Saudi Arabia is prepared to deploy ground troops for an international mission in Syria. It is a highly perilous proposition, writes DW's Rainer Sollich.
The conflict in Syria is escalating again. Peace talks had barely begun and then were quickly shelved. Saudi Arabia would like to demonstrate its resolve as a regional power. An adviser to Defense Minister and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman Al Saud has even said that the country would take part if the US-led international coalition were to deploy ground troops against the "Islamic State" (IS).
Saudi Arabia has long been accused of exporting extremist ideas throughout the world and not taking enough action against citizens who financially support IS. Now Saudi Arabia seems prepared to deploy soldiers to fight a ground war against the group. Hadn't the United States and Europe been waiting for an Islamic nation to press the fight against IS?
Yes - but not quite like this. One of the aims of the mostly Sunni Muslim IS is to overthrow the Saudi monarchy. However, officials in Riyadh see an even greater potential danger from their country's Shiite Muslim minority and the majority-Shiite regional power rival Iran, which, together with Russia, backs the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria. Directly or indirectly, with Saudi Arabia on one side and Russia and Iran on the other, the three nations have all been militarily involved in Syria's conflict for a while now. Saudi Arabia may not support IS, but it has helped other rebel groups that espouse similar values.
US officials initially refused to comment on Saudi Arabia's proposal. No nation wants to deploy ground forces in Syria. Though people fleeing regime bombings, airstrikes by Russia and IS attacks would likely find the viewpoint cynical, the hesitation over sending even more troops into the conflict is reasonable. And the Saudi military has become hopelessly entangled in a bloody proxy war in Yemen. Given the many forces operating in Syria, sending in Saudi troops would make things even more dangerous - especially because the country is clearly perceived as a warring party by the regime, Russia and Iran.
Facing an increasingly difficult economic situation at home and watching Iran achieve diplomatic success on the international stage, Saudi Arabia is no longer trying to position itself as a reliable partner and mediating force in Syria's civil war, and appears to be leaning dangerously toward military adventurism. Even Germany's BND foreign intelligence service recently reported that the current Saudi leadership had demonstrated a tendency toward an "impulsive interventionist policy."
During his recent Middle East trip, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier discovered that Saudi officials show just as little desire to compromise or to make concessions as their counterparts in Iran do when it comes to serious conflicts. The traditionally good relations between European nations and Saudi Arabia are being tested by more than human rights issues this time around.
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