Saudis bankroll new rebel force to fight own war on Assad

BEIRUT, Lebanon, Oct. 8 (UPI) — Saudi Arabia, exasperated with U.S. vacillation related to Syria’s chemical arsenal and now its effort to reconcile with Iran, Riyadh’s foremost adversary, is forging a new alliance of Islamist rebels in Syria under a pro-Saudi warlord to supersede the U.S.-backed Free Syrian Army.

Riyadh also wants to foment an Iraq-style “Sunni Awakening” to unite Syria’s majority sect to topple the minority Damascus regime of President Bashar Assad.

Middle East analyst Michael Weiss, writing in the Beirut Web portal Now Lebanon, observed Riyadh has “taken substantive measures to circumvent Washington altogether on Syria by activating a cadre of new clients in the form of a hard-line Salafist rebels who are now united under the umbrella of the army of Islam.

“The Saudis have enlisted ’50 brigades’ and some thousands of fighters under a new structure headed by Zahren Alloush, head of Liwa al-Islam, the new group’s most powerful Salafist brigade.”

The Saudi move is also a response to last week’s formation of a hard-line Islamist alliance of 13 groups, including the powerful Jabhat al-Nusra, allied with al-Qaida, and to isolate the jihadists who’re proving to be the most effective anti-regime force in Syria.

The plan seems to be to buy control of disaffected rebel bands, many of them without strong leadership, and to forge them into a well-armed force capable of battering Assad’s regime.

“For us in Saudi Arabia, the worst scenario is to let Bashar survive this: he has to go,” said Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi analyst close to Riyadh’s power elite.

“The world can ignore what’s happening in Syria, but this is on our doorstep and it’s on fire with sectarian flames that will reach all neighboring countries.”

The Saudi strategy has been engineered in large part by Prince Bandar bin Sultan, head of the General Intelligence Directorate, and his brother Prince Salman, named deputy defense minister by Abdullah in August.

Full article: Saudis bankroll new rebel force to fight own war on Assad (UPI)

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