There was a fairly resonant beating of war drums in the NATO headquarters in Brussels on Thursday when Saudi Arabia unveiled its plan to intervene in the Syrian conflict. The signal of intent follows the desert kingdom&’s operations against the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. Fears that the powers in the Arab region – across the Shia-Sunni divide – could be drawn into the vortex of what has been described as the war without end are not wholly unfounded. The US Defence Secretary, Ashton Carter, has welcomed the offer – “We welcome the move. The Saudis are serious, they are leading this coalition.” At another remove, the Russian Prime Minister has raised the spectre of a “permanent or a world war” if the Gulf nations sent troops and if the world powers failed to negotiate peace. On the fifth anniversary of the Arab Spring, Syria exemplifies that failure. Unmistakable is the clear distinction in the praxis of geostrategy. “All sides must be compelled to sit at the negotiating table instead of unleashing a new world war,” was Dmitry Medvedev&’s chilling warning, clothed in expressions reminiscent of the Cold War. Decidedly defensive has been the US response to Riyadh&’s contemplated adventurism – “Saudi Arabia and its partners have a clear stake in this fight. In the weeks to come there will be opportunities to follow up on the offers made today.” The theatre of relentless conflict that is Syria is set to expand not least in the context of the Saudi announcement that they will lead a force drawn from an Islamic coalition of the willing. Markedly, representatives of the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Jordan and Kuwait were also present at Thursday&’s meeting. Small wonder that both Washington and the Kremlin are chewing over the upshot of the confabulations. Markedly once more, the Saudi delegation, led by Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the Defence Minister and heir apparent to the throne, dominated the proceedings.
Saudi Arabia&’s express objective is to tackle ISIS, but considering that the region is on the boil, the intervention – coupled with the Russian one – is bound to escalate the vicious sectarian strife. There are fears that troops from the Sunni Gulf states will provide support for Syria&’s Sunni rebels who are losing ground and this will bring them into conflict with the Shia enemies – Iranian “volunteers” and Lebanese Hezbollah fighters backing the regime of Bashar al-Assad. That regime is also backed by Russian air strikes. The war clouds become still more dense with Carter&’s announcement – “This marks the beginning of a new stage in the campaign against ISIS. We will all look back after victory and remember who took part in the fight.” The plot thickens.