt and even Turkey. From the humanitarian perspective, as we shall see below, Saudi Arabia, which claims primacy in the Sunni world and sees itself as its leading representative, could no longer tolerate a situation in which the Sunnis in Syria are persecuted by the Alawite minority. Riyadh's intervention in Syria stemmed from concern for its Sunni brothers being massacred by Assad.56
What is more, if before the Arab Spring Saudi Arabia preferred diplomatic maneuvers and considered itself to be the "regional coordinator" among various forces active in the Middle East, the start of the riots made it realize that it must be a forceful leader. This new recognition stemmed from two main sources. First, American presidents over the years had opted for a policy that preferred stability over freedom, especially in the keystone countries of Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and placed less emphasis on political reforms. By contrast, the Obama administration sought to enhance freedom not only on the periphery, but also in the core states. The call for democratization received greater attention with the advent of the Arab Spring. After the Saudis saw how Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, whose regime had "provided the strategic cornerstone for America's involvement in the Middle East,"57 was pushed out with American encouragement, they concluded that they could no longer rely on the Americans. Second, against the background of the lack of U.S. support for the kingdom and the mounting Shiite protests in Bahrain, Riyadh felt greater urgency about focusing on regional diplomacy. The GCC members had to be prepared for the protests to spill over onto them and other Arab countries.58
In Saudi eyes, Iran poses the primary threat to its national security; Tehran's race to acquire nuclear weapons and its involvement in Syria amount to the same thing. This was emphasized by former U.S. ambassador in Saudi Arabia, James B. Smith: "The top three foreign policy concerns of Saudi Arabia are Iran, Iran, and Iran."59 In the battle for hegemony in the Middle East, Riyadh perceived the growing Iranian strength, including in the military arena, as a grave threat, and consequently endeavored to bring down Tehran's most important ally, the regime in Damascus. Just how much Saudi Arabia fears Iran is reflected in the remarks by Bernard Haykel, a professor of Near Eastern studies at Princeton: "To the Saudis, the Iranian nuclear program and the Syria war are parts of a single conflict. One well-placed Saudi told me, 'If we don't do this in Syria, we'll be fighting them next inside the kingdom.'"60
This is why the civil war in Syria is perceived by the Saudis, as well as the other Gulf states, as a critical element in the struggle for regional influence, especially on the Iraq-Syria-Lebanon axis. What is more, for Saudi Arabia, Iranian intervention in the Syrian imbroglio poses a supreme strategic and security threat. Assad's fall and the rise of a regime based on the Sunni majority in Syria, which would be allied with Saudi Arabia, could consolidate Riyadh's position in Lebanon and might also serve as a springboard to influence in Iraq. This is why Riyadh was willing to go very far, including support for Salafi jihadist organizations such as Ahrar al-Sham, if that would help bring down the Syrian regime.61
Riyadh's understanding that the crisis in Damascus is in fact part of the regional struggle against Tehran increased after the Obama administration displayed weakness: the agreement for Syria to destroy its chemical weapons, achieved with Russian mediation, and later the nuclear deal with Iran. Then, starting in late 2013, Saudi Arabia increased the fury of its protests against Iranian intervention in Syria. According to Foreign Minister Faisal that November, "Syria is a land occupied by Iranian forces. … The best test for Iran to prove its goodwill would be its withdrawal from Syria along with its Lebanese Hezbollah ally."62 Almost two years later, in October 2015, his successor, Foreign Minister al-Jubeir, said something similar at a press conference: Iran was now an "occupier of Arab lands in Syria. …We are determined to confront any Iranian moves and we will do everything we can with what we have in political, economic and military means to protect our lands and people." What is more, under King Salman, Saudi Arabia has begun supporting the Kurds in Iraq, with the goal of severing the overland link between Iran and Syria.63
The second reason for the Saudi intervention in the Syrian civil war is Riyadh's concern for regional stability, especially in the countries near its borders. This burning issue arrived at its doorstep in 2011, when protests erupted in Bahrain, where the Sunni minority rules over a Shiite majority. Inspired by events in Tunisia and Egypt, Shiites streamed into the streets, demanding justice and social equality along with democratic reforms. Despite repeated denials by the Shiite opposition parties of Iranian involvement in the disturbances, the royal house and political elite in Bahrain, along with its Sunni neighbors throughout the Arab world and especially in the Gulf, were certain that the Iranians were stirring the pot.64 After the protests escalated on March 13, 2011, and in view of the threat to financial centers in the capital of Manama, the government of Bahrain asked the GCC to send forces to help put down the unrest. The next day, the organization's rapid response unit — the Peninsula Shield force — was deployed from the UAE to Bahrain; 1,200 Saudi troops and 600 policemen took up key positions in Bahrain. The Saudis were apprehensive that their own Shiite minority, concentrated in the oil-rich Eastern Province, would also launch protests, inspired by their coreligionists across the border in Bahrain.65
But it was not only Bahrain that attracted Riyadh's attention. As mentioned above, during the decade before the outbreak of the Syrian civil war, Lebanon was a major issue in Saudi foreign policy, including the power struggles vis-à-vis Iran and Syria. Riyadh saw the spillover of the ethnic-confessional conflict from Syria to Lebanon, with all its many social, ethnic and political problems, as a sure-fire recipe for a major crisis in Lebanon. For example, the Saudi king sent a letter to President Michel Suleiman warning against Lebanese involvement in the conflict in Syria, as that might lead to a renewal of communal strife in his own country. At the same time, both Iraq and Jordan were causes for concern, given the tribal links between these countries and Saudi Arabia, as expressed in intermarriage within and between tribes and frequent appeals to figures from the Gulf to mediate tribal disputes. Turki al-Faisal highlighted this apprehension when he addressed an official conference on Saudi foreign relations, held in Washington. He said that any means, including attacks on the Syrian Air Force, should be employed to force Damascus to accept a political solution and stop its massacre of the Syrian people. He added: "You delay that now, and you will have to do more when the carnage spreads to Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq."66
The Saudi desire to enhance regional stability was also manifested in its humanitarian assistance program. It allocated $2.7 million a month to programs for Syrian refugees in Jordan and Syria through the International Islamic Relief Organization of Saudi Arabia and the Saudi embassy in Lebanon. King Abdullah launched a national fundraising drive on behalf of Syrian citizens; the money collected was used to send dozens of trucks to Syrian refugee camps in Jordan. The humanitarian campaign was strongly branded, including the logo printed on shirts and caps: "Saudi Kingdom of Humanity." In fact, the Saudi assistance to its neighbors and the refugees living there went beyond humanitarian aid. For example, in 2014, then-Crown Prince Salman, who was also defense minister, traveled to Paris, where he spent $1 billion on weapons for the Lebanese army, with the goal of helping it overcome the threat posed by jihadist groups in Syria.67
The third explanation behind Saudi involvement in Syria relates to the rise of radical Islam and its spread through Iraq and Syria. As the fighting continued, and the Islamic State's halo shone brighter, so did the Saudis' strong desire to bring down the Assad regime. Another source of concern were the local young men who joined rebel groups in Syria. Riyadh feared that some of them might come home with battlefield experience and a radical religious doctrine they would ultimately direct against the regime. In late March 2014, the Saudi authorities were informed that 1,200 of the kingdom's subjects had gone off to fight against Assad's forces and that a quarter of them had returned. It was a repeat of what had happened after the mujahideen returned from the war in Afghanistan and al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, a native of Saudi Arabia, came out in open opposition to the royal house.
The Saudi authorities took several steps to prevent young men from going off to fight in Syria. A law enacted in early 2014 set a prison term of three to 20 years for those convicted of fighting in a foreign country. The regime declared ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra terrorist organizations. The local media were enlisted to dull the luster of the rebels in Syria, while the grand mufti, Abd al-Aziz bin Ibrahim al-Sheikh, admonished young people not to join the fight in Syria: "These are feuding factions and one should not go there. I do not advise one to go there. ... Going to a land that you do not know and without experience, you will be a burden to them; what they want from you is your prayer."68
The pendulum of Saudi-Syrian relations swung back and forth during Bashar al-Assad's first decade in power. The disagreements focused on Lebanon, the Palestinians and Iran, and frequently led to harsh verbal clashes between Riyadh and Damascus. Nevertheless, from the days of the Saudis' "dual policy," with the reversals of the Obama administration in the background, and until the early months of the unrest that began in Syria in March 2011, Saudi Arabia recognized the need to maintain correct relations with Syria in order to promote its own regional interests.
The significant deterioration in relations between Riyadh and Damascus proceeded as the protests continued and became more violent, and even more so the authorities' reactions. Saudi Arabia chose to side with the rebels; its main interests in relation to Syria did not change substantially. Above all, as the leader of the Sunni world, it sought to stymie Iran's growing strength in the Middle East and undermine Tehran by eliminating its ally in Damascus. Saudi Arabia also wanted to preserve regional stability against the background of the Sunni-Shiite struggle. Before the "Syrian spring" Riyadh's chief concern was Lebanon; but after the civil war erupted, it focused on the protests by Shiites in countries on its borders, especially Bahrain. Finally, with their two-front holding action, the Saudis endeavored to fight the forces of Assad and his allies (Iran and Hezbollah) by supporting the secular rebel factions, and later also the Islamists, as well as to stem the ideological and physical expansion of ISIS and those loyal to it.
The intra-Sunni power struggles continued to weaken the Syrian opposition. It was possible to contain the damage as long as it served Saudi interests. It was only after Iran substantially revved up its intervention in Syria that the Saudis became willing to support Salafi groups and cooperate with Qatar. Nevertheless, there has been a serious deterioration in relations between Riyadh and Doha, especially against the background of the rapprochement between Bahrain and Tehran; this led to the imposition of sanctions on Qatar and its isolation within the Sunni bloc. Thus the Shiite axis — Iran, Syria, Hezbollah — remains united, while factionalism prevails among the Sunnis, weakening that camp and impairing its ability to function. There is no doubt that this situation is damaging to Saudi interests, while Iran and its ally Assad are becoming stronger.
1 Eyal Zisser, "The 'Struggle for Syria': Return to the Past?" Mediterranean Politics 17, no. 1 (March 2012): 106; David W. Lesch, Syria: The Fall of the House of Assad (Yale University Press, 2013), 237.
2 Lesch, Syria, 145-146; Ian Black, "Arm Syrian Rebels to Contain Jihadis, Says Saudi Royal," The Guardian, January 25, 2013.
3 Bruce Riedel, "The Return of Prince Bandar: Saudi's New Spy Chief," Brookings Institution, July 23, 2012.
4 Al-Bab.com, "Interview with President Bashar al-Assad," February 8, 2001.
5 Eyal Zisser, In the Name of the Father (Tel Aviv University Press, 2003) [in Hebrew], 170-176; Simon Jeffery, "The Arab League Summit," The Guardian, March 28, 2002.
6 Bassel Salloukh, "Syria and Lebanon: A Brotherhood Transformed," Middle East Research and Information Project 35 (Fall 2005).
7 Syria declared three days of mourning after the death of Saudi King Fahd, and Assad attended his funeral. See Asharq Al-Awsat, "King Fahd bin Abdulaziz (1922-2005)," August 1, 2005.
8 Asharq Al-Awsat, "Syria's Assad Visits Egypt and Saudi," January 9, 2006; Asharq Al-Awsat, "Syria Launches Diplomatic Campaign to Ease Pressure," October 30, 2005; WikiLeaks, "The Killing of Gebbbran Tueni: What was the SARG Thinking?" December 19, 2005.
9 Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed, "Between Sunni and Shi'a," Asharq Al-Awsat, September 4, 2005; Carla E. Humud, "Lebanon," Congressional Research Service, July 25, 2017.
10 WikiLeaks, "Saudi Views on Iranian and Syrian Activities in Iraq and Elsewhere," January 2, 2006.
11 Al Jazeera, "Plan to Ease Lebanon-Syria Tensions," January 17, 2006; Asharq Al-Awsat, "Cheney Meets Egyptian President Mubarak," January 17, 2006.
12 Al Jazeera, "Speech by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad" [in Arabic], August 20, 2006; Syria-News.com, "Saudi King Abdullah met former Syria's VP Khaddam," October 22, 2006.
13 Syria Comment, "Saudis and Syrians … Brothers or Rivals?" March 5, 2007.
14 Seymour M. Hersh, "The Redirection: Is the Administration's New Policy Benefiting Our Enemies in the War on Terrorism?" The New Yorker, March 5, 2007; "Statement of National Salvation Front on Syria's Election Farce," Ikhwanweb, April 14, 2007.
15 Bassel Qudat, "Making up at last," Al-Ahram Weekly, February 19-25, 2009.
16 Al Jazeera, "Saudi King Snubs Damascus Summit," March 24, 2008; Humud, "Lebanon."
17 Qudat, "Making up at last"; Syria Comment, "Sanctions on the Table," March 5, 2009; Al-Arabiya, "Saudi FM Urges Joint Arab Strategy on Iran," March 3, 2009.
18 Al-Arabiya, "Joint Arab Strategy"; Al-Arabiya, "Saudi FM Slams Tehran as Iran's Mottaki Visits," March 15, 2009; Christopher M. Blanchard, "Saudi Arabia: Background and U.S. Relations," Congressional Research Service, July 13, 2017.
19 Casey L. Addis, "Lebanon: Background and U.S. Relations," Congressional Research Service, February 1, 2011, note 19.
20 Al-Riyadh, "Why Lebanon Won't Fall Back into Syrian Hands [Arabic]," October 13, 2009.
21 Al-Arabiya, "Joint Arab Strategy."
22 Paul Morro, "International Reaction to the Palestinian Unity Government," Congressional Research Service, May 9, 2007; Gary C. Gambill, "Syria and the Saudi Peace Initiative," Middle East Intelligence Bulletin 4, no. 3 (March-April 2002).
23 Hillel Frisch, "Obama and the Muslim Cold War," BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 62, January 28, 2009; Al-Arabiya, "Joint Arab Strategy"; Blanchard, "Saudi Arabia."
24 Eyal Zisser, Syria – Protest, Revolution and civil war (Moshe Dayan Center, 2014), 22-30; Chris Phillips, "Can Syria End the Arab Cold War?" The Guardian, July 14, 2009.
25 Al-Arabiya, "Saudi King Set for Landmark Trip to Syria: Reports," October 6, 2009; WikiLeaks, "A/S Feltman's January 26 Meeting with Culture Minister AbdulAziz Khoja," January 30, 2010; WikiLeaks, "Asad's Visit: Saudi-Syrian Rapprochement Back on Track?" December 30, 2009; WikiLeaks, "Saudis Say Syria 'Isolated for too long,'" October 1, 2009.
26 WikiLeaks, "Asad's Visit"; WikiLeaks, "Saudis Say Syria 'Isolated for too Long'"; Tony Badran, "Saudi-Syrian Relations after Hariri," Foundation for Defense of Democracies, February 1, 2006.
27 Will Todman, "Gulf States' Policies on Syria," Center for Strategic & International Studies, October 2016. For an example of meetings between senior Saudi and Syrian officials, see: Saudi Press Agency (SPA), "Syrian Prime Minister Receives Minister of Agriculture," April 23, 2011; SPA, "Syrian Finance Minister Meets Saudi Ambassador," May 10, 2011; SPA, "Syrian Minister of Industry Meets Saudi Ambassador," May 19, 2011.
28 F. Gregory Gause III, "Saudi Arabia in the New Middle East," Council on Foreign Relations Special Report No. 63 (December 2011); Jean-Francois Seznec, "The Role of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Countries," in External Powers and the Arab Spring, ed. Sverre Lodgaard (Scandinavian Academic Press, 2016), 243; Lesch, Syria, 145; Bahrain News Agency, "Peninsula Shield Presence in Bahrain Legitimate Says Syrian Foreign Minister," March 20, 2011.
29 SPA, "OIC General Secretariat Expresses Deep Concern over Escalating Violence in Syria," May 22, 2011.
30 Nicholas A. Heras, "The Potential for an Assad Statelet in Syria," The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Policy Focus 132 (December 20, 2013); SPA, "OIC General Secretariat."
31 Al-Jazeera, "Saudi Arabia Calls for Syrian Reforms," August 8, 2011.
32 The GCC has six member states: Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman and Bahrain.
33 Al-Arabiya, "GCC Urges End to Syrian 'Bloodshed,' Calls for Reforms," August 6, 2011.
34 SPA, "GCC Countries Follow Up the Situations in Syria, a Press Release Says," August 6, 2011; SPA, "Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Directs a Statement to his Brothers in Syria," August 8, 2011.
35 SPA, "Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques."
36 Al-Jazeera, "Syria Agrees to Arab League Plan," November 3, 2011; Al-Arabiya, "GCC Tells Iran to 'Stop Interfering'; Says Damascus must Embrace Arab Plan," December 20, 2011; SPA, "GCC States Decide To Withdraw Their Monitors From Arab League Mission to Syria," January 21, 2012.
37 SPA, "Minister of Foreign Affairs of Saudi Arabia calls on Arab League to Reconsider its Initiative on Syria," February 12, 2012.
38 Edmund Blair and Ayman Samir, "Arabs Open Way for Arming Syrians, Civil War Feared," Al Arabiya, February 14, 2012.
39 The Guardian, "Syria: Qatar Calls for Arab Force to Impose Peace," February 24, 2012; Al-Jazeera, "Friends of Syria Conference Opens in Tunis" [Arabic], February 24, 2012.
40 Martin Chulov, "Saudi Arabia Plans to Fund Syria Rebel Army," The Guardian, June 22, 2012; Ian Black, "Gulf States Warned Against Arming Syria Rebels," The Guardian, May 10, 2012.
41 Chulov, "Syria Rebel Army"; The Guardian, "Syria Crisis: US Fears Aleppo 'Massacre,'" July 27, 2012; Ivan Angelovski, "Revealed: The £1bn of Weapons Flowing from Europe to Middle East," The Guardian, July 27, 2016; Robert F. Worth, "Citing U.S. Fears, Arab Allies Limit Syrian Rebel Aid," New York Times, October 6, 2012.
42 Aron Lund, "The Non-State Militant Landscape in Syria," Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, August 27, 2013; Rania Abouzeid, "Syria's Secular and Islamist Rebels: Who Are the Saudis and the Qataris Arming?" Time, September 18, 2012; Rania Abouzeid, "Syria's Uprising within an Uprising," European Council on Foreign Relations, January 16, 2014.
43 Chris Zambelis, "Royal Rivalry in the Levant: Saudi Arabia and Qatar Duel over Syria," Terrorism Monitor 11, no. 16 (August 2013); Raphaël Lefèvre, "Islamism Within a Civil War: The Syrian Muslim Brotherhood's struggle for Survival," working paper, Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World at Brookings (August 2015); Muhammad al-Sid al-Da'im, "The Syrian Opposition: A Look at My Geographic Map Inside and Outside" [Arabic], Al-Hayat, February 22, 2013.
44 Alloush was killed in a Syrian airstrike east of Damascus on December 25, 2015.
45 Yezid Sayigh, "Unifying Syria's Rebels: Saudi Arabia Joins the Fray," Carnegie Middle East Center, October 28, 2013; Radwan Mortada, "Exclusive: Inside Future Movement's Syria Arms Trade," Al-Akhbar English, November 29, 2012; Michael Knights, "Syria's Eastern Front: The Iraq Factor," The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, July 6, 2012; Nicolas Pelham, "Sliding into the Fray: Jordan and Israel in the Syrian Conflict," Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Centre, February, 2013.
46 Arabi21, "'Secret' Talks between Prince Bandar and Putin in Moscow" [Arabic], December 4, 2013; Al-Quds Al-Arabi, "Bandar bin Sultan in Russia to Discuss Syrian Situation and his Country's Essential Needs in Armaments" [Arabic], December 3, 2013.
47 UN News Centre, "Jordan Elected to Serve on UN Security Council," December 6, 2013; Robert F. Worth, "Saudi Arabia Rejects U.N. Security Council Seat in Protest Move," New York Times, October 18, 2013.
48 Worth, "Protest Move."
49 Mohammed Bin Nawaf, "Saudi Arabia Will Go It Alone,"New York Times, December 17, 2013.
50 Ian Black, "End of an Era as Prince Bander Departs Saudi Intelligence Post," The Guardian, April 16, 2014; Simon Henderson, "Bandar Resigns as Head of Saudi Intelligence," The Washington Institute, April 15, 2014; Ellen Knickmeyer and Adam Entous, "Saudi Arabia Replaces Key Official in Effort to Arm Syria Rebels," The Wall Street Journal, February 19, 2014; Al Jazeera, "Saudi to Reassess Relations with US: Report," October 23, 2013; Lina Khatib, "The Regional Impacts of Saudi Succession," Al Jazeera, January 25, 2015.
51 Ali Al-Arian, "Is Saudi Arabia Warming Up to the Muslim Brotherhood?," Al Jazeera, July 29, 2015.
52 Patrick Cockburn, "Prince Mohammed bin Salman: Naive, arrogant Saudi Prince is playing with fire," The Independent, January 9, 2016; Desmond Butler, "Turkey and Saudi Arabia are Officially Collaborating to Bring Down Assad in Syria," Business Insider, May 23, 2015.
53 Al-Arabiya, "King Salman Launches Operation Decisive Storm against the Houthis" [Arabic], March 26, 2015; Reuters, "'No Bashar al-Assad in the future,' says Saudi foreign minister: report," February 8, 2016; Simon Henderson, "Desert Stretch: Saudi Arabia's Ambitious Military Operations," The Washington Institute, February 16, 2016.
54 Emma Graham-Harrison and Saeed Kamali Dehghan, "Gulf States Plan Military Response as Putin Raises the Stakes in Syria," The Guardian, October 4, 2015.
55 Andrew J. Bowen and Matthew J. McInnis, "The Saudi-Syrian Back Channel to End the War," Foreign Policy, August 17, 2015; Henderson, "Desert Stretch"; Reuters, "Russia's Putin, Saudi Defense Minister Agree to Cooperate in Syria, October 11, 2015.
56 Worth, "Syrian Rebel Aid"; Blanchard, "Saudi Arabia."
57 Martin Indyk, Innocent Abroad (Simon & Schuster, 2009), 52, 58. Indyk writes that Saudi Arabia is "the other pillar of the Arab status quo," alongside Egypt; see 53-54.
58 Mehran Kamrava, "The Arab Spring and the Saudi-Led Counterrevolution," Orbis 56, no. 1 (2012): 96-104.
59 James B. Smith, "Through the Prism of Iran," The Cipher Brief, May 26, 2016.
60 Robert F. Worth, "U.S. and Saudis in Growing Rift as Power Shifts," New York Times, November 25, 2013.
61 Hassan Hassan, "Syria: the view from the Gulf states," European Council on Foreign Relations, June 13, 2013; Smith, "Prism of Iran."
62 Al-Jazeera, "Syria: Who Holds the Key to Geneva II?" November 10, 2013.
63 Frzand Sherko, "In the Regional Power Struggle, has Erbil Decided to Join the Sunni Bloc?" The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, January 29, 2016.
64The Guardian, "US Embassy Cables: Bahrainis Trained by Hezbollah, Claims King Hamad," February 15, 2011; Joshua Teitelbaum, "Gulf Monarchies Confront the 'Arab Spring,'" BESA Center Perspectives Paper no. 144 (June 12, 2011).
65 Kenneth Katzman, "Bahrain: Reform, Security, and U.S. Policy," Congressional Research Service, August 7, 2017; Sanskar Shrivastava, "Saudi Arabian Troops Enter Bahrain, Bahrain Opposition Calls It War," The World Reporter, March 15, 2011.
66 Turki Al-Faisal, "Saudi Arabia's Foreign Policy," Middle East Policy 20, no. 4 (Winter 2013); Al Jazeera, "Kidnapped Lebanese Men 'Safe and Well,'" May 24, 2012; Hassan, "Syria."
67 Reuters, "Saudi Aid Convoy for Syrian Refugees Leaves Riyadh," August 2, 2012; SPA, "Saudi Embassy in Lebanon Develops Plan for Helping Syrian Displaced People," April 27, 2012; SPA, "IIROSA Prepares a Program To Assist Syrian Refugees in Lebanon," March 18, 2012.
68 Al-Jazeera, "Young Saudis Urged to Avoid Syria War," October 29, 2013; Peter Bergen, "Why the Saudis Unfriended the U.S.," CNN, March 28, 2014; Aaron Y. Zelin, "The Saudi Foreign Fighter Presence in Syria," Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, April 28, 2014.
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