Q&A: Obama’s Visit to Saudi Arabia and its Repercussions on Syria
بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
Answer to the Question
“Al Hayat” site posted on 08/03/2014, quoting French news agency AFP said: “The Supreme Military Council of the FSA ratified the appointment of Brigadier Abdul Ilah al-Bashir al-Naimi as chief-of-staff to replace Major General Salim Idris…” it came in the framework of “completing the Supreme Military Council…”, and this completion included other appointments in the army… These events have coincided with leaked news about Turkey’s closure of the coalition’s offices and the possibility of moving these to Cairo. The question is: Do these changes and the leaked news have a relationship to Obama’s visit, particularly to Saudi Arabia later this month for the Saudi Arabia’s role in the fighting fronts in Syria, in particular the southern front? And what is intended by the closure of offices? Jazak Allahu Khairan.
Obama’s visit to Saudi Arabia later this month, and the completion of the Supreme Military Council by discharging Maj. Gen. Salim Idris and the appointment of Brigadier General Abdul IIah al-Bashir in his place, are two routes that meet on the broad outlines of U.S. policy in Syria, but differ in details; each has a path to achieve its specific purposes. To clarify this we indicate the following:
First: regarding Obama’s visit to the region, particularly to Saudi Arabia later this month:
- IIP Digital, U.S. Department of State site, quoted on 21/01/2014, a statement issued by the Office of Press Secretary of the White House that President Obama will be in the Netherlands on 24-25th March to participate in the Nuclear Security Summit to discuss progress made to secure nuclear materials and commit to future steps to prevent nuclear terrorism.. He will travel to Brussels on 26th March to attend a US-EU Summit…. On 27th March, he will continue his trip to the Vatican City to meet with Pope Francis… and will meet with the President and the Prime Minister of Italy… On 03/02/2014, i.e. after more than ten days, the Office of the Press Secretary of the White House issued a statement saying: “As part of regular consultations between our two countries, President Obama will travel to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in March 2014…” The statement added, “The President looks forward to discussing with King Abdullah the enduring and strategic ties between the United States and Saudi Arabia, as well as ongoing cooperation to advance a range of common interests related to Gulf and regional security, peace in the Middle East, countering violent extremism, and other issues of prosperity and security. The president will travel to the kingdom of Saudi Arabia following his travel to the Netherlands, Belgium and Italy.” (IIP Digital, U.S. Department of State site 03/02/2014).
It is clear from the foregoing that the visit to Saudi Arabia will be at the end of this month after Obama’s visit to Italy on 27th March 2014.
- American CNN website published on 03/02/2014 that it had received a statement noting that “the U.S. president will meet with the Saudi King next March amid disagreements between Washington and Riyadh over recent interim deal on Iran’s nuclear weapons”. The website quoted statement by Press Secretary of White House, Jay Carney saying that, “Whatever differences we may have they do not alter the fact that this is a very important and close partnership”.
Also, the Washington Post published on 3rd February that White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said in a press conference, “Saudi Arabia is a close partner of the United States, and we have a bilateral relationship that is broad and deep and covers a range of areas. The president very much looks forward to the visit, where all of those areas will be discussed in his meetings… and whatever differences we may have do not alter the fact that this is very important and close partnership”.
American newspaper, The Wall Street Journal, also mentioned on 02/01/2014, that U.S. President, Barack Obama, plans to visit Saudi Arabia next month for a summit with Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, to soothe the strained relations between them because of the policies adopted by the U.S. administration towards the Middle East, specifically about the Iran’s nuclear program, and its unwillingness to get involved military in Syria’s civil war. A Syrian newspaper quoted one Arab official saying that this summit will be crucial, and it aims to aligning American and Saudi policies, adding that the visit “is about deteriorating relationship and declining trust”.
This means that there are issues that pushed America to add Saudi Arabia stop to his pre-planned visit, in a statement released after more than ten days of the issuance of the statement of Obama’s scheduled visit to the three European regions! To find out these issues and their motives we review the following:
- The American rapprochement with Iran after the nuclear deal on 24/11/2013 which almost reaches releasing Iran’s hands in the region, besides America’s position of the events in Syria that demonstrated his support for Bashar directly and indirectly… All of this impacts in Saudi Arabia, in particular the release Iran’s hands in the region. Iran is known for its use of sectarianism in each country it has a sectarian link to it, so as to raise tensions in that country. Seeing what happened in Bahrain, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen… Saudi fears Iran’s moves in the eastern region of Saudi Arabia to affect destabilization of the ruling security… All this made Saudi strained and withdraws its membership in the Security Council, protesting against the actions of the international community, and of course they intended the United States, This is in addition to statements by some Saudi officials directing criticism at America about their positions…
- What Saudi is doing, of supplying weapons to the revolutionaries in the southern region of Syria i.e. through Jordan, especially those shipments that by-passes the American Coordination chamber in Jordan for monitoring arms to the rebels in southern Syria, these shipments annoy America… The French newspaper “Le Figaro” has published on 10/28/2013, a report by journalist Georges Malbrunot stated that (15 tons of weapons reach the Free Syrian Army stores each week, noting that they are funded by Saudi Arabia, purchased from black markets in Ukraine and Bulgaria before being sent onboard Saudi Arabia aircrafts to Airports in southern Jordan). The report is also pointing out that “during the first six months of this year, about six hundred tons of weapons have been delivered to the opponents of the (Syrian President Bashar Assad) by Jordan”… “As-Safeer” newspaper published on 21/2/2014: (… On 29 January, three military cargo planes landed in retail with weapons, including LAU rockets, encrypted communication devices and anti-tank missiles, light weapons and armored vehicles. An Arab source said the Americans remain reluctant to provide Chinese-made missiles and sophisticated weapons to the Syrian armed opposition…). It also added: “Western and Arab security crossing sources say that during the battle for Al-Ghouta Al-Sharqiya (Eastern Ghouta), and the weeks that followed, the Saudis transferred through Al-Mafraq Airport loads of weapons some of which were purchased in Ukraine. Convoys carrying 15 tons of weapons have weekly crossed the Jordanian-Syrian border trough passageways across the desert to more than 15 centers in the region, stretching towards Al-Ghouta Al-Sharqiya”. The arrival of the weapons is indicated by what was published by “As-Safeer” on 06/02/2014 that “the majority of armed factions in Daraa, had met yesterday and decided to unite under the banner of Firqat Al-Yarmouk which by then included 14 battalion and brigade, most notably the Armor Brigade South, Brigade Bara ibn Malik and the Armored Battalion”. It added “the unification of the militants came parallel with a battle they launched in southern Syria, under the name Geneva of Houran, led by five operations rooms, spread over the entire province of Daraa”…
All this is causing disturbance for America for the possibility of some rebels in the southern front getting out of its control especially that there are forces in Saudi that are loyal to British and follow on its steps in terms of perturbing American plans, as it is known of British politics… All this has made America afraid of Saudi activity in the southern front in Syria … Although America has on 13th December 2013 established the Syrian revolutionaries front of the FSA and its base in the South, in response to the Saudi’s movements in southern Syria, but America takes the movements of Saudi in the south seriously, especially those movements that go beyond coordination with the American Chamber in Jordan.
- Then there is another factor; the Saudi family, although currently being led by British- loyal men; King Abdullah and his assistances, but it has also men who are affiliated with America. America needs not to highlight its hostility to Saudi Arabia from the perspective of trying to develop its men there and restore the ruling to its influence, as was in the reign of King Fahd, at the same time the American men in the royal family are interested in good relations with America…
- Thus, both parties share a desire to resolve the dispute! This desire has moved into action by both sides as a prelude to the expected Obama’s visit later this month. The parties’ actions were as follows:
- As for Saudi Arabia, they issued “a decree punishing those fighting abroad and those belonging to the extremist groups” (Al-Iqtisadiya, 03/02/2014) and of course, was aimed squarely at those fighting in Syria. This law was issued on 03/02/2014 which coincides with Obama’s decision to include Saudi Arabia in his visit schedule as we have mentioned above! All this to appease America … This is in addition to that, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef (the Saudi Interior Minister) had met with U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and other heads of the intelligence in Washington to discuss a range of issues, including the issue of Syria … “Ar-Ruaya” news network quoted on 24/2/2014: (National Security Advisers; Susan Rice and Lisa Monaco, met last Wednesday with Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, the Saudi Interior Minister. After the meeting, U.S. National Security Council spokeswoman, Caitlin Hayden, issued a statement explaining that the trio “also exchanged views on regional issues and committed to continuing to strengthen our cooperation in a range of common interests”.
- As for America, it has sent Kerry twice in recent months – in November 2013 and in January 2014. These visits were to reassure Saudi officials on U.S. policy on Iran and Syria. Kerry reiterated the resolve of America for not allowing Iran to acquire nuclear weapons. Kerry has said ahead of the meeting that Saudi Arabia plays a key role in the Arab region. (BBC Turkish 6/11/2013).
- Then Obama’s visit to Saudi Arabia comes. It comes at the highest level of reconciliation and easing of tensions between both sides and to reassure the Al Saud on their system, which they fear about, and do not fear about anything else. It is just what worries them; they are not worried about what is happening in Syria, except by what can be reflected on their system. This is why they did not support or helped the people of Syria, rather they wanted America to resolve the issue of the Syrian regime in the Geneva Conferences 1 and 2, which are endorsed by Al Saud, and thus get rid of the repercussions of the Syrian Revolution. Their concern is for the thrones and not for the blood of Muslims and their support in Syria…
A visit here is to ease tensions with Saudi Arabia, and to clarify its rapprochement with Iran. And its position in Syria is not directed to destabilize the Saudi regime, and America understands that the focus of alert is that the rule of the Saudi clan is not to be affected in Saudi Arabia, and their chairs do not become vacant, this is what concerns them, which matters above and beyond the number of dead and wounded in Syria…
However it is likely that Obama during his visit to the region will stop at other places, but Obama’s visit to Saudi Arabia is expected to be the touchstone… Obama will try to reassure the rulers of Saudi Arabia that their thrones are protected and that his relationship with Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen is not directed against the Saudi rule but it is against the so-called “terrorism”. It is expected that Obama will praise the steps of Saudi Arabia is taking in this area and in its decisions to prevent the Saudi citizens from going to fight in Syria…
Second: As for the subject of the dismissal of Salim Idris and the closure of some offices and transferring to Cairo … the matter probably is as follows:
- On 7 December 2012 CE, between 260-550 military leaders met, and a representative of the armed Syrian opposition in Turkey; also attended the meeting were security officials from Western and Arab countries, the United States of America played an active role, an new military council was elected, composed of thirty of the Free Syrian Army commanders, and Brigadier General Salim Idris was elected as the new head of the Free Syrian Army, and became the head of the Supreme Military Council (SMC). (Associated Press, 7 December 2012)
- The Washington Post reported on 07/05/2013 that “the U.S. administration headed by Barack Obama is betting on Salim Idris.” The paper said that “He is the cornerstone of the strategy of the new U.S. administration because of his responsible and moderate position making the administration to bet on it.” It stated that “Salim Idris sent a message to President Obama expressing his understanding of the cautious position of America of intervention in Syria, and requested American financial support and training and expressed his readiness to face the Jihadi groups.” The dismissal of Idris cannot be carried out without the knowledge of America or without its instigation. America appointed him and was betting on him to provide a service, America created his military council military and the coalition.
- Idris failed to win over any side from the revolutionary and he failed to establish his own front inside, despite his attempts, but he was unable to prevent the fighters of the Free Syrian Army, and some battalions, to join Islamist fighters. Reuters reported on 30/9/2013 about this joining, “the fighters did not join only as individuals, but as full Battalions of small groups, but they are strong.” What worsen matters for America is the takeover by the Islamic Front of border crossing, and a weapon warehouse from the warehouses of the Western backed Free Syrian Army in December 2013 … American news magazine Time reported that U.S. officials have confirmed that the leader of the Free Syrian Army Salim Idris fled from Syria; the magazine reported in the context of the report on its website on 12/12/2013, U.S. officials saying: “that Idris fled from Syria to Turkey and then travelled to Qatar” that showed a dislike of Salim Idris’s actions. It appears that Americans was disturbed by the attack incident on their warehouses where it deposited its military aid to him on the condition that the weapons must not reach the hands of the revolutionaries who did not follow America’s side, did not recognize the coalition, and did not declare their acceptance of its project.
- Salim Idris was appointed by America, as mentioned above and they has bet on him to make a standing for the Free Syrian Army inside Syria, with striking procedures which attracts factions of the Free Syrian Army… but they lost the bet. He could not attract factions of the Free Syrian Army inside at home, but he could not maintain it without decrease in the number, instead they left and joined the factions! What exacerbated the issue is that he was unable to maintain his weapons which were supplied by America and were taken over by the other factions from the warehouse. The rumor that Salim Idris fled to Qatar disturbed America more. Thus, America failed through Salim Idris to establish a stronghold for the Free Syrian Army inside of any significance, and America was betting on this matter because its agents, the coalition, are outside. America though that he can focus himself on the inside by carrying out influential operations to win the FSA, but bet was a lost as we have mentioned. So it decided to search for another leader who has internal roots through kin, tribes and clans, and is well established internally on the ground. As soon as it discovered Abdul Ilah al-Bashir, it appointed him in place of Salim Idris on 16/2/2014; the military Council issued a decision to that effect. It also appointed Colonel Haitham Afsih of Idlib province in the north as a deputy of Bashir. Washington hopes that Bashir in the south and Haitham in the north will be able to improve coordination of the fronts by creating bases for them at home. These newly appointed leaders prepared to work closely with the Syrian Revolution Front, which is headed by Jamal Ma’roof, and Washington hopes also to use Bashir’s relationships in the south of the country to form a force on the ground to be a pillar inside for the coalition abroad, at the same time to control the revolutionaries in the south, backed by Saudi Arabia.
Salim Idris’s initial reaction was one of anger and he accused Jarba, the coalition chairman, of being a dictator; he issued a statement on behalf of the leaders of the fronts and military councils blaming Jarba of being responsible for the decision of the Supreme Military Council; he said: “The leaders of the formations do not trust him and accused him of financial corruption and that he bribes the signatories of the decision.” (AFP 17/2/2014) knowing that Jarba and those with him cannot take any decision without the consent or instigation of America!
Idris calmed down, especially when the news was published on 06/03/2014, “that the head of the Syrian Coalition, Ahmed Jarba and the five military General Staff leaders and revolutionary leader of the Southern Front and the head of the Revolutionary Military Council ‘s military in Deraa, agreed that the defense minister Asaad Mustafa should resign to the President of the Coalition, and all of his deputies will be considered resigned… the leaders also agreed that Major General Salim Idris should resign from the presidency of the General Staff, and to be appointed as an adviser to the president of the Coalition for Military Affairs; as well as the expansion of the Supreme Military Council and increase the number of its members.”
This news on 6/3/2014 was then followed and confirmed by the news on 8/3/2014 published by Al Hayat site, quoting the French news agency AFP on 03/08/2014, “The Supreme Military Council of the FSA approved the appointment of Brigadier Abdul Ilah al-Bashir al-Naimi chief of his staff instead of Major General Salim Idriss.”
- The new Brigadier and paratrooper Abdul Ilah al-Bashir Al Nuaimi, Chief of Staff of the Free Syrian Army is from the sons of the village of Rafid in the province of Quneitra in southwest Syria on the border with the Golan Heights occupied by Israel, he is one of the influential of the Naimi clan, one of the largest clans in Syria. Bashir defected from the forces of the Syrian regime in July 2012, and since then he worked to build the foundation and form the nucleus of FSA in the province of Quneitra, before he received the presidency of the operations there and therefore the presidency of the military council there later, where he led the operating room by himself and organized military plans that contributed to the control of more than 90% of the rural southern province under his leadership. A statement by the President of the Coalition Ahmad Jarba Commenting on the decision of the military council said, “that the coalition has received the decision of the Supreme Military Council to appoint Brigadier General Abdul Ilah al-Bashir to the position of Chief of Staff of the Free Syrian Army Colonel Haitham Afeesah in the position of Deputy Chief of Staff with greater satisfaction.” (Aljazeera Agencies).
These qualities of Bashir of belonging to the clan in the south and bing the field commander on the ground is what made America appoint him with the hope that he can establish the roots internally for its agents abroad … It will be disappointed, by permission of Allah, as they were disappointed before, and Allah is Mighty and Wise .
Third: The closure of some offices in Turkey and the discussion to transfer to Cairo:
Yes, it has been reported in the site “We are all partners” on 12/2/2014, which was the site of Panorama in the Middle East on 5/2/2014, of the closure of some offices as well in Turkey.
But the news did not last long, it was denied in the Middle East Newspaper on 25/2/2014: “Representative of the Syrian coalition in Turkey Khaled Khoja denied to the Middle East news paper that the Turkish government asked the coalition to relocate its headquarters to Cairo, revealing a meeting yesterday between him and the representatives of the Turkish Foreign Ministry that confirmed that the members of the coalition are welcome in Turkey; it is a position emanating from the principles associated with the support of the Syrian people’s struggle against dictatorship.”
As stated in Rosna site also on 24/02/2014 in Paris, “Bahiya Mardini, media adviser to the Syrian opposition coalition, said that the Turkish government has not closed the offices of the Coalition in Turkey”, Mardini confirmed in a special radio call to Rosna that this news came as part of a campaign initiated by the Syrian regime against the coalition prior to the Geneva II, and it was promoted in sites belonging to the Syrian regime. Mardini explained that the coalition did transfer offices from the region, Birgili to the region, Florea in Turkey. As a result of information of threats from ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Sham) and the Syrian regime they have been transferred by the Turkish Government for security reasons and that is what made the coalition transfer its office to a quieter place after it was in a crowded area.”
It seems that the rumors on the subject have actually happened, but the move was from one place to another place inside Turkey. The focus of the transfer to outside Turkey was intentional in order to send a message to the Coalition and the National Council to rejoin together again, but the move from Turkey to Cairo is scary for them because it keeps them away from Syria, which means their death, as an alternative for them in Turkey will be established after the “expulsion” of the veterans to Cairo! This leak out of news has paid off. The National Council announced its reunion with the Coalition! AFP published on 1/3/2014, “The Secretariat of the Syrian National Council decided at its meeting on 27 and 28 February in Istanbul, the mass return of the National Council including all its components to the ranks of the National Coalition for the forces of the revolution and the Syrian opposition.”
Fourth: this is what I see as most likely the answer to your question with the three points mentioned, we are following the subject, though if a reason is found to further clarify or explain, we will do that, Inshallah, Allah (swt) Guides to the straight path.
7 Jumada I 1435 AH