[Marxism] Syria crisis: Saudi Arabia to spend millions to train new rebel force

Michael Karadjis mkaradjis at gmail.com
Fri Nov 8 01:35:30 MST 2013

On 11/7/13 6:52 PM, Eli Stephens wrote:
>> Well, that cinches it. I mean, how could it NOT be a "revolution" if 
>> it's
>> the child of the progressive Saudi Arabian state?

> Michael Karadjis took apart this Saudi project that attempts to do an 
> end-run around the FSA:

> http://article.gmane.org/gmane.politics.marxism.marxmail/172159/

> So, for several months now, Saudi Arabia has been involved in trying 
> to
> build a “national Syrian army” from Baathist defector military 
> officers
> in Jordan. The project is backed by the US, with the difference that 
> to
> date, the Saudis have actually tried to get arms to the regular FSA
> inside Syria in the south (and in the last couple of months have been
> more successful), in order for this puppet force building in Jordan to
> try to gain some credibility, whereas the US has tried its utmost to
> block any weapons at all getting across to the FSA if it can, and 
> bugger the need for cred, the US only intends its tools to come to 
> power either in a palace coup, or, if the US does attack, from the 
> top.

I agree that someone like Eli Stephens should be able to do better than 
a pointless one-liner like that. However, this new “Islamic Army” the 
Saudis are now backing is not the same thing as the “Syrian National 
Army” the Saudis were trying to build which Louis refers to here; 
rather, this is a new Saudi strategy, in tandem with their current very 
public spat with the US.

Let’s first see what’s wrong with Eli’s “response” to the article “Saudi 
Arabia to spend millions to train new rebel force.”
“How could it NOT be a "revolution" if it's the child of the progressive 
Saudi Arabian state?” he asks.

1. So is this the first time you ever heard that Saudi Arabia (and its 
rival Qatar) has been backing elements of the Syrian uprising? Most 
observers have known that, after the initial Saudi, Qatari and Turkish 
robust backing of Assad in the first few months of the uprising in 2011, 
that by about July-August they had turned against Assad and the first 
two soon became known as the states arming sections of the uprising (and 
Turkey facilitating it). So if that is the issue, then, based on your 
logic (your magnificent analysis), then it has not been a revolution 
since July 2011, nothing new here at all.
2. We need to note that according to this logic, every time a state that 
is in any way reactionary (ie, most states in the world are capitalist) 
sends any military aid to any movement (which they often do for their 
own reasons in order to try to subvert it and try to bend it in their 
direction, without this meaning they are successful), no matter how else 
you judge that movement, that such a movement ceases to be a revolution, 
a liberation movement, or anything progressive whatsoever. I won’t give 
you a list, you can do your own research and cross out all the movements 
you previously had any sympathy for.
3. What is “it” in your statement? The article talks about Saudi backing 
of one particular formation, the new “Islamic Army,” heavily dominated 
by one largish mainstream Islamist militia (Liwa al-Islam) and lots of 
tiny satellites militias already around Liwa. Liwa al-Islam is a major 
group in the Damascus/south Syria region, where it has worked well with 
the secular FSA forces which are strong in the south. It is one of four 
the major components of the moderate-Islamist/semi-Islamist Syrian 
Islamic Liberation Front (SILF, consisting of these 4 and about 20 minor 
groups), which itself is one of the four major blocs of Syrian 
resistance, the other three being the secular/FSA/Supreme Military 
Command bloc, the hard-line, national-jihadist Syrian Islamic Front 
(SIF) and the global-jihadist groups, Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS. Thus, 
since your criteria is Saudi support, this only proves that one 
component of one main bloc is not part of a revolution.
4. Since the new Saudi strategy is part of its angry conflict with the 
US over the latter’s abandonment of its imaginary war threat, its 
coddling of Tehran and its deal with Russia and Assad over the chemical 
issue, as well as months of Saudi frustration over the US attempting to 
block the Saudis from even aiding the *secular* SMC/FSA, we can at least 
understand that now that Eli has suddenly discovered Saudi backing of 
some Syrian rebels, we can abandon all the outright bullshit and lies 
that so many leftists have casually made over the last 2 years about US 
arming of the rebels. OK, now finally we understand the US (and UK, 
France etc) never sent even a bullet. Good, that’s progress.

5. Maybe we can take that one step further. Since the Saudis are doing 
this in the context of anger with the US, and indeed they turned down 
the UN role protesting both US abandonment of the anti-Assad struggle 
*and* unconditional US support fro Israel, perhaps, based on the BS 
“anti-imperialist” line, we can now welcome Saudi Arabia as part of the 
“anti-imperialist” agenda? Oh, hell, that makes things too complicated 
for the “anti-imperialists,” let’s leave that one for a while.

6. Since the article makes clear that a very major concern of the Saudis 
is the growth of influence of their arch-enemy within the Islamist 
terrain, Al-Qaida, and that part of their swing to backing a major 
mainstream Islamist movement (after trying for a year to adopt what they 
thought was the US line of support for the SMC, only to find out the US 
was only joking, see below), is precisely to try to reduce support for 
Al-Qaida, or if necessary confront it, can we now abandon the all the 
bullshit that so many leftists have casually dropped over the last 2 
years about Saudi backing for Al-Qaida (including the witless repetition 
of the fantasy that the Saudis not only armed Al-Qaida with small arms 
but with chemical weapons, via some clumsy unknowing FSAers in tunnels)?

7. Oh bit on that, since all the left has continually told us that 
Al-Qaida is the worst enemy of humanity (well, in Syria at least, if not 
anywhere else), does this Saudi strategy mean that the Saudis are now 
progressive? Oh, hang on, but Al-Qaida is a lot more consistently 
anti-imperialist than even the Saudis in the current rage, or than the 
Assad regime at any time, doesn’t that make them the most progressive 
thing in Syria? Oh, fuck it becomes complicated to have an 
“anti-imperialist” line, doesn’t it?

Here's some other things.

The article states: "I don't see it producing any dramatic change yet. 
It's a political step. These new rebel formations seem to be relabelling 
themselves and creating new leadership structures. It's part of a quite 
parochial political game - and above all a competition for resources."

A competition for resources, precisely. You see, the fact that the West, 
with its alleged preference for secular rebels, or "moderates," whatever 
the US may mean by that, has never sent them a gun, and even in terms of 
other supplies, it has sent a few flak jaks, binoculars, some 
ready-meals, some ancient radios etc, does kind of mean the rebels, 
outgunned by a regime with a massive array of heavy weaponry which is 
continually supplied and refurbished by "peaceful" Russia and Iran, do 
need to look around.

Now when the rebels get too close to Al-Qaida, or a least try not to 
confront them, since Al-Qaida has constant supplies via its Iraqi 
Al-Qaida parent, then the VERY, VERY secular and VERY, VERY principled 
western left can denounce the FSA as "jihadists" and have an excuse to 
not support them and denounce them as the same as the regime (or worse).

But then when the FSA is forced to confront Al-Qaida all over Syria, as 
it has been for about 6 months, not because it wanted to, and not 
because they listened to the Americans who demanded that they do so, but 
rather because Al-Qaida attacked the FSA from behind while they were 
busy fighting the regime, or because the FSA simply stuck up for local 
people resisting religious repression, and so therefore some of these 
outgunned FSAers, fighting on 2 fronts, expressed some naïve but 
understandable sympathy for a western intervention, or even those who 
didn't but merely demanded western arms, well then the VERY VERY 
anti-imperialist and VERY VERY principled western left can denounce the 
FSA as "tools for imperialism" (while still not even mentioning their 
fight against the jihadists - indeed, the "left" can even denounce them 
as tools of both imperialism and the jihadists at the same time, because 
it is so much easier to be a leftists in the west with a computer than 
someone fighting an extremely murderous dictatorship and a murderous 
group of Islamists at the same time).

But so then, since the West gives them nothing at all, and the jihadists 
open another front against them, the secular SMC/FSA got arms from Saudi 
Arabia. Not much, but a little better than nothing. So then the VERY 
VERY etc etc leftists can denounce them as tools of the Saudi monarchy.

And now that a mainstream Islamist movement, cooperative with the 
secular FSA, and hostile to Al-Qaida, is getting Saudi backing, well 
that's all you need to know about them, isn't it? Obviously they are 
just tools of the theocracy.

Never mind that when the US was briefly jiving about "punishment 
strikes" after Assad's chemical apocalypse, Saudi Arabia was strongly 
supporting the proposed attack, while Liwa al-Islam, like all the 
Islamist and lots of the secular fighters, opposed it, even though they 
are fighters in the very suburbs that were attacked by chemicals:

"What matters to us is the question of: Who will America target its 
strike against? And why choose this particular time?" the statement 
asked. "The Assad regime has used chemical weapons dozens of times and 
the U.S. did not move a finger. Have they experienced a sudden awakening 
of conscience or do they feel that the jihadists are on the cusp of 
achieving a final victory, which will allow them to seize control over 
the country? This has driven the U.S. to act in the last 15 minutes to 
deliver the final blow to this tottering regime so it can present itself 
as a key player and impose its crew which it has been preparing for 
months to govern Syria" 

I wonder who they meant by "its crew" the US has been preparing for 
months"? Probably some of the people in the US/Saudi centre of 
operations in Jordan. The Saudis were helping train them. Liwa al-Islam 
denounces them as puppets out to steal the revolution from them. That's 
because they are a genuine part of the Syrian revolution, a genuine part 
of the Syrian people, whose non-jihadist "Islam" represents the more 
traditionalist nature of much of the peasant and working class 
population of the vast Damascus suburbs, the base of the revolution, 
those left outside the "secular" bourgeois-nationalist program.

But to "the left", I guess all this just makes this formation an 
imperialist/Saudi/al-Qaida tool. Whatever.

Incidentally, how did the Saudis arrive here? The Saudis are Sunni 
Islamists, yes, but the problem is they hate the more moderate Muslim 
Brotherhood, which in any case is tied to their rival Qatar, and on the 
other hand they hate the global-jihadists, because both are 
revolutionary in a certain sense and their doctrines threaten the 
overthrow of the "apostate" monarchy. When the Saudis tried backing 
"national-jihadists" they found the problem that the latter had no 
qualms about working closely with the "global-jihadists" as long as they 
confronted the regime.

So around August 2012, the Saudis did a well-known turn towards 
supporting the secular SMC leadership, trying to bring on board other 
ex-Baathist defected officers in exile, trying to get some arms to the 
southern secular FSA rebels inside Syria from Jordan to establish 
credibility, not out of love for the SMC/FSA secular politics, but 
because that is what existed, and thus out of a desire to mould the 
ex-Baathist officers, "power secularists" if you like, into something 
that could block both the Qatari-backed Brotherhood on one side, and 
Al-Qaida on the other, while defeating the pro-Iranian regime, and 
hoping to have enough sway over the movement and via the ex-Baathist 
officers to prevent democratic revolution. All of that is a big ask: it 
is difficult when you are the Saudis and you are against nearly 
everyone. But the stability of the Jordanian monarchy, threatened by 
both the Brotherhood (its main opposition) and jihadists, became 

The quest to establish a "Syrian National Army" that I refer to above 
was part of this: to try to replace the SMC, which had little control 
over the FSA and other rebels on the ground, with a more disciplined 
unit incorporating other ex-Baathist officers not currently inn the SMC. 
The idea was to be able to both control the democratic forces at the 
base better, while establishing a force that could eventually confront 
Al-Qaida as a "Sawha" movement.

The US was also in favour of a "Sawha" movement, but with several 
differences. First, the US has been demanding for a long time that the 
FSA launch a preemptive war on Al-Qaida, open a second front (the US 
aim, I believe, goes beyond a "Sawha": the US aims for the democratic 
and jihadist forces to destroy each other). Thus they refused to supply 
any arms to the SMC/FSA in the meantime. The Saudis believed you need a 
force with enough crfedibility in fighting the regime to then be a 
useful "sawha"; the US believes contrawise that they have to establish 
their credibility with the US first by first fighting a-Qaida before the 
US will give them a bone.

What this meant, remarkably, was that while the Saudis had turned 
"secularist" as they thought the US wanted, they found the US was only 
joking; despite conventional wisdom, the Saudis were supplying the 
secular FSA and the US was trying to block them:

As reporter Joanna Paraszczuk explained in June:

"The US and the Saudis are involved in a multilateral effort to support 
the insurgency from Jordanian bases. But, according to the sources, 
Washington had not only failed to supply "a single rifle or bullet to 
the FSA in Daraa" but had actively prevented deliveries, apparently 
because of concerns over which factions would receive the weapons. The 
situation also appears to be complicated by Jordan's fears that arms 
might find their way back into the Kingdom and contribute to instability 
there. The sources said the Saudi-backed weapons and ammunition are in 
warehouses in Jordan, and insurgents in Daraa and Damascus could be 
supplied "within hours" with anti-tank rockets and ammunition. The 
Saudis also have more weapons ready for airlift into Jordan, but US 
representatives are preventing this at the moment" 

This is the background to the current US-Saudi spat, which intensified 
when the US formed its current alliance with Russia to basically keep 
Assad in power another year while he cooperates to get rid of his 
chemicals, in the meantime free to use all other conventional weapons of 
mass destruction, including the unconventional one, starving people to 
death in Gaza-style sieges.

The declaration by 11 rebel groups (which cut right across the main 
divides outlined above, even including some seculars) that they are not 
represented by the exile-based Syrian National Coalition (SNC), 
including rejection of the SNC's acceptance of the US-Russia strategy 
for the Geneva peace talks, and the fact that the "soft" wing of 
Al-Qaida (Ai-Nusra) was part of that declaration (which was also 
directed against the more violent wing of Al-Qaida, ISIS), set off alarm 
bells to the Saudis, that the Islamist forces in Syria are tempted to 
align with their arch enemy due to the flagrantly obvious betrayal of 
the US and the imperialist states.

Even though Al-Nusra hastened to declare that there was no new alliance 
at all, and that it was only a joint declaration against the SNC exile 
political leadership and its strategy, it was still too much for the 

Thus, together with the sheer frustration of the US attempting to block 
arms even to the secular forces, the Saudis have now swung into support 
for an important mainstream Islamist bloc (although even the article 
notes that the Saudis still want to convince Liwa al-Islam to remain 
under the official authority of the SMC, and to return to official 
support for the SNC (Liwa al-Islam had been one of the 11 groups that 
signed the anti-SNC declaration that got the Saudis so mad; the fact 
that its new Islamic Army refuses membership to both ISIS and also 
Al-Nusra indicates the Saudi influence).

It is somewhat difficult to see where al this will lead. One thing for 
sure however is that, while some of what I write may be wrong, and some 
may disagree with various details, the best way to deal with complex 
issues is to actually do some research, write something substantial, 
rather than trying to reduce incredibly complex situations to the absurd 
"certainties" of the "anti-imperialist" left. A version of this will 
shortly go up on my blog; and a longer, very detailed analysis is under 
preparation. Meantime, for background on some of these issues there are 
many articles there at http://mkaradjis.wordpress.com

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