I had an extremely lengthy conversation with a friend of mine on the theme of [Saudi] diplomacy relinquishing its customary calm tone and adopting an unprecedentedly escalatory stance and position [on Syria]. Saudi diplomacy had always adopted the option of calmly and quietly working within the corridors of power and behind closed doors to achieve its objectives. So what has happened now? What is the reason for Saudi Arabia’s new position in this regard?
Last Ramadan, Saudi Arabia, via the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz, recalled its ambassador in Damascus for consultation following the criminal acts the al-Assad regime is committing against its own people. This measure was taken following several public and covert attempts to prompt the Syrian regime to change its behaviour, and after many direct and indirect messages were sent to the regime which was given one chance after another in the hope that the Damascene ruler would understand the gravity of his actions and the end he is facing. This measure was taken in response to public, international, Islamic and Arab pressure on Saudi Arabia, in light of its unique political position and weight in the region, particularly as everyone was waiting for Riyadh to take a decisive and leading position on this crucial issue.
Bashar al-Assad failed to learn a lesson from the Saudi position, which has opened it to unprecedented and mounting pressure. Indeed, Syria during the al-Assad era – both al-Assad the father and al-Assad the son – has always served as a source of provocation to Saudi Arabia, either publicly or privately. However despite this, Saudi Arabia has always been able to exercise self-restraint in order to contain the al-Assad regime’s foolishness and malice, as was evidence on several occasions.
Due to its position in the Muslim world, Saudi Arabia was badly affected by Hafez al-Assad’s extermination of the city of Hama in the 1980s. Saudi Arabia welcomed hundreds of innocent Syrian citizens into the country following this, after many Syrians sought to save what remained of their dignity and flee Syria and al-Assad’s Baathist party of hell. Of course, Saudi Arabia always feigned understanding of Hafez al-Assad’s confused and illogical position on the Iraq – Iran war during which he supported Tehran against Baghdad. This position was later exposed when the Hafez al-Assad regime, as well as the regime of his son, entirely threw in their lot with Iran.
Whilst during the Lebanese civil war, the Syrians attacked and targeted many Lebanese figures from different sects and districts who were friends and allies of Saudi Arabia, with the objective of gaining full control of the country. This resulted in the great divorce between Saudi Arabia and Syria following the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, a crime that carries the fingerprints of Syria and its allies. Nevertheless, Saudi Arabia later restored relations with Damascus and requested that Saad Hariri swallow a bitter pill and travel to Damascus to meet with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, something that surprised everybody. However, bad faith and a string of broken promises characterized Bashar al-Assad’s rule as he sought to topple the Hariri government in Lebanon, something that he eventually succeeded in doing. As a result of this, there is no room for fostering trust and understanding with Damascus, particularly as they are completely absorbed with another “regional project” which has nothing to do with nurturing unity amongst the Arabs and Muslims, quite the opposite!
Many people have suffered greatly thanks to Bashar al-Assad and his endeavours and tactics. He divided the ranks of the Palestinians, jeopardizing Iraq’s borders and security by allowing armed groups to cross into the country from Syria in order to carry out terrorist operations, and transformed Lebanon into a theatre for the operations of his own security apparatus. In fact, we would need to write an entire book to sum up all the harm that al-Assad has wrought. The Gulf States, Egypt and Jordan have, in varying degrees, suffered greatly as a result of provocation from Damascus, and Bashar al-Assad apparatus intervening and circumventing their state sovereignty.
Everybody has finally had enough and run out of diplomatic patience with al-Assad and his regime. Indeed the statement made by Saudi Foreign Minister was sufficient to explain Riyadh’s new position: namely that the al-Assad regime must go, whether voluntarily or by force, whilst the idea of arming the Free Syrian Army [FSA] is an “excellent” one. With such words, Saudi Arabia is making its policy perfectly clear to Syria, and hence is choosing to champion and support the helpless Syrian people, not the regime that is headed by a butcher who only speaks in the language of bloodshed and murder.
Saudi Arabia has clearly told Bashar al-Assad, in language that requires no interpretation, that “it’s over”.