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Washington and Riyadh a Step Away from a «Final Solution» to the Syrian Issue

Recently the Syrian issue has flared up once more. Heated discussions in American political circles and emotional speeches from participants of the Arab League conference in Kuwait March 25-26 are not a discussion of plans for the peaceful resolution of the Syrian conflict; they are a debate about which method for capturing Damascus and overthrowing President al-Asad will be most effective.

The situation in Syria for the militant opposition, the international jihad gangs and the foreign sponsors of the whole «brood of vipers» has run into a dead end. Bashar al-Asad and his team have worked out an effective tactic for resisting the rebels and the intervention of the jihadists; this tactic consists of grinding down the opposition and jihadists in strategically important areas and in making strikes against logistics hubs.

In essence, this was the tactic of the final stage of the USSR's Afghan campaign, when the important thing is not taking control of every inch of ground, but reducing the opponent's possibilities to the level of an «acceptable terrorist threat». Damascus is achieving success on account of the superior combat skills of the government forces, Hezbollah detachments and brigades of Shiite volunteers; the support of heavy artillery troops; and dominance in the air.

The serious victories of the Syrian army when they took Yabrud and regained control of the Qalamun gorge does not mean the end of the war or even a strategic breakthrough in it, but they make it difficult for the anti-government forces, first of all, to reach Lebanese ports, and second, to gain access to the Sunnite enclave Arsal in Lebanon's Beqaa Valley, which the rebels have turned into their support base. The Lebanese Shiites and the government forces now have a wonderful opportunity to clear out Arsal, which through the jihadists' efforts has become not only their logistical base, but a center for drug production and smuggling of weapons and persons.

Damascus' military successes have indeed become a dead end for its adversaries; Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Sheikh Salman bin Abdulaziz spoke of this emotionally at the summit in Kuwait, passionately accusing the entire world of «betraying the opposition» and turning it into «easy prey for the bloodthirsty dictator». Washington and Riyadh see a change in the military balance in favor of the rebels as the way out of this dead end. The essence of the crown prince's speech was a call to arm them with heavy weapons in order to eliminate the air dominance of the government forces and the firepower superiority of the army.

The political map of the Middle East is changing rapidly, and the question of Saudi hegemony in the region is no longer just a way to satisfy the ambitions of the dynasty; it is a matter of its survival. Having convinced its partners, and not all of them, to «punish» Qatar and thus having established its leadership in the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (GCC), Riyadh needs a serious and quick foreign policy success. The capture of Damascus is the most valued prize for Riyadh; it would reinforce the Saudis' position in the Arab world and allow them to start carrying out their other plans: to create a Jordanian-Palestinian federation and form an anti-Shiite league from the Arabian Peninsula to Pakistan.

This is the reason for the Saudis' rigidity in their dialog with Obama. The offers Washington is making to Riyadh - missile defense systems directed against Iran, a rearmament program, oversight of affairs in Palestine and the Maghreb - despite their financial attractiveness and political dividends, do not particularly suit the royal dynasty, as they are of a defensive nature and do not answer the Saudis' main question: «How can we stop the growth of Iran's influence and the Shiite 'Awakening'?»

The Saudis' aggressiveness, when for the survival of the dynasty they need a «small, victorious war», puts Obama in a very interesting position. On the one hand, as of now almost 46 percent of Syria's chemical arsenal has been destroyed, which makes the «Iraq scenario» impossible with regard to Damascus. Public opinion in the U.S. is strongly negative toward direct intervention in Syria; this is important right before the November congressional elections, and the presidential race is not far away either. On the other hand, the U.S. has invested around 2 billion dollars in the overthrow of al-Asad. American neocons, who criticized Obama harshly for his indecisiveness on the Syrian question, have lost all restraint after the Crimea. Blackmail and the threat of sanctions against Russia did not work. Now Americans see Syria as a way to get «revenge for Crimea» and the capture of Damascus as an opportunity to deprive Moscow of all its positions in the Middle East. The Saudi lobby, behind which stand the interests of the military industrial sector and transnational corporations, is blackmailing the White House with the threat of a critical cooling of relations between Washington and the Saudi kingdom. And while Obama is somehow bearing up under this blackmail, for John Kerry and his presidential ambitions these threats create a large number of problems for the future.

The U.S. has been drawn into Syria much more strongly than the White House would like. Besides the two billion spent on exporting democracy to Syria, there are another four fronts of the undeclared war against Damascus which Washington is waging under the cover of peaceful rhetoric.

First is the supply of small arms to anti-government forces with the knowledge of the U.S. Congress.

Second is the financing (the total volume of payments since January has been around 3 million dollars) and intensive training of the rebels. Since the end of 2012, CIA operatives and American Special Operations instructors have been training rebels in camps on the territory of Jordan and Turkey. The training course includes skills for handling heavy arms, particularly anti-tank systems and MANPADs. These training camps graduate up to several hundred rebels per month, some of whom then act as instructors among fighters on the territory of Syria.

Third is the provision of «non-lethal aid», the volume of which is growing (currently it costs almost 80 million dollars each month) and is changing qualitatively. While in early 2013 «non-lethal aid» included mostly medications and food rations, today it mainly consists of communications equipment, night-vision devices, engineering equipment and vehicles.

Fourth is Washington's favorite tool for exporting democracy: sanctions. As of now the U.S. and its partners in the anti-Syrian coalition have frozen all of Damascus' foreign assets, and any investments, provision of any equipment and any transaction with Syrian petroleum products are banned. It must be added that these sanctions do not apply to territory seized by the rebels.

Washington is just a step away from the main decision, that of providing the rebels with heavy weapons and MANPADs, as well as creating a no-fly zone along the Turkish or Jordanian border which would become a starting point for a new attack on Damascus.

The meeting of the representatives of the Syrian opposition which took place March 6 at the Istanbul Wyndham Hotel ended in mutual assault after thirty minutes, during which it is said that Ahmed Jarba, who had waxed eloquent at the Arab League summit in Kuwait, was also involved in the «discussion»; this, however, is the cost of the process of unification, as it were. According to Western intelligence sources, today around 70% of the militant opposition groups are «unified and jointly opposing both the al-Asad regime and the Islamists».

Obama is to visit Riyadh March 28-29. At the end of the week it will apparently become clear what path al-Asad's opponents have chosen for the «final solution» to the Syrian issue.

[Source: By Igor Pankratenko, Strategic Culture Foundation, 28Mar14]

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