“What’s Behind Saudi Arabia’s New Muscularity”
The Christian Science Monitor, May 14, 2015
“In recent years, Saudi Arabia’s capital city has grown into a haven for Saudi Arabia’s Sunni allies, a Casablanca of deposed dictators and exiled ministers where Arab leaders fleeing revolutions go to wait in hopes of a return to power, however improbable that might be. Ahmad Jarba, former head of the National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces, calls Riyadh home, as do many of the Free Syrian Army generals who took funds, arms, and directives from Riyadh to turn against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Former Tunisian President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali has been quietly living in the Saudi capital since being ousted by Arab Spring uprisings in January 2011. The rogues’ gallery of exiled leaders is a symbol of Saudi Arabia’s failed policy to check and contain Iran over the past decade through a concerted war by proxy. Under the reign of King Abdullah, the Saudis counted on their Sunni surrogates across the Arab world to thwart Iran’s Shiite patrons, contesting every town and village from northern Lebanon to southern Bahrain. Since 2005, Riyadh has channeled an estimated $30 billion to tribes and militias in Lebanon, Iraq, and Bahrain, creating a wide network of Sunni movements linked and directed by Saudi intelligence services. Yet as of 2014, Riyadh was realizing the painful limits of proxy warfare. Offensives stalled. Uprisings were quashed. Wars were lost. … To Riyadh, the bombings [of Yemen] marked a changing of the guard in the Middle East, a new regional order in the Arab world where Saudi Arabia now stands as the leading power. ‘If you look around, all the great historic Arab powers – Iraq, Syria, and Egypt – are all in chaos,’ says Jasser al Jasser, managing editor of the pro-government Saudi daily Al Jazirah. ‘There is a need for a great Arab power in the region, and Saudi Arabia under King Salman is now stepping up to become that power.'”
Quickie analysis: Interesting look at the thinking behind Saudi Arabia’s recent shift from soft power to hard power.